Free agency starts in just over a week (on March 12), and the Denver Broncos have the cap room to make a few moves. The 2013 salary cap has been set at $123 million per team, and the Broncos have been creating additional cap space.
The team used their franchise tag on tackle Ryan Clady last week, giving him a $9.8 million 2013 salary, bumping the team's 2013 active contract total to $129,375,314, according to Spotrac.com. The team is still under the $123M cap, however, due to their $14.1 million rollover from last season.
Assuming Clady will eventually sign his one-year tender, the team will have approximately $7,724,686 in cap space before releasing any players. According to reports, the team is also planning to either trade or release veteran linebacker D.J. Williams, which would free up another $6 million in cap space.
Taking Clady's franchise tender and Williams' departure into account, in addition to other cuts and possible contract restructuring, it would be realistic to estimate that Denver will have around $15 million in cap space available this offseason.
This slideshow highlights four players Denver can target with that $15 million.
Note: This list does not include players that were on Denver's roster last season. Veterans such as Brandon Stokley, Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan may be re-signed, but they will not be highlighted this time around.
Jackson (6'2", 240 pounds) would add a powerful presence to Denver's backfield that the team has been missing. The team has not shown commitment to either Willis McGahee or Knowshon Moreno, and neither of those two players were effective in short-yardage situations last season.
Jackson has rushed for over 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons, and Denver's front office proved in 2011 that they don't mind plugging-in running backs in their upper-20s when they signed a then-29-year-old McGahee. The Broncos topped the league in rushing the next season when McGahee led the team with 1,199 yards on the ground.
McGahee is now going on 32 and is coming off a fumble-filled, injury-marred season. Jackson, 29, was healthy enough to start in all 16 games last season and rushed for 1,042 yards.
Placed in an offense where quarterback Peyton Manning is asked to carry the load, Jackson's workload would decrease in Denver, allowing his wheels to stay fresh longer.
Projected contract: Two years, $15 million ($7.5 million in 2013)
Austin Collie (6'0", 204 pounds) is coming off two consecutive injury-filled seasons, but when healthy with Manning in Indianapolis, Collie was well on his way to becoming a household name.
Denver's slot receiver, Brandon Stokley, is a free agent and set to turn 37 this summer. Collie, although injury-riddled, could provide a nine-year younger version of Stokley for Manning in 2013.
From 2009-10, Collie caught 118 catches for 1,325 yards and 15 touchdowns in 25 games with Peyton in Indianapolis.
After working out with Stokley last summer, Manning went on to sign with the Broncos and played a role in the team's pursuit of Stokley. Collie recently went along with Manning to visit U.S. troops overseas last month. If Manning feels that Collie could add to Denver's offense, the Broncos will likely give him a workout this spring.
Projected contract: One year, $715,000 (five-year veteran minimum salary)
Jason Campbell (6'5", 230 pounds) would not be be a flashy signing, but he would give Denver an experienced, veteran backup quarterback. The Broncos say youngster Brock Osweiler is the future, but it's hard to imagine the conservative John Fox starting Osweiler in 2013 if the team needed to turn to a backup.
Campbell has starting experience in three different NFL cities and could balance the Broncos' jump from starter Peyton Manning to reserve Osweiler, where there is a 14-year gap in experience. Campbell has been in the league for eight seasons and is capable of managing a few games when called upon.
Osweiler is young and inexperienced. Campbell is an experienced free agent looking for a home.
Projected contract: One year, $1.4 million
Denver's secondary can afford to be upgraded, especially at safety, where Rahim Moore is learning on the fly and veteran Mike Adams has been underwhelming.
The Broncos' window of opportunity with Manning is closing, but the team is still viewed as a contender, which is why a veteran like Charles Woodson could be attracted to an offer from the team.
Woodson (6'1", 202 pounds) has successfully made the veteran jump from cornerback to safety (as Champ Bailey is expected to do someday down the road) and paired with Bailey, would give Denver's secondary a healthy balance of veteran experience and promising young talent in Chris Harris and Moore.
The Broncos defense ranked No. 2 overall last season. Adding playmakers like Woodson to the starting lineup would make the unit an even more formidable foe to opposing offenses.
Projected contact: One year, $5 million
The Broncos are not expected to go the Madden NFL video game route and load up on free agents this spring. Rather, the team will build through the draft after plugging holes in free agency.
With that said, here is a list of six additional options the team will do their homework on:
1. Ed Reed (FA DB)—If the team opts to not go with Woodson, Reed would be another veteran candidate to land a one-year deal in the range of $5 million.
2. Matt Moore (FA QB)—Like Campbell, Moore would give Denver more experience at the backup QB position. Moore also has connections to John Fox from his time in Carolina.
3. Peyton Hillis (FA RB)—Could the 27-year-old Hillis return to Denver? The Broncos need a power option and Hillis has been humbled since his breakout season with the Cleveland Browns in 2010. Hillis would come at a cheap price and is poised to have a bounce-back year.
4. Dannell Ellerbe (FA LB)—The Broncos will be among a host of teams that will look into Ellerbe this spring. The fact that Ellerbe is looking for a contract worth upwards of $30 million decreases his chances of landing in Denver.
5. Glenn Dorsey (FA DL)—A former first-round pick, Dorsey has been a disappoint for the Chiefs in Kansas City, recording just four sacks since 2008. As a rotational lineman, the Broncos could certainly find a role for Dorsey as a gap-stuffer.
6. Dwight Freeney (FA LB)—Manning has already reached out to Freeney (via PFT), and the Broncos may do the same. As a situational rusher, Freeney would give the Broncos a fearsome pass rush teamed up with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil in Denver.