Players the Denver Broncos Absolutely Must Re-Sign
Following a very successful season that ended with a heartbreaking loss, the Denver Broncos now turn their attention to the offseason and on the front burner will be signing some of the their 16 free agents.
This team has a solid nucleus of players, Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller to name a few, and are poised to make another run at the Super Bowl.
The team will have many decisions to juggle in the coming weeks and months between free agents to re-sign and free agents they want to target from other teams. There are several current players who will be an integral part in the team's success. Because of that, they must be re-signed.
Here is a look at eight players whom the team needs to keep on the roster for next season and beyond.
Tony Carter, Cornerback
After playing in just eight games during the first three years of his career, Tony Carter saw extensive action this past season, playing in nearly every game after struggling just to make the team.
With Champ Bailey and Chris Harris entrenched as the starting cornerbacks, Carter will see action mostly in nickel and dime packages, but that is where he can be very effective.
Carter had two interceptions in 2012 and was in on 12 pass breakups, getting better just about every time he was on the field. He made two huge plays in the Week 6 comeback win against San Diego. Without his interception and fumble return for a touchdown, the Broncos don't win that game.
Carter is an exclusive-rights free agent, so he will certainly be a member of the team going into camp, where he'll again have to prove himself.
Mitch Unrein, Defensive Tackle
Like Carter, Mitch Unrein is an exclusive-rights free agent who will have a shot to make the team in 2013, and unless the Broncos bring in an abundance of defensive tackles, he should.
The Broncos are thin at the defensive tackle position and Unrein, Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson are all free agents.
At 25 years old, Unrein is a rising star for the Broncos, who has a bigger upside than Bannan. What sets him apart is his ability to line up on the offensive side of the ball, getting many chances to do so in 2012 as a lead blocker in goal-to-go situations as part of the Broncos' power run package. This allowed him to catch a touchdown pass from Manning.
Unrein was a great role player for the Broncos this past season but could conceivably be a starter if the team can't sign both Bannan and Vickerson.
Kevin Vickerson, Defensive Tackle
It would be very nice to see Denver use a high draft pick on a defensive tackle, but even if they do, they'll still need depth at the position, and Vickerson is the best defensive tackle on the team.
Vickerson had 40 tackles in 2012, five of which went for a loss. He also tallied two quarterback sacks and a forced fumble.
The Broncos allowed just 91.1 yards rushing a game last season, good for third best in the league, and Vickerson was a big reason why.
Keith Brooking, Linebacker
It may be as much of a surprise to see Keith Brooking on this list as it was when Denver signed him in the first place, but because of how thin they are at the position, they need to keep him.
With Wesley Woodyard and Von Miller, the team has two excellent outside linebackers, but the middle linebacker position is weak. Aside from Brooking, the team has just Joe Mays and Steven Johnson.
The Broncos definitely need to address this position in addition to re-signing Brooking, whether it be through the draft, with a player like Kevin Minter, or free agency, with someone like Cincinnati's Rey Maualuga. One other option the team would have is to move Woodyard or D.J. Williams to the middle linebacker spot, with Brooking becoming a backup and providing depth.
The best scenario would be to draft a player and have Brooking share with the rookie what he has learned during his 15 years of NFL service.
Britton Colquitt, Punter
During his three years as a Bronco, Colquitt has become one of the league's best punters, averaging 46.1 yards per punt over his career, while placing 31 percent of his kicks inside the 20-yard line.
Last season, his 42.1 yard net average was good for third in the NFL and the hang time he gets on his kicks is perfect for the thin air in Denver.
It would be a good idea for the Broncos to keep this guy kicking for them rather than for someone else.
Dan Koppen, Center
Although he wasn't the first option at center going into last season, Dan Koppen ended up working out pretty well.
Koppen was part of a solid offensive line, and the veteran leadership gained from his playing days in New England was something Manning and rest of the OL surely appreciated.
J.D. Walton lost his job due to an ankle injury, but Koppen should keep it due to being a better player.
Brandon Stokley, Wide Receiver
Going back to training camp last summer, it seemed Brandon Stokley could be on the bubble to make the team. Not only did he make it, he was a key contributor all year long.
Stokley had 45 catches for 544 yards and five touchdowns, and it was clear his connection with Manning hadn't faded as the two came up with several clutch plays.
Manning did have two 1,000-yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but having a third receiving option was key, and Stokley stepped up in that regard more than any other player.
While he will be 37 years old when the 2013 season starts, Matthew Willis is also a free agent. If Denver can bring back only one of them, Stokley is the choice, hands down.
The Broncos could sign him to another one-year deal and see if he can help bring the team a ring.
Ryan Clady, Tackle
Retaining Ryan Clady, one of the league's premier left tackles, is a no-brainer. But out of all the players on this list, he'll be the one Denver has to fend off other teams in order to keep.
That is because Clady is an unrestricted free agent, free to go wherever the money takes him.
Denver needs to be proactive in re-signing Clady and getting it done needs to be at the top of the organization's to do list.
The Broncos may have no choice but to place their franchise tag on him, but it would be huge if they could sign him to a big, long-term deal.
The perennial Pro Bowler gave up just one sack all of last season and is a key piece to the Broncos success. It's a must that they keep him in Denver.