Broncos Update Inside Slant - Monday, April 19

The Broncos keep signing tight ends, with seven now on their roster with the addition of O.J. Santiago and Patrick Hape. But is that a sign that Shannon Sharpe isn't coming back, or just coincidence? Read all the latest notes, quotes, annecdotes and personnel updates about the Broncos in today's edition of the Broncos Update Inside Slant.

No one besides Sharpe and coach Mike Shanahan may know until draft day, as that may be one more card the team will keep secret.

Some mock drafts have the Broncos taking a tight end in the first round, but even if Sharpe doesn't return - and many of his teammates believe he will be back - the odds are they won't do that until the second round.

Why?

The team has plenty of other needs, starting with an outside linebacker, running back and wide receiver.

The Broncos have positioned themselves perfectly to grab a top player at all three positions by making the recent trade with Cincinnati. The Broncos moved from 24 to 17, and could move up again if they have to.

Some believe the move was aimed at leap-frogging New England and Dallas, teams that were interested in top running back Steven Jackson. The Broncos reportedly love the downhill slasher who also has pretty good hands and has shown himself a workhorse.

But others believe the team has its eye on one of the Miami linebackers, D.J. Williams or Jonathan Vilma. The team hasn't been able to re-sign Ian Gold, and pretty much has moved on. Plus, John Mobley still hasn't been cleared to return from a spinal cord injury, and there's no telling if last year's second-round pick, Terry Pierce, could move outside.

With Ed McCaffrey retiring, there is a need for another big-time wide receiver - and this certainly is the year to grab a great one with the class as many as 25 deep.

Denver might work a draft-day trade with Cleveland for Dennis Northcutt, whose screwup regarding free agency papers has left him in limbo. But even if the Broncos get him, one of the top wideouts would be hard to pass up.

Denver is sitting pretty with an extra second-round pick, which could be used to grab a tight end like Kris Wilson or Ben Watson, a running back like Mewelde Moore, or wide receiver like Michael Clayton or Lee Evans if they slip that far.

TEAM NEEDS going into the draft -- Running back, linebacker, wide receiver, tight end.

RB -- The Broncos traded away Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis, and need someone to carry the load. But Denver has some backs already on its roster that might be capable of doing that, or at least sharing it with Garrison Hearst, Mike Anderson and Quentin Griffin. Plus, Denver's history hasn't been to take a back in the first round. Terrell Davis and Anderson were sixth-round gems and they found Olandis Gary in the fourth round. Still, if Steven Jackson is sitting there at 17 he would be hard to pass up.

LB -- The Broncos were pleased with how Jashon Sykes and Donnie Spragan stepped in when Ian Gold and John Mobley were hurt last year. But the thought of getting an impact player like D.J. Williams is tantalizing. Many believe linebacker is a more pressing need than running back since Gold likely is gone via free agency and Mobley still hasn't been cleared to return from a spinal cord injury.

WR -- The Broncos have gone through more than two dozen players in seven years trying to find a No. 3 wideout. They believe they found one in Ashley Lelie. But now with Ed McCaffrey retiring, they'll need somebody else to step in. There are so many big tall receivers, Denver figures to grab one of them.

TE -- Will Shannon Sharpe return or not? He's apparently told coach Mike Shanahan, but the team is keeping that one a secret until the draft. Kellen Winslow is probably out of reach, but a player like Ben Watson, Ben Troupe or Kris Wilson might be there in Round 2.

NOTES, QUOTES AND ANECDOTES

The Broncos added free-agent tight end O.J. Santiago and re-signed tight-end/fullback Patrick Hape. But these have been in the works for a while, and may not signal that Shannon Sharpe has decided to retire.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"Our team needs him because of what he brings to the table, his experience, leadership, and top-notch play." -- Rod Smith on Shannon Sharpe.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (4): OT Blake Brockermeyer; LB Ian Gold; S Ryan McNeil; LB Johnny Rutledge.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (2): OG Ben Hamilton; LB Donnie Spragan.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: FB Reuben Droughns; TE Patrick Hape; DE Reggie Hayward; CB Kelly Herndon; TE/LS Mike Leach; CB Jimmy Spencer; CB Scott Turner; LB Al Wilson; S Chris Young.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: CB Champ Bailey; DE Marco Coleman; DT Luther Elliss; OT Cornell Green; RB Garrison Hearst; WR Willie Jackson; DE Raylee Johnson; S John Lynch; QB Mike Quinn; TE O.J. Santiago; CB Reggie Stephens; TE Jed Weaver.

PLAYERS LOST: DE Bert Berry; LB Keith Burns; WR Chris Cole; OG Steve Herndon; CB Deltha O'Neal; RB Clinton Portis; OT Ephraim Salaam.

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