Broncos Update Insider - 3/5

While the Denver Broncos didn't come out and say that Brandon Marshall's time with the team might be nearing an end, but their actions before free agency hinted pretty strongly at that.

The Broncos decided to give Marshall, a restricted free agent, a first-round tender. By giving him the lower tender, the team opened up the very strong possibility of a team coming in and signing Marshall to an offer sheet.

Despite a couple of Pro Bowl appearances from Marshall, the Broncos appear ready to move on. The controversy surrounding Marshall was a distraction for most of 2009.

Marshall started off wrong with the new coaching staff, skipping voluntary workouts and camps, then holding out of a mandatory minicamp. He came to training camp but made it clear he did so just to avoid fines. He was later suspended for the final two preseason games for conduct detrimental to the team.

The season went pretty well until the final week, when a disagreement about the severity of Marshall's hamstring injury led to public criticism from McDaniels and a deactivation for the final game.

Understanding that much, and perhaps all, of Marshall's unhappiness came from his contract situation, the Broncos might feel life will be easier without Marshall, while recouping a first-round pick.

The Broncos -- who tendered five restricted free agents and gave a first- and third-round tender to linebacker Elvis Dumervil -- made a public statement that didn't indicate they wanted to lose any of their free agents.

"Tendering these restricted free agents was a step we took to solidify our roster during these uncertain times with a group of players who are valued a great deal by the Broncos," general manager Brian Xanders said. "Our ultimate goal as an organization remains to acquire and keep players who give us the best chance to win."

Still, the Broncos could have much more easily held onto Marshall if they put the high tender on him. If Marshall gets an offer and the Broncos don't match, which seems likely, the team has to reevaluate its receiver position without him.

Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal will be back, Brandon Stokley is still under contract, and Kenny McKinley will be in his second season. But this is a group that will get some depth help in either free agency or the draft.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Restricted free agent Kyle Orton was given a first-round tender, which should be a clear sign that he will be back for at least one more year as Denver's quarterback.

Orton made comments during the season expressing his disappointment that he and others wouldn't be free agents because there was no new collective-bargaining agreement in place, and he probably won't get a large deal in free agency. If he does get an offer, the Broncos seem likely to match.

--If a team wants to get outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil -- Miami, with former Broncos defensive coordinator Mike Nolan comes to mind -- it will cost a lot. The Broncos put a first- and third-round tender on Dumervil. That probably will keep him in Denver, or at least will give the Broncos plenty of compensation.

Dumervil led the NFL in sacks last season and was by far the Broncos' most effective pass rusher.

--The Broncos' free-agent tender that seemed the oddest was a first-round tender for guard Chris Kuper. While Kuper is a good player, that's the same compensation the team placed on quarterback Kyle Orton and receiver Brandon Marshall.

The move might have been to block a team like Houston or Washington -- who both have Denver ties and probably covet the athletic Kuper -- from making him a huge offer. The Broncos spent about $750,000 more to give Kuper a first-round tender rather than a second-rounder.

--Denver put the original-round tender on tight end Tony Scheffler, which will be a second-rounder. If he doesn't get an offer, he seems like a prime candidate to be traded for a lesser price.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "These are all high-quality football players, and we look forward to their contributions during the 2010 season and beyond." -- General manager Brian Xanders on the team's restricted free agents.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

With receiver Brandon Marshall likely headed out of Denver, the Broncos have to adjust their offseason plan. There shouldn't be too much scrambling -- all signs this offseason pointed to a parting of ways between the team and the controversial receiver -- but that spot becomes a major priority.

The Broncos can't be guaranteed a top receiver will be available with the 11th overall pick. Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant is the only receiver being mentioned in the first half of the first round, and he could be gone. The Broncos will have to be aggressive in free agency to make sure they're not left shorthanded.

OFFSEASON STRATEGY

The Broncos put tenders on quarterback Kyle Orton, guard Chris Kuper and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil that practically ensure they will stay in Denver. That means there are three less positions the Broncos don't have to worry about this offseason. And there are plenty of positions that need help.

The Broncos acted fast in free agency last year and could again. They did well for themselves too, getting moderately priced free agents like receiver Jabar Gaffney, running back Correll Buckhalter and linebacker Andra Davis who played well in 2009.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Receiver: Brandon Marshall is likely gone. Even if he's not, the Broncos need a deep threat and some depth. This is a team that likes running multiple-receiver sets, but is currently thin.

2. Interior offensive line: The Broncos don't have a center, and both players who started at left guard last year are free agents. Denver wants a bigger interior line and will attack that area.

3. Defensive line: Denver needs both ends and tackles. The group was fine last year but needs an upgrade.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

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.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT (not tendered offer)
--*DE Le Kevin Smith (not tendered as RFA) was a solid member of the Broncos' defensive-line rotation and will probably return.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)
--*OLB Elvis Dumervil (tendered at $3.168M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) should be a high priority for the Broncos after leading the NFL in sacks.
--*G Chris Kuper (tendered at $2.521M with first-round pick as compensation) 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 (tendered at $2.521M with first-round pick as compensation) will probably be shopped in a trade after a tumultuous 2009 season.
--*QB Kyle Orton (tendered at $2.621M with first-round pick as compensation) 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.
--*TE Tony Scheffler (tendered at $1.176M with second-round pick as compensation) appears to be on his way out of Denver after attitude problems led to him being deactivated for the season finale.

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

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

PLAYERS ACQUIRED
--RB J.J. Arrington: FA; 1 yr, terms unknown. PLAYERS LOST

--RB LaMont Jordan (released).
--C Casey Wiegmann (released).



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