One of the few free agent groups housing multiple potential superstars, the Broncos face a choice they largely had in mind when they allowed a less-talented contract-year contingent to depart en masse last year.
Beyond ensuring Demaryius Thomas returns, which GM John Elway has already done, a key question in Denver: who else to retain, writes The Denver Post’s Mike Klis. The longtime Broncos reporter identified nine positions of need for the Broncos this offseason, and shed some light on which of the nine free agent starters he expects back in Denver.
Klis paints a reality where the Broncos lose both Terrance Knighton and Julius Thomas, which would allow Denver to add more outside free agents and perhaps ink some of their lower-tier free agent starters but leave gaping voids. Knighton’s price tag may now be too high for the Broncos ($28.5MM of cap space, listed at OverTheCap). Knighton’s been vocal on his preference to return to his post on the Denver defensive interior, but beyond Ndamukong Suh, there isn’t a more proven option in his prime than the 28-year-old run-stuffer — the 12th- and ninth-best defensive tackle the past two years, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) — on the market. Sylvester Williams, the Broncos’ top in-house option at nose in their new 3-4 set, was one of the worst interior performers PFF graded last year.
Adding Jordan Cameron or former Gary Kubiak disciple Owen Daniels, who’s started for the Broncos’ new coach with the Texans and Ravens the past nine years, but neither offers the red zone security than does Julius Thomas (24 touchdown catches in the past two years). Klis also expects Denver to draft a tight end.
The Broncos also want former second-round pick and three-year full-time starter Rahim Moore back, but at a hometown price. With T.J. Ward, Chris Harris and Aqib Talib all making top-20 per-year money in the starting secondary, the Broncos would be cash-poor at areas of greater need if they re-signed Moore at or near his asking price.
Other items of note from Klis:
- The Broncos will bring in a fullback for the first time since briefly using Chris Gronkowski in 2012. Veteran starters Jerome Felton and Henry Hynoski as possible space-clearers in Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme are available.
- Orlando Franklin, a four-year starter at either right tackle or left guard, will probably join Julius Thomas as high-paid players on other teams after a productive season inside.
- Rookie sixth-round center Matt Paradis could be a cheap in-house option to replace free agent 32-year-old Will Montgomery.
In other news across the Broncos’ free agent board …
- Columnist Woody Paige listed a blueprint of how Elway can fix the possible mass exodus of Denver-honed talent. Most notably, Paige calls for the addition of Cardinals noseguard Dan Williams, who was just two slots behind Knighton on PFF’s aforementioned DT grades, has experience in a 3-4 set and won’t be as expensive. Top-tier free agents Bryan Bulaga and Devin McCourty are also mentioned as options, but adding either of those two probably come at a cost of abandoning any plans to retain their own big-name FAs.
- Benjamin Hochman and Mark Kiszla of The Post debate whether Virgil Green, also a free agent, can replace Julius Thomas while second-guessing the market’s top tight end’s negotiating strategy after turning down a reported $8MM per year. Hochman does not expect Thomas to earn that this year, although Jared Cook and Kyle Rudolph make $7MM-plus per season, so it might not be out of the question for Thomas to draw that next month.