Broncos Update Insider - Monday, April 4

The Denver Broncos figure that if end Courtney Brown can stay healthy, they'll have an answer to some of their defensive line problems. Cleveland released Brown, the former first overall pick of the 2000 draft, in mid-March and the Broncos signed him last week.

Brown was impressed with Denver's coaching staff, especially former Browns defensive line coach Andre Patterson -- who was recently hired by Denver to coach its defensive front -- and liked the stability of the organization.

"I think (Denver) had everything he was looking for," Brown's agent Marvin Demoff said. "If he had a list of 10 things, they hit on all 10."

The issue with Brown, as it was for most of his career in Cleveland, is his health. Brown won't be healthy until mid-May or early June because of a torn ligament in his foot. That injury limited Brown to two games last season.

Brown has also had knee, biceps and ankle problems that have limited him to 31 games over the past four seasons, so there's no guarantee he can stay healthy for Denver.

If Brown can remain healthy he can definitely help the Broncos, who lost end Reggie Hayward in free agency and are unlikely to have end Trevor Pryce return for another season. The Broncos are trying to trade Pryce.

"When healthy, (Brown) can really help us up front," Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist said.

Brown had a chance to sign with Jacksonville, Seattle or Washington or he could have returned to Cleveland, but starting over with the Broncos made the most sense to him.

"He felt bad that he didn't produce the way Cleveland wanted," Demoff said. "It made a lot more sense to get a fresh start somewhere else."

--In the span of a few days, the Denver Broncos turned their defensive line from a glaring weakness to an intriguing unit.

Two days after end Courtney Brown agreed to terms on a contract, the Broncos traded running back Reuben Droughns to Cleveland for two more defensive linemen, end Ebenezer Ekuban and tackle Michael Myers.

The Broncos had already obtained tackle Gerard Warren in a trade this offseason, giving them four former Browns defensive linemen that Denver hopes will form a more effective unit than last year.

"It was only coincidence that they all came from Cleveland," Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist said. "We did not set out to bring all of (Andre Patterson, Denver's new assistant defensive line coach who was Cleveland's defensive line coach the past two seasons) old players here. Each situation was unique to itself and it just happened to fall that way."

Ekuban had eight sacks last year, and the Broncos think he's versatile enough to play end in the 4-3 defense, which will be Denver's base alignment, or outside linebacker when the Broncos use a 3-4 look.

Myers is a run-stopper and if Warren plays up to his potential, the interior of Denver's line should be improved.

Denver had lost end Reggie Hayward to Jacksonville in free agency, but believe they recovered well and have put together a pretty good defensive front.

"(Ekuban and Myers) are outstanding individuals, hard workers and considered

team players wherever they've been," Sundquist said. "I definitely feel we've upgraded our unit. We've been able to add three former first-rounders (Brown, Warren and Ekuban) for way less than it would have cost to keep Reggie Hayward."

NOTES, QUOTES

-- Running back Reuben Droughns didn't have any ill feelings towards the Broncos, but was excited when he was traded to Cleveland. The Broncos have established Tatum Bell as their back of the future and he will be expected to start this season, and after a 1,240-yard season last year Droughns didn't want to move to fullback.

"I would love to stay in Denver to have a chance to be the starter, but that's not going to be the case here," Droughns said the day before the trade became official. "They got their guy and I don't want to be a fullback."

-- RB Ron Dayne was signed Friday. Along with Quentin Griffin, he is expected to help carry the load behind new start Tatum Bell.

-- The Broncos have agreed to terms with defensive linemen Marco Coleman and Luther Elliss on contracts for the 2005 season, although Coleman has not officially re-signed. Coleman started 16 games last season after Trevor Pryce went down for most of the season with a back injury.

Elliss had a number of injuries last season -- which has been a pattern the past few years -- but the possibility of him staying healthy and being a solid player in the middle was enough for the Broncos to take another look at him this season.

-- The Broncos will probably not retain tackle Ellis Johnson. Denver traded for Johnson during the season last year and he played well, but the Broncos have not moved off of their contract proposal and they are prepared to move on without him.

-- The Broncos have to make a decision on end Trevor Pryce if they can't trade him. There hasn't been much of a market for Pryce, who is coming off back surgery last season, although the Broncos could perhaps trade Pryce and move up in the first round. Pryce was on the field Monday for the first day of off-season work-outs, and indicated that he may end up back in Denver with a restructured contract.

The Broncos could have Pryce back, but he would probably have to agree to a renegotiated contract, or they could release him.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's tough feeling like you don't belong to anything." -- Former Broncos running back Reuben Droughns on his time in limbo between him being granted the opportunity to seek a trade and last week's trade that sent him to Cleveland.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos don't have much salary cap room, but that could change if the team either trades, releases or restructures the contract of end Trevor Pryce. The Broncos have done a solid job rebuilding their defensive line, but many of their linemen could be free agents after next year. So they could continue to add some depth on the line, probably in the draft.

But Denver has other needs, including cornerback and offensive line depth, that they can now focus on in the draft and free agency.

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES:

1. Cornerback: The Broncos lost cornerback Kelly Herndon to Seattle and now are thin behind starters Lenny Walls and Champ Bailey. The free-agent market for cornerbacks is pretty thin so the Broncos might need to focus on getting another cornerback in the draft.
2. Offensive line: The starting five is set -- either P.J. Alexander or Cooper Carlisle can start at right guard -- but gaining depth would be nice. The Broncos will undoubtedly draft a lineman at some point, and he will be a player who can play multiple positions along the line.
3. Wide receiver. The Broncos could use one of their early draft picks on another wide receiver to go with Rod Smith, Ashley Lelie and Darius Watts. They need to plan for Smith's eventual retirement, and although Watts showed promise as a rookie last season, he wasn't always reliable. Denver also needs some depth in case there's an injury to any of its top three receivers.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--RB Garrison Hearst didn't play poorly when he was called upon last year, but the Broncos don't have much use for him with their crowded backfield.
--DT Ellis Johnson is a productive pass-rushing interior lineman and the Broncos would love to get him back for another season. RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--S Sam Brandon (tendered at $656,000 with 4th-round pick as compensation) slipped in the eyes of the organization. He could be back, but there's no guarantee.
--DT Dorsett Davis (tendered at $656,000 with 3rd-round pick as compensation) is physically talented, he just hasn't put it together yet. The Broncos probably won't want to give up on him yet.
--DE Anton Palepoi (tendered at $656,000 with 2nd-round pick as compensation) was a second-round pick with Seattle and the Broncos saw flashes of that talent after he was cut by the Seahawks.
--CB Lenny Walls (tendered at $1.43M with 1st-round pick as compensation) was undrafted -- like fellow restricted free agent Kelly Herndon - so the Broncos put a high tender offer on him to make sure he doesn't get away.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--S Chris Young (tendered at $380,000).
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
--P Jason Baker: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--T/G Cooper Carlisle: UFA; $2M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB.
--DT Luther Elliss: UFA, terms not available.
--OG Ben Hamilton: UFA; $16.25M/5 yrs, $5.5M guaranteed.
-- TE Patrick Hape: UFA, terms not available
--TE/LS Mike Leach: UFA; terms unknown.
--DT Monsanto Pope: RFA, terms not available
--TE Jeb Putzier: RFA/matched Jets offer; $12.5M/5 yrs, $2.5M SB.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED
--TE Stephen Alexander: UFA Lions; $4.2M/3 yrs, $1M bonuses.
--DE Courtney Brown: FA Browns; terms unknown.
--LB Keith Burns: UFA Buccaneers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--RB Ron Dayne: UFA Giants, terms not available.
--DE Ebenezer Ekuban (trade Browns).
--LB Ian Gold: FA Buccaneers; $25M/6 yrs, $5.75M SB/$2.5M RB '06.
--DT Michael Myers (trade Browns).
--DT Gerard Warren (trade Browns).
PLAYERS LOST
--RB Reuben Droughns (traded Browns).
--DE Reggie Hayward: UFA Jaguars; $25M/5 yrs, SB unknown.
--CB Kelly Herndon: RFA Seahawks; $15M/5 yrs, $3.6M SB.
--S Kenoy Kennedy: UFA Lions; $14M/5 yrs, $4M SB.
--LB Donnie Spragan: UFA Dolphins; $1.9M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB.

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