They are closely examining the incoming crop of college prospects with an eye on their draft selections coming up in May.
The draft isn’t the lone offseason building block. The team will look to negotiate with its free agents before free agency kicks off on March 11. After that, the Broncos will be able to sign players from other teams who have hit the open market.
Head coach John Fox talked to the media on Thursday, and he gave us some insight on the direction of the franchise.
General manager John Elway talked to the media on Friday, and he also gave us some clues as to what the Broncos may be doing in the upcoming months.
After he talked to the national media, Elway did a private interview with a small handful of Denver reporters. I was among that group, and in this article, I’ll reveal the tidbits Elway had to say.
Here’s a look at the latest combine news and rumors about the Denver Broncos, with answers straight from the man in charge: John Elway.
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. All contract information for individual players is from Spotrac.com.
The Broncos have many tough decisions to make in free agency. Arguably the toughest decision has to do with the future of cornerback Champ Bailey.
His cap number for 2014 is $10 million at this time. At this point in his career, it would be a surprise to me if Bailey continued to play at that price tag.
The Broncos will consider re-signing cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this offseason. His yearly total could equal roughly what Bailey is scheduled to make. It might be as simple as swapping Bailey’s cap number over to Rodgers-Cromartie.
To do that under the cap, the Broncos would have to release Bailey or restructure his contract.
He has zero guaranteed money due, and Bailey is likely to have some sort of negotiation with the team in the near future. Before any money is moved around, Elway is going to sit down with Bailey to discuss his future.
Elway told us his plan for Bailey. “Yeah, we’re still in the process of talking about that and seeing what we’re going to do there. I’m going to sit down with Champ first of all. Sit there and find out what he wants to do and go from there.”
There is a great amount of respect between Elway and Bailey. Elway is already in the Hall of Fame, and Bailey could certainly wind up in Canton, OH when his playing days are over.
That time may not be just yet. The Broncos could keep Bailey around at a reduced price in 2014. They may even move him to free safety if that’s what is mutually agreeable.
The Broncos were dealt a huge blow early in the 2013 season when left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the year with a Lisfranc injury.
There are many teams who could not have thrived without their franchise left tackle, but the Broncos went on to break many offensive records in 2013. Chris Clark did a fine job most of the year as Clady’s replacement. However, he struggled mightily against the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Getting Clady back on the line will be huge for the Broncos.
Elway talked a bit about Clady and where he’s at in his recovery. “Ryan’s good. Saw him the other day. He’s finally got all the hardware out of his foot. Now he’s really on the mend.”
Broncos fans should be excited for the return of Clady. Peyton Manning should be even more thrilled.
The team has many needs on the defensive side of the ball. There may not be a greater need than middle linebacker. The Broncos haven’t been the same at that position since “Smoke Dog” Al Wilson patrolled the field in 2006.
The position has changed in today’s NFL as the game evolves to be more pass-heavy.
Elway acknowledged the need for a middle linebacker, and he also commented on how difficult it is to find an impact player there.
“Yeah, that position has changed too. He’s not a big thumper anymore. The Harry Carsons or Levon Kirklands inside where all they’re doing is head-butting guards. Now they’ve gotta be able to cover. You’re always looking for that guy, a guy who can play all three downs. Sure, you’d like to find that guy—but they’re hard to find.”
There are a few options for the Broncos if they want to select a middle linebacker in the 2014 NFL draft.
They could trade up to around the top 15 so they could add C.J. Mosley from Alabama. They could select a player like Chris Borland (Wisconsin) or Shayne Skov (Stanford) in the third round. The Broncos could also wait for the end of the draft to select someone like Max Bullough (Michigan State).
Regardless of the direction they go, the Broncos need to find more defensive attitude. That mentality can spread from a ferocious middle linebacker.
As it stands right now, the Broncos have about $14 million to spend in free agency. With a little salary cap maneuvering, the team could be about $28 million under the cap.
Peyton Manning has a $17.5 million cap number in 2014. There’s $22.5 million in dead money left on Manning’s deal, but that doesn’t mean the team would be against asking him to take a pay cut.
But how would Manning handle it if the team asked?
Elway told us he didn’t feel there was any need for Manning to restructure his contract. “I think we’ll be fine.”
Elway also felt Manning would not have a problem if the team needed him to move some money around. “I don’t think he would have any problem—if we needed some cap room—that he wouldn’t help us out to find some cap room.”
The Broncos (and every other NFL team) may get some salary-cap relief if the cap is set at $130 million in 2014. Per NFL.com, there are some executives who feel a cap of $130 million is on the horizon this year.
Elway commented on what he had heard by saying, “I’ve heard that too. I’ve read that, but I’ve not heard it from any other source.”
It looks like the Broncos are moving forward without any plans on asking Manning to restructure his contract.
Another tough decision the team has to make is deciding whether or not to bring back wide receiver Eric Decker. Looking over the available free agents, it’s easy to make the argument that Decker is the best of the bunch.
When asked about Decker, Elway quickly responded. “I think they (free agents) have to hit the market. The market sets those. Especially when you look where we are and what we have coming up. Julius—both Thomas’s—are coming up next year…Wes is too. All that plays into it.”
It sounds like Decker and the rest of the Broncos free agents will be allowed to explore their options on the open market.
Decker has previously stated on ESPN Denver that he would love to stay in the Mile High City. Decker told the CJ and Les show “This place is a phenomenal place…but I’m going to do what is best for my family. I love this city, I hope we can work something out and I know there has been some conversations.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to me if Decker received a contract near what Mike Wallace received from the Miami Dolphins last year in free agency. Wallace signed a five-year, $60 million deal with $30 million guaranteed in 2013.
Decker may not be a true No. 1 receiver in the eyes of some fans, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a team out there willing to pay him like one.
Von Miller had a 2013 season he’d likely want to forget. He began the season with a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He came back in Week 7 to help the Broncos, but by Week 16 against the Houston Texans, he was lost for the rest of the year due to a knee injury.
Elway gave us his opinion on what Miller needed to do in 2014.
"He needs to put last year behind him. Hopefully he learned his lesson last year. He needs to get back to playing football and being the Von that he can be. I think he’s grown up a lot. He did a good job of adjusting, even though it affected him during the year, it had to with everything that went on with him. He’s done a tremendous job of doing the right things—everything that he’s supposed to be doing. Hopefully he can keep doing that and we’d love for Von to come back to being the Von we know he can be."
We also heard from Elway what he knows about Von’s progress in rehab.
“From what we can hear, yes. We don’t hear much about it other than the fact that he’s been very responsive to everything—and was—until he hit the knee and going through the knee treatment he’s been good.”
In addition to staying healthy and staying out of trouble, Von needs to drop weight in my opinion. He added 15 pounds of muscle in 2013, and he didn’t quite look the same as a pass-rusher.
If he drops that weight, Miller could look quicker when getting after the quarterback in 2014.
John Fox is entering the final year of his contract with the Broncos. He’s won three consecutive AFC West Championships, and Fox has helped the Broncos return to glory after the debacle known as the Josh McDaniels era.
Fox became only the fifth head coach in league history to win division titles in each of his first three seasons with a team. He also became only the sixth head coach in NFL history to lead multiple teams to the Super Bowl. Fox has had great success as the head coach of the Broncos, and now he ranks fifth among active coaches with 115 career wins.
John Elway expressed confidence when talking about Fox’s contract. “I wanna get him done. I sit down with his agent while I’m here. I’m gonna sit down with him tomorrow. See where we come out and what they’re thinking.”
Elway also praised Fox for the job he’s done during his time with the Broncos. “He’s done a nice job. When you look at winning three AFC West championships, there’s a lot to that. But there’s also a lot to the expectations that we’ve gotta keep doing what we’re doing, and that’s what we’re going to talk about.”
It wouldn’t surprise me to see a new contract agreement for Fox in the near future.
The Broncos offense set multiple records in 2013. It scored over 600 points, which marked the first time any team had eclipsed that mark in a single NFL season.
When asked if the Broncos would take the ball out of the hands of Peyton Manning, Elway quickly said “No, we’re going to continue to do what we do.”
When he elaborated on his answer, there were some clues about the team’s desire to have an improved ground game in 2014.
“Now, obviously we’ve got to get better in the running game. There are some things that we’d like to do to take some pressure off Peyton with the running game. So that’s why it’s important to do that and continue to work on that.”
If Knowshon Moreno moves on in free agency, the Broncos would likely turn to Montee Ball as their featured back. Ball started off his rookie season slowly, but in my eyes, he improved as the season went on.
Ball finished the year with 120 carries for 561 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. He was also targeted 27 times as a receiver, catching 20 passes for 145 yards.
His most impressive stat might be the 239 yards after contact he had in 2013. Ball led all rookie running backs with an average of 1.99 yards after contact per rush.
Equally impressive is Ball’s first-down per-rush percentage. He ranked third in the NFL (and was the top running back) with 29.2 percent of his carries moving the sticks.
The Broncos won’t make wholesale changes to their offense, but we could see more balance and a bit less of the passing game in 2014.
John Fox talked about wanting more balance at the podium on Thursday. “I think, offensively, you do strive for balance. You’d like to have that attitude, that mindset to be able to run the football. It is something that I think every year when you look back at your season and evaluate schematically or even physically where you go, that’s an area we want to improve in.”
At the podium on Friday, John Elway answered my question about the team possibly moving from its 31st pick in the first round. With the depth in this class of incoming college players, I feel it might be best for a team like the Broncos to move around in the draft.
“We will assess that. We still have [three] months to get to that. We’ve only been out of the season for about three weeks now. We’ve been deep in the middle of free agency and then we’ll get the first look at the young guys in the next four days. We’ll look at all those possibilities as we get closer.”
Elway did not confirm the Broncos would be on the move, but he didn’t deny it either.
Players that could be of interest for the Denver Broncos include inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (Alabama) and free safety Calvin Pryor (Louisville). Both of these players fit a need on the defensive side of the ball, and both are likely to go off the board before the Broncos pick.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.