Broncos Update Insider - 1/7

K Jason Elam is probably the team's top priority in free agency. Denver's list of unrestricted free agents is pretty light.

The Broncos will have to address their offensive line in the offseason, especially after LT Matt Lepsis decided to retire after 11 seasons. C Tom Nalen (biceps) and G Ben Hamilton (concussion) should be able to return in 2008, but there are no guarantees.

Ryan Harris, a third-round pick in 2007, is the early favorite to enter the starting lineup at tackle to replace Lepsis. Erik Pears, who spent more than half of 2006 at left tackle, moved to right tackle in 2007, but he could go back on the left side next season.

COACHING CAROUSEL: Broncos coach Mike Shanahan is among the safest coaches in the NFL, despite a 7-9 season. Owner Pat Bowlen has said repeatedly that Shanahan will be his coach as long as Shanahan wants.

However, the assistants might not be on as solid ground. The players anticipated some changes would be made. Whether that includes assistant head coach/defense Jim Bates, whose defense didn't perform well during his first season in Denver, remains to be seen.

FREE AGENT UPDATE: K Jason Elam is probably the team's top priority in free agency. Denver's list of unrestricted free agents is pretty light. FB Cecil Sapp is the only starter. S Nick Ferguson, a starter for much of his five-year stint with the team, was benched earlier this year. He is also an unrestricted free agent.

Four young contributors -- C Chris Myers, S Hamza Abdullah and CBs Domonique Foxworth and Karl Paymah -- are restricted free agents. All of them are expected back.

FEELING A DRAFT: The Broncos have the 12th pick of the draft, and the top priority should be defense. Start up front and move back. If a lineman who can make an immediate impact falls, that could be Denver's pick. Linebacker will also interest the team. If there's not good value for their front seven, safety would also be a position of interest. The Broncos have been active in the past few years in either moving up or down in the first round, so a trade is possible.

TEAM NEEDS

Defensive tackle: The team needs some interior help for its run defense after patching things together in 2007.

Linebacker: If Denver can find a solid middle linebacker, perhaps it would move D.J. Williams back to his natural outside linebacker position.

Safety: John Lynch could retire and Nick Ferguson is a free agent, so the Broncos might finally be forced to find some replacements this offseason.

MEDICAL WATCH: WR Rod Smith needs more surgery on his hip. His brilliant career with Denver is likely done.

WR Brandon Stokley missed Denver's last three games with a knee injury, but he won't need surgery and should be fine with some rest.

C Tom Nalen is recovering from a biceps injury, and he should be able to return in 2008 if he wants to.

DE Jarvis Moss broke his fibula in midseason. He will return next year, and the Broncos hope the injury won't affect his offseason.



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