Projecting Denver Broncos' NFL Free Agent Targets
With the free agent signing period set to open in less than one week, teams are primed and ready to try and lure the players they have had their eyes on.
Having achieved the best record in the AFC in 2012, it's fair to say that the Denver Broncos are one of the front runners heading into the upcoming season. Free agency could provide the missing link between them and a Super Bowl victory.
Sure, the team would like to land all the best players available, but they must be practical. Not only will the Broncos have to carefully fit these new players into their salary cap, but they any signings they make will also have an effect on what they do in April's NFL draft. According to Sportrac, the Broncos currently have about $8.3 million in cap space to play with.
Here is a look at players the Broncos should look into bringing aboard for the 2013 season.
Terrance Knighton, Defensive Tackle
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The Broncos have key decisions this offseason as it relates to the defensive tackle position as both Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson will be free agents. Even if both are retained, a young upgrade wouldn't be a bad move.
Terrance Knighton fits that bill. After spending his first four seasons in Jacksonville, Knighton will be just 27 years old when the season starts.
He takes up space in the middle and can be a great run-stopper. But with 7.5 sacks in his career, Knighton is able to get pressure on the quarterback.
Taken in the third round of the 2009 draft out of Temple, Knighton needs more fine-tuning in order to become a complete NFL player and who better to do that than defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who was part of the regime that drafted him?
Del Rio would be able to help turn Knighton into the ferocious defender that he should be.
Bringing in a guy like Knighton would allow the Broncos to slide Derek Wolfe over to his natural tackle position and give Robert Ayers, Jeremy Beal or Malik Jackson to step up.
Knighton is a guy the Broncos need to consider.
Kevin Boothe, Guard
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With Chris Kuper playing in just seven regular season games last year, the Broncos were left to play Manny Ramirez a lot more than they probably would have liked. Bringing in another guard to improve the overall play on the line is a good thought.
Kevin Boothe would be a very good option if they were to go that route.
Boothe has spent seven years in the league, the last six of those with the New York Giants. Over that time, he has seen action in 89 games with 46 career starts. He has also been a part of two Super Bowl wins.
Boothe is a big man (6'5". 320 pounds) and brings great run-blocking skills with him. He would be an excellent edition to the roster and a guy who the Broncos would be much more comfortable turning to than Ramirez should Kuper's injury woes continue.
Danny Amendola, Wide Receiver
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Despite playing in a total of just 12 games the previous two seasons, Amendola would be worth a shot if he came at a reasonable price.
Over his four year career, Amendola averages almost five catches a game. Not only does he excel in the slot position, he has the ability to surprise defenses and get behind the secondary for a long ball.
Brandon Stokley and Matthew Willis are both unrestricted free agents this offseason and Stokley will be turning 37 years old. Amendola may just be the perfect fit for a Manning-led offense.
One team the Broncos may have to contend with for Amendola's services are the New England Patriots who would almost certainly look to him if they are unable to re-sign Welker.
The Patriots have almost $20 million more in available cap space than do the Broncos.
Steve Smith, Wide Receiver
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Who? That's right, the other Steve Smith.
Smith has been almost forgotten across the league since his days with the New York Giants, catching a total of 25 passes the last two seasons between Philadelphia and St. Louis.
However, prior to that, he was becoming a budding star in New York where he had a massive 2009 season, catching 107 passes for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns. His quarterback just happened to be Peyton's younger brother, Eli.
Smith was mainly used in the slot in New York and if the Broncos lined him up the same way, he could revive his career in Denver.
It's a long shot for sure but hey, he can't be any worse than Andre Caldwell was last year.
Dannell Ellerbe, Linebacker
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Could the Broncos reel in a member of the Super Bowl champions?
The Baltimore Ravens gave quarterback Joe Flacco his big pay day, the details of which are broken down here in the Baltimore Sun. but they have several big name free agents they may not be able to bring back, one of them being Dannell Ellerbe.
The Broncos would likely have to splurge in order to get Ellerbe, but if they were to do that on any player in free agency, Ellerbe would be a good choice.
He would be able to come over and fill the void at middle linebacker which is one of the biggest needs this team has. What it would also allow the team to do is part ways with D.J. Williams, the embattled linebacker who lost his starting spot last year.
Even if the Broncos don't sign a middle linebacker through free agency, Williams doesn't seem long for Denver, according to Pro Football Talk at NBC Sports.
The Broncos got what they could out of Keith Brooking last season and they still have Joe Mays, but they need a guy who can also play the pass. The Broncos were eaten up by opposing tight ends last season.
Ellerbe would fill that role well. His interception of Tom Brady off a batted ball in the AFC Championship game is evidence of his instinctive play.
Brian Urlacher, Linebacker
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One of the bigger decisions facing first year Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman will be whether or not to bring Brian Urlacher back for a 14th season in Chicago.
It's hard to imagine Urlacher in another uniform, but if he was, why not in Denver?
He would want to come to a contender where he still had a chance to contribute and Denver could provide both of those things.
He may not be able to cover the field as he once did, but Urlacher still plays the game at a high level and if he becomes available, Denver should inquire.
Shonn Greene, Running Back
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It doesn't seem like much of a secret at this point that the Broncos want to go a different direction with their running game after losing Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno to critical injuries last season.
Baltimore pulled off a miracle in the divisional playoffs, but it may never have come to Rahim Moore's blown coverage in that game if Moreno wouldn't have gotten knocked out of it.
Greene is a tough, physical, straight-ahead runner that has averaged 4.2 yard per carry on his 822 career rushing attempts. He has also found the end zone 18 times.
Greene would not be the answer to be the team's feature back, but he might bring the durability that the Broncos are looking for.
If McGahee, Moreno or both are out of the picture next season, a committee of Greene, Ronnie Hillman, Jacob Hester and a young draft pick wouldn't be a bad direction to go in.
Chris Ivory, Running Back
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Chris Ivory may be one of the more underrated players in the entire NFL.
In New Orleans, he carried the ball just 40 times in 2012 but he runs with a certain explosiveness.Over the course of his three year career, he is averaging over five yards per carry and the Saints seem like they almost don't know how to use him.
He will be a restricted free agent, but the Saints will likely offer him a low tender. Because he came into the league as an undrafted rookie, the Saints would receive no compensation if another team signed him should they give him that low tender.
If that is the case, the Broncos could get themselves a steal.
He will be just 25 years old when the season starts and he has low NFL mileage on him, playing in just 24 career games and carrying the ball 256 times.
Ivory could have a solid, long career ahead of him in orange and blue.
Dwight Freeney, Defensive End
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The Broncos should at least entertain the thought of bringing Manning's former Indianapolis teammate Dwight Freeney into the fold.
After being released by the Colts, Freeney is free to sign anywhere and if the Broncos can get him at an affordable rate, it would make a lot of sense.
This is another move that would allow Denver to switch Wolfe over to defensive tackle. Opposing teams would then have to deal with the thought of having Freeney and Elvis Dumervil lined up as defensive ends and Von Miller as a pass-rushing linebacker.
Possessing perhaps the best spin move in NFL history, Freeney has logged 107.5 sacks over his stellar career and he has seven seasons in which he has racked up double figures in sacks.
Again, it would have to be an affordable deal, but if it can be negotiated, John Elway and company needs to make it happen.