Following a 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos will look to improve a stacked roster by adding more depth to the team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. As they look toward adding younger and more athletic bodies to the roster, the Broncos will look to re-sign key free agents of their own.
According to OvertheCap.com, the team has about $12.4 million in cap room. Of course, with impending cuts, the Broncos will have a little more money to play with as they enter the free-agency period.
However, can the Broncos re-sign their own key free agents this offseason? They have 21 free agents: 18 unrestricted and three restricted.
In order for the Broncos to achieve their goal of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, they will need a solid offseason.
What are Denver's odds of signing its free-agent targets in 2014?
The Broncos' biggest free-agent priority on offense is wide receiver Eric Decker.
Since Peyton Manning arrived in Denver in 2012, Decker has flourished has one of the best receivers in the NFL. Over the past two seasons, the 6'3" wide receiver has 172 receptions for 2,352 yards and 24 touchdowns.
His presence as the No. 2 wide receiver helped Manning set NFL single-season records in touchdown passes and passing yards this year.
The Broncos want Decker back, but the question is, at what cost?
Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport wrote an article titled, "How Much is Broncos' WR Eric Decker Really Worth in 2014 Free Agency?" In the article, Davenport uses the $10.5 million annual figure as a starting point regarding the salary Decker is likely to command in the free-agent market.
Are the Broncos really willing to pay $10.5 million for a No. 2 receiver? As fast and as big as he may be, he is still a No. 2 receiver. That is not even including the fact that the Broncos have Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker coming back for 2014. Even if Decker departs, Manning will still have weapons in the passing game.
The issue here is money. No one disputes that Decker is a quality receiver with or without Manning. But the Broncos cannot afford to pay him $10.5 million per year; they simply have more pressing needs such as cornerback, a pass-rushing defensive end and the re-signing or signing of a starting left guard.
Davenport also lists receivers from the 2013 free-agency class who are in the same tier as Decker: Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings and Dwayne Bowe, for example. None of those four receivers received less than $9 million per year.
Jennings received an average of $9 million per year from the Minnesota Vikings. Keep in mind, he's a 30-year-old receiver who is past his prime and sat out the first half of the 2012 season due to a groin injury. In 2011, he suffered an MCL injury that ended his season.
Regardless, he still got paid in free agency with a five-year, $45 million contract.
Although Decker has never proved to be a No. 1 receiver, are we doubting that a desperate team that needs quality receivers won't overpay for a big, 26-year-old receiver?
As with anything in free agency, the market will dictate how much he gets paid. Having said that, the 6'3" receiver won't get paid any less than $10 million per year—if anything, he's likely to get paid more than that.
Because of this, don't expect the four-year veteran to return to the Broncos in 2014. He will get his money elsewhere.
Odds of Broncos Re-Signing Decker: 25/1
The Broncos' other priority on offense will be running back Knowshon Moreno.
He had one of the most productive seasons of any running back in the NFL in 2013. Arguably snubbed of a Pro Bowl selection, he ranked fifth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns.
According to Mike Klis of The Denver Post, Moreno's early estimated market value is $4 million per year.
Running backs are clearly not as valued now as they were eight years ago when Edgerrin James signed a four-year, $30 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals in 2006. In fact, one could say that running back is the least valuable position of any of the skill positions on offense in 2014.
And this is the issue with Moreno—the Broncos can afford to pay the veteran $4 million per year. The question is, are they willing to?
The five-year veteran was a bust until he broke out in 2013. Playing with newfound aggression in a contract year, he resurrected his career with his finest season.
He excels in pass protection and succeeds as a receiver out of the backfield, with 60 receptions in 2013.
However, the Broncos did draft Montee Ball in the second round in 2013 with the intention that he'd be the running back of the future.
The likely scenario involving Moreno is this: The Broncos can pay him $4 million per year, but they will allow the veteran running back to earn that money elsewhere. The team will enter 2014 with Ball as the starting running back and likely sign a veteran running back such as Darren McFadden to a bargain contract to fill Moreno's void in the offense.
As valuable as he was to this offense in 2013, he is replaceable when you consider Peyton Manning is running the offense.
Odds of Broncos Re-Signing Moreno: 20/1
The Broncos' main priority on the defensive side of the equation in the offseason will be to re-sign cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
He signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Broncos last offseason. Instead of signing a long-term contract, he signed a short-term deal so he could prove himself to the Broncos. And that's what he did.
With former No. 1 cornerback Champ Bailey struggling with injuries for the majority of the season, Rodgers-Cromartie became the Broncos' No. 1 corner.
According to Pro Football Focus, hr had the fourth-best coverage grade of any cornerback in the NFL in 2013. PFF had the following to say on his excellent season:
DRC finished the regular season with our fourth-highest coverage grade and was named to our Pro Bowl team. He earned only two “red” coverage grades all season, and saved some of his best football for later in the season. He allowed just one touchdown in his last 13 games, and didn’t surrender a single deep pass in the playoffs. His 15.7 coverage snaps per reception was the third-best rate for a cornerback this season (minimum 100 coverage snaps). Just 25% of the targets he faced were completed for first downs, making him a huge asset for Denver’s secondary.
With Bailey no longer considered a starting cornerback and a move to safety likely in 2014, the Broncos need to re-sign Rodgers-Cromartie. With fellow cornerback Chris Harris a free agent also, the Broncos need all the help they can get in the defensive backfield.
John Butchko of Gang Green Nation states that Rodgers-Cromartie would likely get a similar $5 million deal just with more years this offseason. If the Broncos can get him back at that rate, it would be a bargain considering their defensive back situation.
Expect him to be back with the Broncos in 2014.
Odds of Broncos Re-Signing Cromartie: 5/1
If Eric Decker walks, the Broncos would have a void at the No. 2 receiver spot. And who better to fill that void than Anquan Boldin?
Although he is getting up there in age (33), he remains one of the best No. 2 receivers in the league. He caught 85 passes for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.
He had the best drop rate in the NFL in 2012 while ranking 13th best in 2013 in the same category, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Here is the thing with Boldin: Although he remains a top-tier receiver on top teams in the NFL, a franchise such as the Cleveland Browns or Oakland Raiders won't pay top money for an older receiver. Teams that have cap space and need a receiver will sign young guys such as Decker, not Boldin.
The 11-year veteran's value is restricted to top teams that are in a win-now mode mentality. The Broncos are one of those teams.
Boldin earned $6 million in 2013. Expect him to earn around the same rate in 2014, with the chance he gives a team a bargain deal for the opportunity to win a second Lombardi Trophy. At this point in his career, the veteran receiver probably values championships more than money.
The biggest obstacle in the way of the Broncos signing Boldin would be the Niners. They are just as talented as the Broncos are, so Boldin could choose to remain in San Francisco. However, Denver executive vice president of football operations John Elway has a history of luring top free agents to the Mile High City.
If the Broncos lose Decker through free agency, they won't miss a beat by picking up Boldin as the No. 2 receiver in Mile High.
Odds of Broncos Signing Boldin: 15/1
The Broncos were soundly dominated by a more physical Seattle Seahawks team in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Seattle defense, led by defensive backs such as Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, intimidated Denver's top-ranked offense, as the Broncos struggled to score eight points in the defeat.
Denver's defense did not provide that same type of fear versus Seattle's offense, allowing 43 points in the loss.
This is where Bernard Pollard fits into the equation.
Pollard won't solely improve Denver from a 22nd-ranked defense into a top one, but he impose fear in opposing offenses the way the Seahawks did to the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
Other than being a solid starting strong safety for the past seven seasons of his career, he is known as one of the most intimidating defensive backs in the league.
Two years ago, Eddie Asaley of Football Nation ranked Pollard as one of the top five dirtiest players in the game.
Although you don't want your players intentionally injuring anyone in the game of football, the fact of the matter is this: You need players like Pollard to be an enforcer. The Broncos don't have anybody on defense who can be considered an enforcer.
A receiver has to go up against three defensive backs in Seattle who will instill fear when coming across the middle.
As solid as guys like Mike Adams, Duke Ihenacho and Rahim Moore are, they don't instill fear. Pollard does.
The 29-year-old veteran safety earned a little less than $3 million in 2013 as a member of the Tennessee Titans. He won't earn any more than that in 2014.
If the Broncos look Pollard's way, they won't have a problem in bringing him to Mile High. He would be the perfect free-agency addition for team that needs attitude.
It all comes down to whether or not the Broncos consider safety a position that needs to be upgraded in the offseason.
Odds of Broncos Signing Pollard: 10/1