Around the League - Tuesday, July 5

The Denver Broncos might be the only team in the NFL that could trade their leading rusher, someone who gained 1,240 yards last season, and the move doesn't create a ripple with the team's fans. Reuben Droughns, who saved Denver's running game last season after Quentin Griffin failed in the starting role, was traded to Cleveland. Denver has plenty of candidates to start at tailback, but the main beneficiary of the Droughns trade will likely be Tatum Bell.

Outside of the high-flying act in Indianapolis, every offense in the NFL enters the 2005 season with significant questions to answer.

Do you like the revamped firepower in Oakland, where Randy Moss promises to lead an aggressive downfield passing game? Of course, running back LaMont Jordan is a feature back for the first time, the offensive line is undergoing some changes and quarterback Kerry Collins is prone to streaks where he will turn the ball over far too often.

How about the star-studded group of veterans in Green Bay? Well, quarterback Brett Favre will turn 36 in October, running back Ahman Green is coming off an injury-plagued -- but still productive -- season and emerging star receiver Javon Walker sat out the offseason program in a contract dispute.

Then there is Minnesota, which is transitioning from an aerial-based attack with Moss to one that relies more on controlling the ball behind its massive offensive line. The only problem is Michael Bennett -- expected to be the feature back in a deep but inconsistent group -- has started just 14 games and logged 160 carries the past two seasons, and Jim Kleinsasser, arguably the game's best run-blocking tight end, hasn't played since tearing his ACL in the season opener last year.

"Offensively, we're going to be as good as anybody," Vikings coach Mike Tice said.

Then there are the up-and-coming offenses, like that of San Diego. The Chargers have one of the game's best running backs in LaDainian Tomlinson, who last season finally had complementary weapons to prevent defenses from dialing in on him. Cincinnati is in a similarly envious position, with quarterback Carson Palmer poised for a breakthrough season with his own strong supporting cast.

Of course, with talent comes the challenge of keeping everyone satisfied and involved in the game. And nowhere does that figure to be more difficult than in Oakland, where everyone will be watching how Moss plays along with fellow receivers Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry.

If you believe Moss, there is one easy solution to that potential problem.

"Are we winning?" he asked.

Sounds simple enough.

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DENVER BRONCOS
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HOT TOPIC
The Denver Broncos might be the only team in the NFL that could trade their leading rusher, someone who gained 1,240 yards last season, and the move doesn't create a ripple with the team's fans.

Reuben Droughns, who saved Denver's running game last season after Quentin Griffin failed in the starting role, was traded to Cleveland for defensive linemen Ebenezer Ekuban and Michael Myers, which was the biggest move the Broncos made offensively this offseason. Denver also traded another 1,000-yard back last offseason when it sent Clinton Portis to Washington for Champ Bailey. But Denver has plenty of candidates to start at tailback, and the Broncos' system has taken plenty of lesser-known backs and made them stars so there is not much concern about trading Droughns.

The main beneficiary of the Droughns trade will likely be Tatum Bell. Bell, a second-round pick last year, has the breakaway speed that Droughns did not. Bell was poised to be the full-time starter down the stretch last year when he had a great game in relief against Miami, after Droughns was benched because of fumbles. But Bell separated his shoulder late in that game.

Bell did impress the coaches by playing through the injury for the rest of the season, even though it limited him to part-time duty off the bench. If Bell can stay healthy and avoid injuries in training camp, he's the favorite to win the starting job. Mike Anderson, a tough runner who fits Mike Shanahan's system, is recovered from groin surgery that kept him out in 2004 and can't be forgotten. Ron Dayne, Griffin and Maurice Clarett will also compete at the starting tailback spot.

Aside from the Droughns trade, Denver's biggest offseason moves on offense were keeping some of their own free agents. Restricted free agent tight end Jeb Putzier signed an offer sheet with the New York Jets, but that was matched by Denver, which likes Putzier's potential. Guard Ben Hamilton was an unrestricted free agent who was re-signed by Denver.

Quarterback Jake Plummer could have been a free agent had the Broncos declined a $6 million option bonus in March, but the Broncos committed to Plummer by paying him the bonus money.

Denver's other offensive free-agent acquisitions were to help depth. The Broncos signed Dayne, hoping the former first-round pick will fit better in their offensive system than he did with the New York Giants. Tight end Stephen Alexander could help Denver in the red zone, and guard Cameron Spikes will be a backup.

The Broncos also made one other move for depth -- they signed future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who will be 43 in October. Although Rice is an interesting story, he wasn't guaranteed a roster spot and will probably start training camp as Denver's fourth receiver.

NOTES

--The Broncos lost safety Kenoy Kennedy and cornerback Kelly Herndon in free agency this offseason. However, they think that new defensive backs coach Bob Slowik will be a difference maker.

Slowik has been a defensive coordinator before in his career, most recently in Green Bay last season, so he brings valuable experience to a Broncos secondary that will look much different this year. "It gives some stability back there and we're really going to benefit from that," Lynch said.

--When the Broncos signed defensive end Courtney Brown, they were optimistic he would stay healthy and live up to his enormous potential. End Ebenezer Ekuban, who was a teammate of Brown's in Cleveland, said he thinks that is possible.

"I'm optimistic that with a new environment and a sense of relief that he's out of Cleveland and gets a fresh start, I'm optimistic he's going to come in here and do a terrific job for the Broncos," Ekuban said.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

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: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
--S Sam Brandon: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
--T/G Cooper Carlisle: UFA; $2M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB.
--DE Marco Coleman: UFA; terms unknown.
--DT Dorsett Davis: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
--DT Luther Elliss: UFA; terms unknown.
--OG Ben Hamilton: UFA; $16.25M/5 yrs, $5.5M guaranteed.
--TE Patrick Hape: UFA; terms unknown.
--TE/LS Mike Leach: UFA; terms unknown.
--DE Anton Palepoi: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
--DT Monsanto Pope: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
--TE Jeb Putzier: RFA/matched Jets offer; $12.5M/5 yrs, $2.5M SB.
--CB Lenny Walls: RFA; $1.43M/1 yr.
--S Chris Young: ERFA; $380,000/1 yr.

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.
--OT Anthony Clement: FA Cardinals; terms unknown.
--RB Ron Dayne: UFA Giants; terms unknown.
--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).
--WR Jerry Rice: FA Seahawks; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--P Todd Sauerbrun (trade Panthers).
--OG Cameron Spikes: UFA Cardinals; terms unknown.
--DT Gerard Warren (trade Browns).

PLAYERS LOST
--OG P.J. Alexander (injured).
--P Jason Baker (trade Panthers).
--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.
--OG Dan Neil (released).
--LB Donnie Spragan: UFA Dolphins; $1.9M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB.

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