Ranking the Biggest Free Agent Priorities for the Denver Broncos
The 2013 NFL league year starts in less than three weeks, at which time the free-agent market will officially open.
The Denver Broncos were one of the elite teams in the league in 2012 and may be just a player or two away from another run at the Lombardi Trophy.
While the Broncos can address most of their needs in this year's draft, there are plenty of good options available through free agency.
For a look at the Broncos' biggest free-agent decisions, ranked in priority from lowest to highest, click forward.
There is no question that when healthy, Chris Kuper is one of the best guards in the league. But that has been the problem.
After being injured in the season finale in 2011, Kuper went on to play in just seven games for the Broncos in 2012, starting just five. This forced Manny Ramirez into the lineup more than Denver probably would have liked.
Ramirez didn't play terribly, but he wasn't exactly great either. Because of this, the Broncos may look to sign an experienced player who can come off the bench and spell Kuper a little bit better if necessary.
So who might the team be looking at?
Kevin Boothe is a 6'5" veteran who has spent the last six seasons as a member of the new York Giants, winning two Super Bowls with them. He is an unrestricted free agent.
Doug Legursky is a very versatile player who can come off the bench and play just about any position on the offensive line, but he excels at guard and center. He is one of those players who does the little things well. Legursky and the Steelers' starting right guard, Ramon Foster, are both unrestricted free agents, so they may not bring both back.
Legursky would be an excellent backup for the Broncos.
5. Adding Some Depth to the Secondary
Many Bronco fans will likely feel this should be higher on the list, still with a bitter taste in their mouth from a divisional playoff game that saw Champ Bailey get beat up and down the field by Torrey Smith of the Ravens and second-year safety Rahim Moore give up an inexcusable touchdown that tied it up late.
The Broncos probably should see what's out there, but lets look at the positives.
Chris Harris is quietly developing into one of the best young corners in the entire NFL. The team still has Quinton Carter, who could even start at safety next season if he can bounce back from knee surgery. Then you have Moore, who despite the play for which he will be forever remembered, had a very good season, making 72 tackles while coming up with an interception and a fumble recovery.
At cornerback, there is a very good chance the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens won't be able to afford Cary Williams. He could come in and play the nickel while getting comfortable with the defense. If the move worked out, the team could explore moving the aging Bailey to safety as early as next year.
The Broncos will need to decide whether or not to bring back Jim Leonhard, but there is a big-name safety that just hit the market. Charles Woodson was recently let go by Green Bay. Could he end up in Denver? It may not be too far-fetched.
4. Middle Linebacker
This is easily one of the Broncos' glaring weaknesses and a position that must be addressed through free agency or the draft—or both.
Before his horrendous 2012 season ended due to injury, Joe Mays lost his starting spot to Keith Brooking. Brooking played respectably for the team, but he clearly isn't the answer going forward.
There are several players to be had at this position in the draft and the team almost assuredly will select one, but they may be able to shore up the position even better in free agency.
Green Bay's Brad Jones and Baltimore's Dannell Ellerbe will likely command big contracts, but if Denver was willing to dole out one of those, either of these players would instantly give the Broncos one of the league's best linebacking corps.
If the Broncos don't go after Jones or Ellerbe, the draft is probably the best route to fix this position. There are several guys available who can stop the run, such as Bart Scott or Bradie James, but neither is good in coverage. The Broncos already have that type of player.
But what about a long shot? If the Chicago Bears allow Brian Urlacher to move on, don't rule out the Broncos being interested.
3. Look for Another Option at Wide Receiver
The Broncos have an incredible one-two punch with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but both Brandon Stokley and Matthew Willis are free agents and Andre Caldwell did next to nothing last year. Even if Stokley is retained, he will turn 37 years old in June.
Many fans would probably like to see a guy like Danny Amendola come over from the St. Louis Rams. Amendola is probably right below Wes Welker as far as slot receivers go, but he misses just about as many games as he suits up for.
Other options might include Julian Edelman, Emmanuel Sanders or Steve Breaston. The Broncos should bring someone in, if nothing else than to push people in training camp.
However, Stokley, even at 37, is a better option than any of these guys because of his compatibility with Peyton Manning. Re-sign Stokley and let Willis go.
How about a sleeper? Gerell Robinson, a name Broncos fans may remember. He was signed to a futures contract and will hopefully be given every chance to make the team. The kid can play.
2. Defensive Tackle
This is easily the area Denver needs to focus on the most and drafting a player as well as signing a free agent should be in the plans.
Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan are both free agents and the Broncos could use an upgrade for both players, so at least one of them should go.
Terrance Knighton of Jacksonville has to be high on the target list. He struggled last season and was eventually replaced by C.J. Mosley, but defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, Knighton's former coach, would be able to turn his career around. He is a big, athletic player who would make sense in Denver.
Randy Starks of Miami is another, yet more expensive, option. Starks is able to create the burst up the middle that the Broncos need in order for Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil to be even more effective as pass-rushers.
Then there is Dwight Freeney, whose name has come up in Denver. Reportedly, his former Indianapolis Colts teammate Manning sent him a text (via NFL.com) earlier this week, possibly in a recruiting effort.
If the Broncos were able to land Freeney, he could line up opposite Dumervil at defensive end, allowing the team to slide Derek Wolfe over to tackle, his natural position.
1. Get Clady an Extension
This was, is and has been the biggest priority for the Broncos this offseason. Ryan Clady easily stands out as the biggest name of their free agents this year.
The team has made clear their intentions to use their franchise tag on him, which would likely put him in Denver for at least one more season. But according to NBC Sports, Clady doesn't plan on signing that tender soon.
Clady has become one of the top left tackles in the league, evidenced by the fact he allowed just one sack the entire 2012 season. Still, the Broncos hold all the cards here.
Without seeing what Clady can do post-surgery, and knowing they have the franchise tag in their back pocket, it's nearly certain that Clady won't see a long-term extension until next offseason.
But Manning would probably like to see that deal done sooner rather than later, as would most Denver fans.