Denver Broncos: Breaking Down the Free Agents

Dan Allen@@DanVAllenCorrespondent IIFebruary 12, 2012

Denver Broncos: Breaking Down the Free Agents

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    As with every season for a team in the NFL, the Denver Broncos have many free agents that they must decide who to keep and who to let go in the upcoming weeks.

    Among these players are big names like Brian Dawkins, and tremendously less popular players such as Chris Clark. Some have injury concerns, some are bit players, but in the end they all may be disposable assets.

    Taking into account free agency and the NFL Draft, Denver's roster is going to have an overhaul for the second offseason in a row.

    Who will be cut and who will be kept? Take a look for yourself.

DT Brodrick Bunkley

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    Acquired via trade with Philadelphia for an undisclosed pick prior to the 2011 season, Brodrick Bunkley served as the core of the interior defensive line for Denver this season.

    In 13 starts, Bunkley managed to lead the defensive line in tackles with 43. He proved to be good in run stopping, but very poor in pass rushing attempts on the opposing quarterback. Bunkley had no sacks, continuing a trend in his career where he underperformed in the pass rush.

    Going forward Bunkley needs to develop some kind of pass rush ability, but he proved to be valuable to Denver in an otherwise thin interior defensive line.

    Verdict: Keep.

S Brian Dawkins

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    In his 16th season, Brian Dawkins showed that a safety of his age (38) could still deliver big hits.

    Dawkins totaled 51 tackles and three sacks while also getting a forced fumble in parts of 14 games. He also had six pass deflections in coverage.

    While his best days have clearly past and he's definitely lost a step in coverage, Dawkins still played a huge part in the defensive backfield this season. With Dawkins out of the picture Denver's run defense suffered, and the duo of rookie Rahim Moore and special teamer David Bruton struggled when they were forced into the starting lineup.

    Rookie Quinton Carter stepped up in Dawkins' absence, but Denver still has a notable gap at safety going into the 2012 season opposite Carter. If he's healthy and willing to take a sizable pay cut, Dawkins will be back in orange and blue.

    Verdict: Keep if healthy.

TE Daniel Fells

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    Probably the most balanced tight end on the roster, Daniel Fells is one of two veteran tight ends who are free agents, along with Dante Rosario, this offseason. Fells played in all 16 games and started all but one in 2011.

    Fells amassed the third highest touchdown count on the team with three scores while grabbing 19 receptions for 256 yards. He clearly outplayed Rosario and rookies Virgil Green and Julius Thomas in the receiving game, but still had two fumbles and several drops on big plays that cost Denver points on the board.

    Altogether, Fells is a more rounded and an overall slightly better player than Rosario. If Denver is going to keep one, they should go with Fells.

    Verdict: Keep.

LB Mario Haggan

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    Veteran linebacker Mario Haggan showcased his versatility this past season, moving back into a 4-3 scheme after starting in Denver's 3-4 scheme for the two prior seasons.

    Haggan played a utility and special teams role in 2011, totaling 23 tackles and a pick six against Minnesota in parts of 16 games. Over the past three seasons, Haggan has totaled 173 tackles, six sacks, an interception and six forced fumbles while playing at different linebacker positions each season.

    If he's willing to return on an affordable contract, Denver should take him back as an able backup and situational player, especially given the struggles of rookie linebacker Nate Irving in his first season.

    Verdict: Keep, only if the money is right.

DE Derrick Harvey

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    If you're wondering why Derrick Harvey is shown in a Jacksonville uniform in this picture, it is because he played so little for Denver this season that there are few pictures of him in orange and blue.

    Harvey saw little playing time in parts of five games, racking up four tackles and no sacks after signing with Denver just prior to the season's start. A colossal bust as the eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft, Harvey has never lived up to the hype and continued to flop in Denver this past season.

    There is little chance that Harvey will be back with Denver in 2012, especially given that the coach who gave up on him in Jacksonville is now Denver's defensive coordinator.

    Verdict: Cut.

DE Jason Hunter

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    Another holdover from the conversion back to a 4-3 defense, Jason Hunter stepped in at defensive end for Denver when needed during the season.

    Hunter started two games while stud defensive end Elvis Dumervil struggled through lingering injuries early in the season, and also split time with former first-round pick Robert Ayers on the opposite side. Following up a 2010 season that saw him total 61 tackles and three sacks, Hunter managed 21 tackles with a sack and a forced fumble in much more limited time on the field.

    Still relatively young going into his seventh season (29), Hunter could look elsewhere for a starting job in either a 4-3 or 3-4 set as a pass rusher.

    It all comes down to money with Hunter. If he will come cheap to be a backup for another season, Denver will take it. Otherwise, hit the road.

    Verdict: Keep, only if the money is right.

FB Spencer Larsen

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    One of the most versatile players in the NFL, Spencer Larsen entered the league as a linebacker and developed into a fullback with Denver over the past several seasons.

    Larsen totaled just over 100 yards between rushing and receiving in 2011 while serving mostly as a special teams player and lead blocker in Denver's run-heavy offense. He only has one touchdown in his four-season NFL career and less than 100 yards rushing in that time.

    Although he's a team player and a versatile guy, he has little real value to the team.

    If Denver's smart, they'll pass on Larsen and get themselves a true lead blocker in free agency, like Le'Ron McClain, to boost their run game.

    Verdict: Cut.

LB Joe Mays

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    Joe Mays was acquired by Josh McDaniels prior to the 2010 season as a run stopping inside linebacker for the then-current 3-4 defensive scheme. In the 2011 season Mays remained inside for the new 4-3 system under John Fox and flourished with increased playing time.

    Mays started 12 games and played significant parts in the other four games en route to 75 tackles, the third highest total on the team. Playing primarily in run situations, Mays was an above-average run stopper - something likely attributed to his offseason workout regimen that added 10 pounds of muscle to his 5'11" frame.

    Mays is young and still developing as a linebacker, while currently he has the ability to make a significant impact in the run defense. It would be foolish for Denver to let him go in free agency.

    Verdict: Keep.

K Matt Prater

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    A strong-legged kicker who is known for his clutch capability after this past season, Matt Prater was a key part of Denver's playoff run with several big kicks in 2011.

    Since getting a chance to be Denver's primary kicker in 2008, Prater has been consistent both on field goals and kickoffs. In 2011, Prater made 76 percent of his field goal attempts and kicked a season long 59 yarder versus Chicago to force overtime. Over his career Prater has kicked over 65 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks, one of the highest numbers in the league, and also made over 85 percent of his field goal attempts in both 2009 and 2010.

    Prater is amongst the best kickers in the league due to his consistency and strong leg. In the tradition of former Broncos great Jason Elam, Denver needs to lock up Prater before anybody else gets to him.

    Verdict: Keep.

QB Brady Quinn

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    Brought over in the now-infamous trade with Cleveland that sent Peyton Hillis out of Denver just before a breakout season, Brady Quinn was used so little in a 2011 season that saw Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Britton Colquitt all attempt passes before he did.

    In fact, Brady Quinn has never thrown a pass in a regular season game for Denver, even while quarterback controversies ran rampant for both seasons with the team.

    Quinn is not sticking around in Denver where he'll never get a chance to start, and neither Denver fans nor the organization want him around.

    Verdict: Cut.

TE Dante Rosario

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    An offseason pickup by head coach John Fox, Dante Rosario played for Fox in Carolina between 2007 and 2010. Rosario already knew Fox's run-heavy system well from his days in Carolina, and it was expected he would make a splash with Denver this season.

    This couldn't be any farther from what actually happened. In 2011, Rosario hauled in seven receptions in parts of 14 games for 117 yards and no scores.

    With two second-year tight ends on the roster and the possibility of Daniel Fells returning for 2012, Rosario is most likely on his way out of Denver.

    Verdict: Cut.

WR Eddie Royal

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    Eddie Royal has made Denver fans scratch their heads for years now, wondering what happened to the player that turned in such a fantastic rookie season in 2008.

    With 91 receptions for 980 yards and five touchdowns, most would expect a big career ahead for Royal, yet instead from 2009 to 2011 he had less touchdowns and only 150 more receiving yards than his breakout 2008 season. 2011 was especially miserable for Royal, with 19 receptions for 155 yards and one touchdown.

    Whether it's injuries or under-utilization, one must wonder how Royal could spiral down each season from such a great starting place.

    Royal is in the interesting situation. Denver fans want to hold on to him and the organization fears losing one of their few receivers, yet Royal could command a decent sized contract on the open market.

    Verdict: Keep, only if the money is right.

DT Marcus Thomas

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    A 2007 fourth-round draft pick, Marcus Thomas has been a player that Denver as an organization hoped would develop into a presence on the interior defensive line. Heading into the 2012 NFL Draft, it has become clear that this will never happen.

    Thomas recorded 43 total tackles in 2011, his highest total in the most playing time he has ever had. This is a poor career high for somebody who received 11 starts in 2011. With time missed due to injury and inability to start throughout his career, Thomas has totaled a mere 146 tackles in five seasons.

    Thomas will undoubtedly cost more than his worth when he hits free agency. With both Ty Warren and Kevin Vickerson under contract for 2012, Ryan McBean likely to return via restricted free agency and the likelihood that Brodrick Bunkley re-ups with Denver, there is no place for Thomas on the roster.

    Verdict: Cut.

CB Jonathan Wilhite

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    This picture just about sums up Jonathan Wilhite's season: a blunder all around. Brought in via waivers after final cuts in the preseason, Denver took Wilhite when the snake-bitten New England Patriots would have none of him.

    Wilhite finished 2011 with 28 tackles, two sacks and an interception while deflecting two passes in the nickel corner role. While he made plays here an there, Wilhite was consistently burned in coverage, enough so that undrafted rookie Chris Harris was brought in via waivers and instantly took over in the nickel set. With solid play from Harris down the stretch, Wilhite saw less looks on defense for the remainder of the season.

    With up and down young corners Cassius Vaughn and Syd'Quan Thompson returning from injuries in 2011, Wilhite has no place on the roster anymore.

    Verdict: Cut.

LB Wesley Woodyard

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    Mainly a special teams and situational player in past seasons, Wesley Woodyard took a major step forward in 2011. The special teams captain started seven games while playing on most passing downs in place of middle linebacker Joe Mays.

    Woodyard totaled 97 tackles in 2011, the highest total on Denver's roster, although he had three less solo tackles than stud linebacker D.J. Williams. Woodyard also had two forced fumbles and two passes defended.

    Between D.J. Williams, Joe Mays, Von Miller, and Wesley Woodyard, Denver should have a very solid linebacker core for future seasons.

    Verdict: Keep.

Restricted Free Agents

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    Along with the unrestricted free agents, Denver also has several restricted free agents.

    RB Lance Ball

    Ball served as a passing down back who occasionally carried the ball when needed. He totaled 550 yards and two touchdowns combined rushing and receiving, and should be back in the same role next season especially with the question marks surrounding Knowshon Moreno. 

    Verdict: Keep.

    OT Chris Clark

    Clark was used as both line depth and as a situational extra blocker in running formations. Because of his versatility and affordability, expect Clark back in 2012.

    Verdict: Keep.

    P Britton Colquitt

    Colquitt quietly had a very good season, averaging over 47 yards per punt while pinning opponents inside their 20-yard line over 30 times. He will be back in 2012.

    Verdict: Keep.

    DT Ryan McBean

    A rotational defensive tackle this season, McBean finished the season with 33 tackles and four sacks. The only interior lineman with any pass rushing ability, McBean should be back in 2012 for a situational role.

    Verdict: Keep.

    WR Matt Willis

    Willis served a role both on special teams and at receiver in 2011. While not a talented receiver, Willis can return kicks and held his own in kick coverage. With the lack of receivers on roster and potential departure of Eddie Royal, expect him back in 2012.

    Verdict: Keep.