Broncos Update Inside Slant - Monday, February 23

The scouting combine dominates NFL news this week, but for the Broncos, a lot of time is being devoted to contract and trade talks. Read the latest notes, quotes, annecdotes and personnel updates in today's edition of the Broncos Update Inside Slant.

INSIDE SLANT Left, right, left, right, left. Broncos team officials have their marching orders, and it looks like an offensive line shuffle is in the works.

General manager Ted Sundquist said right tackle Matt Lepsis would be given a shot at protecting Jake Plummer's blind side. Whether or not starting left tackle Ephraim Salaam returns at all is uncertain. Sundquist made it clear that Salaam will have to restructure his contract if he wants to remain a Bronco.

Salaam is due a $5 million roster bonus on March 18, and the team isn't willing to pay that, or convert it to base salary so it can pro-rated over the remaining five years of his deal.

"To say that we don't want Ephraim back in some capacity would be wrong because we would like to have Ephraim back," Sundquist said. "I still think he is a valuable asset to the team."

But health is a question. Salaam missed a portion of training camp to undergo knee surgery, and missed two games midway through the season because of cartilage damage in the same knee.

If the Broncos were to restructure Salaam's deal, they likely would want to do it in a way to provide insurance should he not prove durable. The Broncos were fairly pleased with Salaam's performance last year.

"I thought the whole offensive line in general played much better and I think a lot of that has to do with Jake," Sundquist said of having a more mobile quarterback.

With Lepsis being given a shot at left tackle, that opens the door for former first round pick George Foster to step in at right tackle.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--Though the scouting combine might prove a suitable site for both sides to work out their remaining differences, the Broncos late in the week were proceeding with plans to place a franchise tag on middle linebacker Al Wilson.

"At this point, based on where we are today and what I've gotten back from them now, that's the only direction I have to go," Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist said.

The franchise tag would pay Wilson $5.834 million on a one-year contract.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're going to have to make some moves. Obviously we'll have to release some players. We'll have to do some restructuring. We've been in contact with those players ... and I'm confident and comfortable with where we're at with that." -- GM Ted Sundquist on having to trim more than $4 million off the current cap before the start of the new league year.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Linebacker John Mobley and RT Matt Lepsis also are candidates to restructure their contracts to free up room under the cap. Lepsis is scheduled to count $6.1 million against the cap in 2004, with a $4.5 million base salary.

Mobley, who is coming off a season-ending spinal cord injury, is scheduled to count $5.15 million against the cap and earn a $2.75 million base salary.

The Broncos also could go to Trevor Pryce for possible cap relief if they choose. Pryce, arguably Denver's best defensive player, is scheduled to count $7.8 million against the cap this season.

Though Ian Gold is coming off a torn ACL, negotiating his contract may prove more difficult than finalizing one with Al Wilson. Gold is represented by agent Carl Poston, and both sides reportedly are far apart.

FEELING A DRAFT: The Broncos draft No. 24, and there's some thought that if Shannon Sharpe retires as expected, they'll go for a tight end in the same mold. Jeb Putzier was thought to be that guy but he hasn't progressed the way the team thought, partially because of injuries. Denver also could use another cornerback but after going bust two years in a row they may be reluctant to go that direction again. They also need more help along the defensive line, especially if Daryl Gardener doesn't return. The team also needs an impact player on special teams, someone to handle returns, and possible help at wide receiver, another need area.

MEDICAL WATCH: LB Ian Gold is ahead of schedule and should be ready for workouts by the team's May mini-camp. He suffered a torn ACL but has proven he's a fast healer.

--LB John Mobley isn't yet healed from spinal cord injury but hopes to return at least for part of mini-camp.

--S Nick Ferguson should be ready for Denver's offseason workouts in April after breaking his arm.

--WR Charlie Adams had right knee scoped Jan. 14 for debridement.

--OG Dan Neil had scar tissue removed from his left knee on Jan. 14.

--OT George Foster had right ankle scoped Jan. 14 for debridement.

--OT Matt Lepsis had left ankle scoped Jan. 14 for debridement.

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