Denver Broncos: Veterans Who Have Been Put on Notice This Offseason
The NFL is a cruel sport.
In a game where careers could end in an instant and where players are annually replaced by younger, fresher bodies, the NFL is a sport that constantly replenishes and replaces players.
Every year, there are veterans put on notice. Unless you're in the Aaron Rodgers-stratosphere, every player in the NFL is at risk of losing his job every year. Whether that is due to declining performance, age, failing to live up to expectations or the most common reason—younger players replacing veterans—there is a reason why more than one-third of an NFL roster changes from one season to the next.
So, just which Broncos veterans have been put on notice?
RB Willis McGahee
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Willis McGahee will be 32 years of age in 2013, is coming off of (yet) another season where his year ended due to injury and is due to make $2.5 million this year.
Did I mention he will be competing for playing time in a crowded backfield with Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and the newly drafted Montee Ball?
To put into perspective how much wear-and-tear McGahee has on his legs, the combined service time of all three running backs are five years in comparison to Willis' nine years of service in the NFL.
The issue is this—Hillman and Ball are just about guaranteed roster spots, which means Moreno and McGahee will likely compete for the other, and last, running back spot.
John Elway stated before the draft that McGahee is the Broncos' "big back" at the moment. The issue now is, the Broncos have a guy who is capable of doing what McGahee's specialty is supposed to be—short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Ball is only the NCAA's all-time touchdowns leader.
So the Broncos have to make a choice. Do they go with the younger, more versatile Moreno to complement the young backs in Ball and Hillman? Or do they go with the older, more beat-up option whose specialty is similar to that of the rookie entering his first training camp with the Broncos?
Something's gotta give.
QB Brock Osweiler
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This "notice" isn't so urgent, but it's a notice nonetheless.
The Broncos drafted Brock Osweiler in the second round of last year's draft. In this year's draft, the Broncos used a seventh-round selection on Miami (Ohio) quarterback Zac Dysert.
This is merely for the backup quarterback position to Peyton Manning. Which means that you're not going to play unless Peyton gets injured, and you're highly unlikely to play due to that reason, considering Manning made every possible start during the first 13 seasons of his career.
Osweiler is young—actually nine months younger than Dysert—but if Dysert comes out with an excellent training camp and outshines Osweiler, it's Dysert who will be listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Manning, and not Osweiler.
MLB Joe Mays
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Joe Mays was signed to a contract extension before the start of the 2012 NFL season, and his future in the orange and blue looked pretty bright.
Then the season started. Mays' performance was pretty bad on the field, he was suspended for a hit on Texans quarterback Matt Schaub for one game and then eventually lost his starting job just one week after his return—to 37-year-old linebacker Keith Brooking.
Then, quickly after losing his starting job to Brooking in the San Diego game, he was lost for the season due to a knee injury.
Brooking was not re-signed, and the Broncos did not draft a middle linebacker.
Having said that, Mays has been put on notice ever since he was replaced in the starting lineup by a linebacker on the wrong side of 30.
The Broncos brought in Stewart Bradley through free agency to compete with Mays for the starting middle linebacker position. Nate Irving, Bradley, Mays and any other linebacker capable of manning the middle who is currently on the Broncos' roster will have a chance to be Denver's starting middle linebacker by the time the team opens the season versus Baltimore.
DE Robert Ayers
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Robert Ayers lost his starting job before the 2012 season started. Not once, but twice.
Jason Hunter took Ayers' starting end position, before he himself was lost to the season due to injury. Then, rookie Derek Wolfe took over the starting left end position.
The former first-round draft pick of the Josh McDaniels regime is entering his fifth season, and although he's carved a niche as a backup player in the defensive line rotation, it wouldn't shock anybody for Ayers to be cut at any given moment.
The Broncos signed former Pro Bowler Shaun Phillips and drafted the NCAA's best sack specialist in Quanterus Smith.
Denver lost Elvis Dumervil to Baltimore in the offseason, and it will be looking for a guy (or guys) who can replace his sack totals.
Phillips and Smith fit that mold. Will Ayers be able to?
DT Terrance Knighton
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It's hard for people to envision a guy who was just signed by the Broncos to have been put "on notice," but this category applies to a guy like Terrance Knighton.
Knighton has been seen as a guy with loads of potential, and although he has started the last several seasons for the Jaguars, there's still room for improvement.
The Broncos brought back Kevin Vickerson after he started an entire season at defensive tackle for the league's fourth-best run defense.
Denver also decided to spend a first-round draft selection on Sylvester Williams.
Barring a lack of development on the part of Williams, the product out of North Carolina will start in his first season. Vickerson himself is an unspectacular player, but he has experience in Denver's defense and was a part of the defense that ranked in the top five in the NFL in points allowed.
Which means that Knighton is currently on the outside looking in, unless he wins one of the starting interior line positions entering 2013.