Grading Every Major Denver Broncos 2013 Offseason Move to Date
Today, we'll look at some of the Denver Broncos' most notable transactions of the 2013 NFL offseason.
Please note that draft picks will not be included—the team will receive grades for players gained and lost through free agency. Offensive tackle Ryan Clady is technically unsigned at the moment, so his pending signing will not be graded either.
Grades are best on several factors, including: the player's age, the player's performance last season, how the player fits the team's scheme, and most notably, the contracts agreed to by both parties.
Let's give out some grades.
Offensive Guard Louis Vasquez
In offensive guard Louis Vasquez, the Broncos may have gotten the biggest steal of the offseason.
In March, the Broncos signed Vasquez to a four-year, $23.5 million deal, per Spotrac.com. When compared to the six-year, $46.8 million deal that the Tennessee Titans gave Andy Levitre, Vasquez's signing was a huge bargain for Denver.
The Broncos know full well that offensive linemen can go down with injuries at any moment. Vasquez will likely be a starter from day one, allowing the team to slide other experienced players down the depth chart (that's you, Chris Kuper), creating great depth.
Early grade: A+
Defensive Tackle Terrance Knighton (Gained)
Much like Vasquez, the Broncos found another player with experience yet still early in his career in defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, who spent time under Jack Del Rio while with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Broncos signed Knighton to a two-year, $4.5 million deal after he recorded 32 tackles and two sacks off rotational play last season in Jacksonville.
Now back with Del Rio, Knighton will compete for (and likely win) a starting gig on Denver's defensive line. At 6'3", 330 pounds, Knighton has the potential to make an immediate impact for the Broncos.
Early grade: B+
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Gained)
There's only one negative about the Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, and that is his contract.
DRC signed a two-year, $10 million deal that included a $4.2 million signing bonus. After the failed Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence experiments last season, I am wary of signing another cornerback for that much guaranteed money.
If DRC is not on the roster in 2014, Denver will still be locked in to have his $2.1 million signing bonus count against their salary cap. That's a small number, but dead money adds up quickly.
With all of that said, note that that is the only negative about the DRC signing.
DRC has huge upside and would probably have been given an "A" grade if not for the riskiness of signing cornerbacks to large signing bonuses in this day and age (see the Philadelphia Eagles, who have a $4 million 2013 salary cap hit from the now-departed Nnamdi Asomugha's 2011 contract).
Early grade: B-
Wide Receiver Wes Welker (Gained)
The Broncos made huge headlines whey they signed former New England Patriots slot receiver and Tom Brady buddy Wes Welker to a two-year, $12 million contract. But the signing may have been a bit over-hyped.
Welker is another piece of the puzzle, not the key to Denver's success. The Broncos had one of the top passing offenses in the league last season, so wide receiver was not a high priority.
But the team did find an excellent upgrade at the slot position (for a bargain); signing Welker was definitely the right move—but it was not one that had to be made in order for the team to be successful in 2013.
Other positions (think defensive tackle, running back and offensive line depth) needed to be addressed, but because the Broncos did a good job of filling holes at those spots (perhaps with the exception of middle linebacker), signing Welker was the right move.
Early grade: B+
Pass-Rusher Shuan Phillips (Gained)
Speaking of bargains, the Broncos got another in pass-rusher Shaun Phillips.
Phillips signed a one-year, $1 million base salary deal with the team during the draft in April. Phillip's salary can increase based on performance incentives, but his $1 million salary was a huge bargain.
Phillips had 9.5 sacks last season and can clearly still get after the quarterback. He's not as young or as productive as, say, Elvis Dumervil, but he can get the job done—at a far cheaper price.
Early grade: B+
Defensive Back Quentin Jammer (Gained)
The Broncos are in need a depth at the safety position and turned to veteran cornerback Quentin Jammer as a stop-gap.
Jammer also signed a one-year deal with a $1 million base salary in 2013, so regardless of if he works out, this is a low-risk, potentially high-reward, situation for Denver.
Jammer may end up being just what the doctor ordered at the safety position. Or his transition to safety may fail. Either way, the Broncos aren't paying much to find out.
Early grade: B
Center Dan Koppen (Gained)
Welcome back to Denver, Dan Koppen.
After starting center J.D. Walton underwent surgery on his left ankle, the Broncos were in need of an experienced center. That's where Koppen came into play.
Koppen started in 12 games for the Broncos last season after Walton went down with an injury. After Walton required additional surgery, it only made sense for the Broncos to bring back Koppen, who had been an unsigned free agent.
The team landed Koppen for one-year veteran minimum of $940,000. Last season, Koppen allowed just one sack.
An experienced center who worked with quarterback Peyton Manning for most of last season, Koppen comes to Denver on the cheap.
Early grade: A
Defensvie Lineman Jason Hunter (Lost)
The Broncos have depth on the defensive line, but it never hurts to have more.
Hunter is a player who would have been entering his second season under Jack Del Rio's defense and first year under Del Rio fully healthy. Instead, the Broncos let Hunter walk in free agency.
Two years removed from recording 61 tackles, three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble, Hunter left the Broncos to sign a one-year, $715,000 deal with the Oakland Raiders, a contract the team could have easily afforded.
Maybe the Broncos do not feel comfortable about Hunter's health, or maybe they just like the younger defensive linemen already on the roster. But Hunter could have provided additional depth—at a reasonable price.
Early grade: C
Wide Receiver Brandon Stokley (Walked)
The Brandon Stokley situation is a sticky one.
The team may still bring him back (for at least training camp competition), but as of now, he is an unsigned free-agent whom the team appears to have let walked a year removed from catching 45 passes for 544 yards and five touchdowns.
The Broncos have found an upgrade at Stokley's slot position in Wes Welker, but Stokes could still provide valuable depth and veteran experience through the summer months.
Because Welker is now on board, losing Stokley is not detrimental to the offense, but it wouldn't hurt to bring him back.
Early grade: C+
Wide Receiver Matt Willis (Lost)
Unlike Brandon Stokley, who performed well last season, there was no reason to bring back Matt Willis.
Willis struggled to get on the same page with Manning (remember this play?) and ended the season with just 10 catches for 90 yards. With young players eager to step up where he couldn't, it was easy to see Willis' time ticking in Denver.
Willis singed a one-year, $715,000 deal with the Detroit Lions this offseason after the Broncos let him walk as a free agent. Perhaps, he will finally catch on in Detroit, but we're not holding our breath.
Early grade: A
Defensive End Elvis Dumervil (Cut)
Obviously, the Denver Broncos could have handled the Elvis Dumervil situation a little better.
At the end of the day, Dumervil is no longer a Bronco, so it's time to move on. But his production was valuable—maybe not quite as valuable as what the team owed him in 2013, but valuable nonetheless.
Had the Broncos been able to retain Dumervil at a cheaper rate, it would have been a fantastic scenario for the team. Without Dumervil, the Broncos' pass rush is not crippled (Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, Quanterus Smith and Shaun Phillips can attest to that), but it would have obviously been better with him.
Early grade: C-
Running Back Willis McGahee (Cut)
Willis McGahee is a great example of tough cuts in the NFL.
McGahee did everything the Broncos asked him to for two consecutive seasons and never looked back, learning the read option on the fly and helping the Broncos lead the NFL in rushing in 2011.
But after a fumble-filled 2012 campaign that ended with yet another knee injury, McGahee's time in Denver expired. It was time to let McGahee go, freeing up cap space and giving the younger running backs more reps this summer in preparation for the regular season this fall.
With McGahee out, Denver's top-three write-in running backs are Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno, who boast an average age of just over 23 years old. McGahee was 31.
The only downside to the move is the fact that McGahee provided veteran experience. But with Moreno entering his fifth season and Hillman entering the season with a year under his belt, Denver's backfield should be ready to carry the load.
Early grade: B+
Salary information, unless noted otherwise, is courtesy of Spotrac.