The Broncos' unrestricted free agents can talk and sign with any team, but the Broncos can negotiate, match and offer to a restricted free agent. The exclusive-rights Broncos players can only sign with the Broncos for the 2013 season.
The Broncos have approximately $15 million worth of salary cap room to work with when re-signing free agents. There may need to be some restructuring of contracts or cuts in order to fall under the salary cap.
Who will the Broncos ask to restructure? Who will they let walk?
There are 10 unrestricted free agents currently on the Broncos' roster.
Bannan and first-year defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, were part of the third-best run defense in the entire NFL. While Bannan is great in his role as defensive tackle, the Broncos may want to look into younger talent. If his market value isn't too high, I would offer Bannan a one-year deal worth approximately $1 million.
His veteran talent would help push the Broncos to the Super Bowl in 2013.
The Denver Broncos picked up Keith Brooking in early August, and he started 14 of 16 regular-season games. Brooking was utilized to fill the hole when the Broncos lost D.J. Williams to a league suspension. He played solid and ended up as the Broncos starting middle linebacker.
At 37 years old, the Broncos will need to think about adding youth in the linebacker position instead of signing Brooking to a long deal. If Brooking doesn't retire and the Broncos decide to bring him back, they should do a one-year deal at the veteran minimum of $940,000.
David Bruton was an integral part of the special teams, playing in all 16 regular-season games and finishing with five tackles. The only reason Bruton won't be back in Denver in 2013 is if another team wants to give him a chance on defense as well as special teams and offer him more money/years.
John Elway should offer Bruton a multi-year deal, possibly two to three years worth $1 million each year, which would be a raise from his current salary.
Ryan Clady is Denver's top offseason priority. Clady allowed only one sack in the entire season and played in his third Pro Bowl in five seasons. Clady is 26 years old and would be the perfect fit to protect Peyton Manning's blind side for years to come.
The Broncos are looking to place the franchise tag on Clady. If they do, Clady would be guaranteed a one-year deal worth $9.66 million. There really isn't a risk with Clady. He has proven to be worth a big deal.
The Broncos picked up Dan Koppen in the regular season to take the place of injured J.D. Walton. Koppen turned out to be the most reliable lineman other than Ryan Clady. An NFL veteran of 10 years, Koppen started in 12 of 15 games and only allowed one sack.
Walton is under contract for the 2013 season, but Koppen proved to be more productive. The Broncos could bring Koppen back and have him compete against Walton for the 2013 starting center position. The Broncos should offer Koppen a one-year, $3 million deal.
After 2013, the Broncos could revisit talks with Koppen about a longer deal if he beats Walton for the starting position.
Jim Leonhard played in all 16 regular-season games, finishing with 18 tackles and two interceptions. While the safety made plays on the field, the Broncos will be better off letting him walk and picking up a rookie in the draft or free agency.
Tracy Porter signed a one-year deal with the Broncos prior to the 2012 season and was expected to make a big impact opposite Champ Bailey. Porter suffered from seizure-like conditions before Week 6 and missed most of the rest of the season. While he was out, Chris Harris and Tony Carter shined. While Porter offers great veteran experience, Harris and Carter offer youth and did a great job taking over Porter's position.
I don't see the Broncos using cap space to bring Porter back.
Brandon Stokley returned for a second stint with the Broncos after playing with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis from 2003 to 2006. Stokley came back to play with Manning, and I expect John Elway to bring him back in 2013. Stokley helped Manning ease into Mile High by completing 45 passes for 544 yards and five touchdowns.
Stokley has said he wants to play another year, and hopefully, he'll end his career with a Super Bowl win with his friend, Peyton Manning. The Broncos should offer Stokley a one-year, $1.5 million deal for the 2013 season.
Kevin Vickerson was brought on to add depth at defensive tackle, but unexpectedly took over the starting position after Ty Warren suffered a major injury. In his second season as an NFL starter, Vickerson had 40 tackles, including five for a loss, and two sacks. Vickerson was the perfect combination with Justin Bannan.
If the Broncos bring Bannan back, they would be wise to bring Vickerson back as well. The Broncos should offer him a two-year deal worth $2 million each year.
Matthew Willis played all 16 games in 2012 and finished with 10 catches for 90 yards and seven special teams tackles. While Willis is speedy and considered valuable on special teams, he is rarely used as a wide receiver. The Broncos can find the tangibles Willis offers in the Draft.
The Broncos currently have four restricted agents. These players can negotiate with any team, but the Broncos have the right to match any offer they are given.
Lance Ball played in 15 games in 2012 and finished with 42 carries for 158 yards and one touchdown. Ball is the odd man out as Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and Willis McGahee are under contract next year, therefore his services aren't really needed.
Ball can do a little bit of everything, but isn't as explosive as the other backs after the catch. The Broncos should let Ball walk and get a more explosive running back in the draft, possibly Rex Burkhead.
Chris Clark is a veteran Broncos player who, like Lance Ball, wouldn't really be missed if he and the Broncos decided to part ways. Over the three years he's suited up in orange and blue, Clark hasn't made a lasting impact and likely wouldn't make one in 2013.
Letting him go would free up half a million dollars to be used toward getting a more valuable player.
Britton Colquitt is one of the best punters in the NFL, and the Broncos would be making a terrible mistake if they let him walk. Colquitt is the franchise career leader in both gross (46.1) and net (39.5) punting average. He ranked third in the NFL in 2012 and held opponents to 6.0 return average, ranking him second in the NFL. In 2012, Colquitt made the league minimum $540,000, but Colquitt will need a bigger salary in order to stay in Denver.
Other teams will offer bigger salaries in order to get one of the best punters, so Denver will need to offer at least $1 million. John Elway would also be smart to lock up Colquitt in a long-term deal of two to three years.
Chris Gronkowski played in 14 games, but he was hardly used and an afterthought on the stat sheet. Gronkowski finished the season with only one carry for 11 yards and four special teams tackles. The Broncos would be wasting cap space if they re-sign Gronkowski.
The Broncos have two exclusive-rights free agents on the roster—players who who may only sign with Denver.
Mitch Unrein played in all 16 regular-season games and finished the season with 20 tackles, a receiving touchdown, a fumble recovery and three quarterback hits. Unrein was a surprise contributor on the defensive line, making a great impact in the 2012 season. The Broncos will probably retain him for a one-year, minimum deal of $630,000 or a little more.
After the 2013 season, and depending on his production, the Broncos could offer Unrein a long-term deal.
Tony Carter was brought on to add depth behind Tracy Porter and Champ Bailey, but Carter quickly became one of the Broncos' stars. Carter got more playing time after Porter's injury and had a career-best season with 27 tackles, 12 pass deflections, two interceptions, a defensive touchdown and two fumble recoveries. Carter was an integral part of the Week 6 comeback against the San Diego Chargers, where he recovered a fumble for a touchdown and intercepted a pass.
While the league minimum to pay Carter in 2013 is $715,000, I think he has proven he deserves more than the minimum. By letting go of some of the free agents, the Broncos have space to pay Carter at least $900,000.
While the Broncos have 16 free agents, it wouldn't be smart to bring all of them back. Some were rarely used in 2012, while others had high expectations and didn't produce. The Broncos are hoping to make a run to the Super Bowl in 2013 and keeping the best free agents while also utilizing the draft and free agency is their best bet.