Broncos Update Insider - 2/21

The easy answer to the Denver Broncos' quarterback question this offseason is that Kyle Orton appears almost certain of returning for a second year as the team's starter.

Orton had a solid season in 2009, and all sides appear interested in extending the relationship.

"Tough, he is a great teammate, the players voted him as a captain," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "I've got a lot of respect for him -- I do and the players do."

The trickier part of the equation is Orton's long-term future with the team. Orton has been good enough that he deserves starter's money and a long-term deal, but there hasn't been any public indication the Broncos are willing to invest that in Orton.

Denver might not have to make a final decision on Orton right away. Orton is one of the players affected by the uncertainty in the labor agreement. With no new collective-bargaining agreement, Orton will be a restricted free agent.

The Broncos will certainly tender Orton and as long as there is no new agreement, can let him play for another year and reevaluate. Orton did play well at times, with 3,802 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2009. He was also careful with the ball, throwing only 12 interceptions. The Broncos value good decision making and Orton delivered that most of the year.

However, he isn't a dynamic playmaker, and even though he played well was not considered one of the AFC's elite quarterbacks. Seven quarterbacks were at one time or another named to the Pro Bowl because of players backing out due to injury, and Orton wasn't one of them.

The Broncos could decide to draft a young quarterback to learn behind Orton. McDaniels didn't rule out drafting a quarterback with the team's first-round pick. Denver also has Tom Brandstater, a 2009 sixth-round pick who became a fan favorite after two good outings in last year's preseason. But he has never played in a NFL game and has a way to go.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--Linebacker Darrell Reid had knee surgery after the season and could miss training camp, KDVR-TV first reported. Reid hurt his knee late in the season but played through the pain.

Reid's value is mostly as a special-teams player and as a situational pass rusher. He played extensively in nickel situations and had four sacks.

--Denver hired Craig Aukerman as a defensive assistant. Aukerman had spent the previous 10 seasons coaching college. This will be his first NFL assistant job. He spent last season at Kent State coaching linebackers.

--The Broncos won't raise ticket prices for the second straight year, and will decrease the price of some club level seats by 21 percent, the team announced.

"We recognize and understand the economic challenges facing our fans," Broncos senior vice president of business development Mac Freeman said. "Their support for the Broncos has remained overwhelming despite an uncertain financial climate. We appreciate their loyalty and want to make sure they can continue to share in the excitement of our team during the 2010 season."

--The trial for Willie Clark, who is accused of killing Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams, is set to begin in Denver on Feb. 22. Williams was shot and killed in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2007.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was his first year in this system and the system is dramatically different from the one (Kyle Orton was in) before, so I would look for him to continue to improve in our system." -- Broncos coach Josh McDaniels on Kyle Orton.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

OFFSEASON STRATEGY --The unusual contrast with the Broncos this offseason is that while they have plenty of key free agents, they don't have many important free agents who are definitely going to be unrestricted.

So while the team waits to see what happens on the labor front, the biggest unrestricted free agent it has is guard Russ Hochstein, who is coming off a season-ending knee injury. Unless the team wants to reward a player like Elvis Dumervil with a long-term contract before the free-agency period begins, they might not make many signings before March.

TEAM NEEDS 1. Receiver: If Brandon Marshall returns, this position might not top the list, but either way the Broncos could use some help here. The Broncos don't have many receivers that can stretch the field, which hurt the offense in 2009.

2. Defensive line: The Broncos could use depth at nose tackle and at both end positions. The starters were solid, but there may not be a future Pro Bowl player in the group. Denver should look long and hard at investing in the line this offseason.

3. Guard/center: The Broncos are moving away from the zone-blocking scheme, which means they need to get bigger up front. The team is set at tackle with Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris, but there will be some tinkering with the three interior line spots.

MEDICAL WATCH: OT Ryan Harris has extensive rehabilitation in front of him after a toe injury ended his 2009 season. He might not be 100 percent for the start of offseason conditioning, but it doesn't appear he'll miss any time in training camp.

--G Russ Hochstein had surgery after suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 16. The late timing of his injury means he could miss some time at the start of training camp.

--WR Kenny McKinley suffered a season-ending leg injury late in the year, but should return and be ready for training camp.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--P Mitch Berger was a midseason signee who had an up-and-down year. With the late-season addition of Britton Colquitt, don't expect Berger back.
--S Vernon Fox added some depth on special teams late in the year. He could return for camp.
--OT Brandon Gorin gave the Broncos some experience at tackle but was not the primary backup at the position. Denver could look elsewhere.
--LB Nick Greisen missed all of last season with a knee injury, and his health could determine his future.
--G Ben Hamilton was benched last season, and as a better fit in a zone-blocking scheme, is unlikely to return.
--G Russ Hochstein seemed like a good fit to return after playing well at left guard last year, but a knee injury clouds his future.
--DE Vonnie Holliday was a pleasant surprise as an addition right before the season started and would seem like a good bet to return for another year.
--CB Ty Law played well after being picked up during the season but did deal with some injuries and is near the end of his career. If he is re-signed, it's a sign the Broncos don't have much faith in 2009 second-round pick Alphonso Smith.
--WR Brandon Lloyd was inactive for the first 14 weeks of the season, then surprisingly played pretty well when pressed into action the final two games. He could be brought back to battle for a roster spot.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)
--*OLB Elvis Dumervil should be a high priority for the Broncos after leading the NFL in sacks.
--*G Chris Kuper is a talented player but was brought in under the old regime. The Broncos will wait and see what kind of attention he gets in free agency.
--*WR Brandon Marshall will probably be shopped in a trade after a tumultuous 2009 season.
--*QB Kyle Orton appears to be penciled in as the Broncos' starting quarterback for another season, but the question is whether the team wants to sign him long term.
--K Matt Prater had an excellent season in 2009 and will come back.
--*TE Tony Scheffler appears to be on his way out of Denver after attitude problems led to him being deactivated for the season finale.
--*DE Le Kevin Smith was a solid member of the Broncos' defensive-line rotation and will probably return.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--S Josh Barrett is solid on special teams and has good athletic ability.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: None.

PLAYERS LOST: None.



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