Denver Broncos' 5 Biggest 2013 Offseason Decisions
The 12-3 Denver Broncos are about to close out one of their best seasons since 1998 and are viewed by many as Super Bowl favorites.
After the season ends, however, the team will have to make a lot of decisions. Many Broncos will be free agents this offseason, and not all of them will be coming back.
Let's take a look at some of Denver's biggest offseason decisions:
1. Who Will Be the Starting Running Back?
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Both Willis McGahee (due $2.5 million) and Knowshon Moreno (due $1.7 million) are under contract for 2013, but who will start?
Perhaps more importantly, will both of them even return?
McGahee enjoyed a lot of success in Year 1 with the Broncos, rushing for 1,119 yards and four scores while helping the Broncos to lead the league on the ground in 2011. This season, however, McGahee struggled with ball security (fumbling five times), and he went down with a serious injury in Week 11, ending his season.
Moreno took over in McGahee's place and has been on fire since then, rushing for 481 yards and scoring three touchdowns. Running with authority and power, Moreno has proved that he deserves a chance to be Denver's feature back of the future.
So, will the Broncos even bring back McGahee? Youngster Ronnie Hillman has provided a nice change of pace to Moreno's style, and Jacob Hester has evolved into the team's short-yardage option, eliminating the need for McGahee.
Ultimately, the offense hasn't missed McGahee this season, which could result in the 11th-year veteran being cast away next offseason.
2. Who Will Be the Starting Center?
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Former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels drafted center J.D. Walton in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft out of Baylor. Since then, Walton has started every week he has been healthy, but that has been a rare sight this season.
In Week 4, Walton was placed on injured reserve with a broken ankle. The Broncos were 2-2 at the time, and the offensive line was not playing noticeably well.
In Walton's place, 33-year old veteran Dan Koppen stepped up, starting in the past 11 games and helping the Broncos to go 10-1 during that time frame. A proven veteran, Koppen has been penalized just once this season and has only allowed one sack while helping the Broncos offense to rank No. 4 overall in the NFL.
Koppen will be a free agent in 2013, forcing the Broncos to make a decision. Will the team re-sign Koppen or go back to Walton, who has played relatively well but has injury concerns?
Whether or not the team is planning on starting Koppen next season, they would be wise to bring him back for depth. You never know when an offensive lineman will go down; just ask the Broncos.
3. What Will the Team Do with Tracy Porter?
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In the offseason, cornerback Tracy Porter was viewed as one of Denver's top free-agent acquisitions. That was before the emergence of Chris Harris.
Porter's productivity through the first four weeks of the season is debatable, as the 26-year-old cornerback totaled 21 tackles and an interception while also being burned badly on several occasions. Something went wrong, however, when Porter suffered Saussure-like symptoms midseason, causing him to miss 11 consecutive games.
In Porter's absence, Chris Harris, a second-year cornerback who earned All Rookie honors in 2011, burst onto the season. Harris has totaled 59 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three interceptions.
Harris has been a sure tackler, and his coverage skills have been remarkable. Many considered him to be a Pro Bowl snub, including Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, who considers Harris to be a "damn good player."
Porter will be a free agent in 2013, and after losing his starting job this season, it seems unlikely that he will want to return in the offseason. And the Broncos will have no reason to want to bring him back.
4. Will Brandon Stokley Return?
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One of the best feel-good stories of 2012, Brandon Stokley wasn't even planning on playing football this season. Then Peyton Manning called him up to run some routes.
Stokley ran routes for Manning during his recovery and free-agency tour, and even hosted him at his Denver-based home when the veteran quarterback visited the Broncos. Both Manning and Stokley realized that The Slot Machine could still play, and Denver agreed, signing him to a one-year deal.
This season, Stokley has caught 42 passes for 495 yards and five touchdowns, a big improvement from his 2011 totals (one catch for seven yards). One of Manning's favorite third-down targets, Stokley has been reliable and has provided veteran experience in Denver this season.
Stokley will turn 37 before Denver's 2013 summer training camp, but he appears to still have some gas left in the tank. The Broncos will have to weigh their options in the offseason when new, younger receivers will give Stokley competition for his job.
5. Will Denver Franchise Tag Ryan Clady?
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The big man protecting quarterback Peyton Manning will be a free agent in 2013, and he will want big money for doing such a fine job.
Starting left tackle Ryan Clady hasn't missed a start since entering the NFL in 2008 and just earned his third Pro Bowl berth after allowing just one sack this season. That's a job well done at one of the NFL's most important positions—protecting the most important position, quarterback.
In the offseason, the Broncos will likely slap Clady with a $9.66 million offensive lineman franchise tag, keeping him in Denver through the 2013 season.
Ultimately, though, the Broncos will have to give Clady a long-term deal. There's no non-financial reason for the team not to do that as soon as possible.