Peyton Manning's pass-catchers have been highly praised as some of the best in the game. However, some of them didn't come up big in the Super Bowl.
Eric Decker and Julius Thomas combined for 33 receiving yards on five catches, and while Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker put up nice numbers, they weren't enough. Denver lost 43-8 to the Seattle Seahawks in a Super Bowl embarrassment.
The Broncos needed their offense to step up against Seattle's world-class defense, but it didn't. And Decker was one of the main culprits.
Decker caught one pass for six yards and dropped another pass. He was shut down by Seattle's secondary and wasn't targeted much by Manning. That was a theme throughout the postseason, which was unfortunate for the impending free agent.
However, Decker's stats are still impressive. He caught 87 passes for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns, and his numbers were superior to those of all other free-agent receivers.
No one will receive more money than he will. Several teams can afford him, but according to spotrac.com, the Broncos are estimated to have just $12.4 million in cap space. Teams like the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars can throw lots of money at Decker, but the Broncos can't.
They need a receiver who's cheap enough to allow them to fill their defensive holes but is also extremely trustworthy. Anquan Boldin is that receiver.
Boldin's stats were very similar to Decker's, even though he played with Colin Kaepernick in a run-heavy offense. He caught 85 passes for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns as San Francisco's top receiver (for most of the year), and he did very well despite playing without an elite quarterback.
Oh, and when Michael Crabtree played, Boldin accrued 682 receiving yards and three touchdowns (in eight games). That's an average of more than 85 receiving yards per game, which would total out to 1,364 yards over a 16-game season.
If the Broncos were to sign him, Boldin would play alongside Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas. And he would be a perfect fit.
He's 34 and isn't extremely athletic, so he won't cost a lot. He's not likely to have many suitors with the pool of stellar, young talent available, so his price tag won't be unaffordable.
He would be playing alongside great receivers who can get open, but he would be much better in one huge way. Boldin has incredible hands and rarely drops anything. He had the lowest drop rate in 2012, and this year he was much better than any of Denver's receivers in that department.
Boldin had the 13th-best drop rate in the NFL (among receivers who played in more than 50 percent of their snaps). Decker had the 47th-best drop rate in the NFL, and he somehow led all Broncos wide receivers.
Manning needs a reliable receiver who he can always trust to make tough catches. Thomas can get open and had incredible numbers in 2013, but he needs to be more consistent with his hands. Plus, he needs an inexpensive, veteran sidekick. Decker isn't that inexpensive sidekick. The 34-year-old Boldin, however, will come at a nice price.
The Broncos could then comfortably re-sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie while still upgrading at some other key positions such as safety, middle linebacker and defensive end with Boldin or another cheap receiver. Denver was blown out in the Super Bowl, so it can't simply re-sign the same players.
There are other options if the Broncos don't want Boldin or Decker, or if they're forced to go in another direction.
Jeremy Maclin, Golden Tate, Riley Cooper, Hakeem Nicks, Julian Edelman, James Jones, Andre Roberts and Emmanuel Sanders are some of the other talented receivers available.
Tate and Jones both had better drop rates than Boldin, but neither was consistently productive. Including the postseason, Tate had under 35 yards in fewer than half of his games, and Jones had a less-than-spectacular 817 receiving yards.
None of the other receivers are exceptional either. The only three free-agent receivers to finish in the top 30 in receiving yards were Boldin, Edelman and Decker. Edelman, who finished behind Boldin, likely will stay in New England, and he's also more of a slot receiver. As for Decker, he had a better quarterback in a pass-oriented offense.
Sure, the Broncos would be fine on the field with Decker, and sure, the same goes with other free-agent receivers. However, there are no other receivers who are more consistent and reliable than Boldin.
Decker's numbers have been inflated by Manning, and if he does sign elsewhere, he would likely struggle. Boldin, however, wouldn't struggle in Denver. Even at the age of 34, he could produce by making huge catches at critical moments, and that could be the difference late in the season.
All advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).