The 5 Moves the Broncos Must Avoid in Free Agency
We’re on the verge of free agency, and there is a buzz building around the NFL.
Several teams are already making moves to keep their own free agents before other teams can make offers. A small handful of teams have gone so far as to use the franchise tag this offseason. Behind the scenes, there’s likely a few trades being talked about as well.
All’s quiet in the Mile High City.
The Denver Broncos have several key players that will be allowed to test the open market. Denver seems content to lose some, and they also seem to be setting up to make some offers to their own free agents after the market is open.
General manager John Elway has made 600 transactions since he took over in January of 2012. For the most part, he’s been careful with his moves—even though he’s shown a willingness to spend quite a bit of money on players.
This offseason, there are quite a few talented players available on the market. However, not all make great transactions.
Here’s a look at the five moves the Broncos must avoid in free agency.
Sign Donald Brown (or Any Other Free-Agent Running Back)
Many fans love to connect the dots between former teammates. One of the connections that could be made is with Indianapolis Colts running back Donald Brown. He played with Peyton Manning for two seasons in Indianapolis, and Brown is set to hit the open market.
The Broncos may have a need at the running back position this offseason. They’re likely to let Knowshon Moreno walk in free agency, and that would make Montee Ball the likely lead back in 2014.
The Broncos won’t be looking for a starter, but they could be looking for depth behind Ball.
Like Moreno, Brown was a first-round pick in 2009. Also like Moreno, Brown struggled to impress until this season. After averaging barely over 4.0 yards per carry over four years, Brown averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2013.
In addition to showing better as a runner, Brown also impressed as a receiver. He caught a career-high 27 passes for 7.9 yards per catch.
Brown may want a chance to be a starter in 2013. With Ball already in place, that would not be the case in Denver.
Yes, he’s played with Manning—and he’s a decent fit for the offense. However, Brown’s price tag and desire to be “the man” means the Broncos should look elsewhere for running back help.
It also doesn’t help any free-agent running back that this class of backs in the draft is incredibly deep and talented.
Sign Brandon LaFell
In addition to connecting the dots between former teammates, some fans love to find connections between coaches and players. The connection to be made here is between free-agent wide receiver Brandon LaFell and head coach John Fox. LaFell was a third-round pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2010, the final year Fox was in Carolina.
The Broncos may have a need at the wide receiver position if Eric Decker and Andre Caldwell move on in free agency.
Decker is likely to leave, and he could sign a contract that pays him nearly $10 million annually. Caldwell could come back to the Broncos, but he’s pretty much maxed out as a fourth receiver. If the Broncos do bring him back, it’s likely to be for a bargain—and for his old role.
LaFell (6’3” 211 pounds) is almost the same size of Decker (6’3” 217 pounds), but their production levels have been incredibly different. Decker has 172 catches over the last two years. LaFell has only 167 receptions over his four-year career.
The fifth-year receiver has always had potential since he came out of LSU. However, he’s rarely played up to that potential and his pro career has not been overly productive.
If the Broncos are going to replace Decker with a free agent, then a guy like Hakeem Nicks may make more sense. He’s not the same player he used to be, but when healthy, Nicks can still be a dangerous target.
LaFell has been too inconsistent as a pro to be relied on in a Peyton Manning offense. The coach-player connection is there, but LaFell isn’t the type of wide receiver the Broncos should pursue.
Sign Richie Incognito
The Broncos have a strong locker room with several leaders at most every position. They have the right group of players who could take on the challenge of adding a controversial player like Richie Incognito.
We could see the Broncos lose left guard Zane Beadles in free agency. This creates a big hole on the line, and one the Broncos may have an in-house option for a replacement. Jeff Legwold, from ESPN.com, believes the team could move right tackle Orlando Franklin inside to guard in 2014.
A talented—but troubled—free-agent guard, Incognito would fill a need with the Broncos.
At the scouting combine, John Elway talked about if this offseason was a turning point for locker rooms across the NFL:
Having been in a locker room for so long, I never saw those problems. So those problems in Miami, those surprise me because I think that we never had those issues in Denver when it came down to the things that went on in that locker room and the things that were said. I think that every locker room that I’ve ever been in in the NFL and the guys I’ve been around have always respected the right of other players. There is a line you don’t cross. I still believe that’s the way the majority of the NFL is. This brings it to light a little bit to where it prevents it from happening again. But I don’t think it’s something that is—especially when you’re talking about Miami—I don’t think it’s rampant throughout the NFL.
Head coach John Fox even commented on the bullying scandal when he was at the podium during the combine:
What I try to remind our staff of is this is somebody’s son. If you have children—and understanding that—you do try and create that environment. This is a combative game; it’s a tough game. There have been some correlations sometimes to the military—sometimes even some worse correlations. At the end of the day, you’re dealing with people. You’re trying to help them grow as people as well as football players. I know that’s the way I approach it and I think many people do. You always have to remind yourself you’re dealing with people. That’s not easy. It’s a challenge—like holding Jell-O. It’s slippery. You just do the best you can and take the most respectful approach.
The Broncos could handle a distraction like Incognito—they were able to get through the Tim Tebow experiment after all—but there are better options out there who won’t bring the accompanying baggage.
Sign Jared Allen
Denver is going to be looking for upgrades to the pass rush this offseason. Their Super Bowl window is open so long as Peyton Manning is under center, and that means taking a chance on older veteran free agents isn’t out of the question. Arguably the best veteran pass-rusher is Jared Allen.
The Broncos can’t rely on Von Miller in 2014. He’ll be coming off an ACL injury that he suffered late in the 2013 (Week 16) regular season. His status for the start of training camp is unknown at this time. There’s a chance Miller could be quite limited by the start of the 2014 regular season.
The Broncos can’t rely on Quanterus Smith in 2014. The 2013 fifth-round pick was leading the NCAA with 12.5 sacks when a knee injury cut short his final season at Western Kentucky. The second-year player has intriguing upside, but he’s a complete unknown at this time.
The Broncos can’t rely on Derek Wolfe in 2014. He’ll be coming back from a spinal cord injury that cut his season short. He’s feeling good at this time, and Wolfe believes he can come back bigger, stronger and faster in 2014. Wolfe certainly could, but right now his future production level is unclear.
Denver will likely re-sign Shaun Phillips to a new long-term deal. He signed a one-year deal last year for only $1.4 million. This offseason, he’s seeking much more than that. Phillips could be in line for a deal that will give him nearly $4 million annually.
Signing Phillips makes a lot of sense. The team knows he can get pressure on the quarterback, and his price tag won’t be too high.
The price tag for Jared Allen might be much different.
Allen had a $17 million cap number in 2013. His next contract may be a short one because Allen is going to be 32 years old this season. Allen had 22 sacks in 2011, but has only compiled 23 sacks over the last two years.
Even though he hasn’t missed a game since 2007, Allen is a 10-year veteran and near the twilight of his career. Adding Allen would be fantastic if the Broncos could add him for what Phillips will sign for.
That seems unlikely to happen, and Allen may still come with a premium price tag in 2014.
Trade for Darrelle Revis
This isn’t a free-agent move, but it’s one that has gained some traction after a report from Mike Florio from ProFootballTalk.com. Florio reported that the Broncos may have interest in trading for the Buccaneers All-Pro cornerback.
The need at cornerback is there, and it’s a spot that should get plenty of free-agent money this offseason.
First, John Elway will sit down with cornerback Champ Bailey to talk about his situation. Bailey has a $10 million price tag, but there is zero due in guaranteed money. The two will decide if Bailey wants to continue playing, and perhaps even gauge his interest in playing free safety in 2014.
Bailey is unlikely to play for the Broncos at his current price tag.
Next, the Broncos will look to come to a long-term agreement with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The veteran corner had a bounce-back year in 2013, and he was the best player in the Broncos secondary last season. Rodgers-Cromartie could end up with a contract that pays him nearly $10 million annually.
After those two steps are done, the Broncos will examine the rest of their secondary. Then—and only then—would the Broncos even consider something like trading for Revis.
The price tag to first acquire Revis is unknown. His $16 million contract would be difficult to take on, especially if it came after they restructured Bailey and re-signed Rodgers-Cromartie.
Trading for Revis might be wise for another team in a Super Bowl window, but it’s unwise for the Broncos.
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. Draft grades all from NFLDraftScout.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.