Weighing the Pros and Cons of Denver Broncos' Top Free-Agent Targets
With the start of NFL free agency just over one week away, teams are positioning themselves to land the players they are targeting.
As for the Broncos, they will be in a win-now mode as long as Peyton Manning is their quarterback. Following a devastating loss in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos will have to remain aggressive if they are going to successfully defend their AFC championship.
According to Overthecap.com, the Broncos currently have just over $19 million in available cap space.
Though they do have several free agents of their own such as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, they may have to scour the market in order to find the best value.
The market will open with a frenzy, so each team needs to have multiple plans in place.
Not every free agent is a perfect fit and many of them come with certain risks, such as injury history or underperforming with their previous team.
Here, we will look at seven free agents who the Broncos should be targeting and the pros and cons to signing each.
T.J. Ward, Safety, Cleveland Browns
The Broncos must address the safety position this offseason. Between injuries and inconsistent play the past two seasons, it has been a weakness for the team.
Then there's the matter of physicality, something the Seattle Seahawks had and the Broncos didn't in the Super Bowl. That was the biggest reason for the Broncos' 43-8 drubbing.
For these reasons, Cleveland's T.J. Ward would be an excellent player to bring in.
Ward is a solid tackler who would bring a certain nastiness to the defense. He also has experience playing cornerback and has above-average coverage skills.
He has been a bright spot on an otherwise poor Cleveland team.
Ward is a little on the short side (5'10") and he doesn't have the best hands, so interceptions will be few and far between.
He is a fierce tackler but fails to wrap on occasionally and misses tackles as a result. He will also likely command a salary amongst the highest-paid safeties in the NFL.
Jairus Byrd, Safety, Buffalo Bills
If Buffalo is unable to work out a new deal with Jairus Byrd, he will immediately become one of the most sought-after free agents on the market.
Byrd is excellent in coverage and may have the best ball skills of any safety in the NFL. In five seasons, he has 22 career interceptions, nine of which came during his rookie campaign.
He would help transform the Denver defense, which has had trouble the past two seasons with covering tight ends.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, there isn't much to dislike about Byrd.
As stated, there aren't many negatives to the game of Byrd. You could knock him for the attitude he's had the last couple of years in Buffalo, but on a winning team, that would be likely to change.
Donte Whitner, Safety, San Francisco 49ers
Donte Whitner could very well be suiting up for a new team next year and for the Broncos, they would be able to get him at a much cheaper rate than either Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward.
Whitner is a physical player who makes punishing hits. He is exactly the type of player the Broncos need to look into adding to the defense for 2014.
Despite playing in the league for eight years, the former first-round choice of the Buffalo Bills is still only 28 years old. In his eight seasons, he has averaged 83.6 tackles per year.
Whitner is not an instinctual player and wouldn't be as good in coverage as Byrd or Ward. He can also sometimes be too physical in today's league, opening himself up to penalties and fines.
Julian Edelman, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots
Julian Edelman is not one of the elite receivers in the NFL, but in the right system, he can be incredibly effective. Last season, he caught 105 passes. Only three players in the entire league had more.
If the Broncos are unable to retain Eric Decker, Edelman could be a good replacement. Together in New England, Edelman and Welker were very productive.
On top of that, Edelman is a very versatile player who can help in the return game. He has sure hands and deceiving speed.
At 5'10" and just under 200 pounds, Edelman is smaller than Decker. Denver may be more comfortable finding a bigger target for Peyton Manning.
While Edelman had a breakout year in 2013, he was fairly unproven before that, combining for just 69 receptions in five seasons. The Broncos would be paying him based off the results of just one season.
James Jones, Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers
James Jones seems like a likely candidate to be playing elsewhere next season. In his seven-year career with the Packers, he has caught 310 passes and 37 touchdowns. In 2012, he led the NFL with 14 touchdown catches.
In Green Bay, Jones comes from an offense that likes to spread it out with four wide receivers. This could make him a good fit for the Broncos.
While Jones was an under-the-radar target a couple weeks ago, teams around the league are making sure they sign their own free-agent wide receivers.
That eliminates three of the top options that were available.
Jones is a reliable receiver with good hands, capable of making the spectacular catch.
Jones will turn 30 years old on March 31 and the concern would be that his most productive years are behind him.
With the other receivers who have already re-signed this offseason, it could force the price tag for a player like Jones to go up. Denver must make sure not to overpay for a player like this.
Jones also suffered a knee injury last season that forced him to miss some time, and he never seemed to be completely recovered even when he returned to the field.
Michael Bennett, Defensive End, Seattle Seahawks
After just one season in Seattle in which he helped the defense rank at the top of the NFL while racking up 8.5 quarterback sacks, Michael Bennett is scheduled to hit the open market next Tuesday.
This is a player the Broncos should seriously pursue.
Robert Ayers will be an unrestricted free agent, and the team needs to find someone to help provide a consistent pass rush and complement linebacker Von Miller.
In his last two seasons with both Tampa Bay and Seattle, Bennett has 17.5 sacks. He is a strong, disruptive player who can get after the quarterback. His long arms allow him the ability to knock down passes as well.
Along with his pass-rushing prowess, he also defends the run well. He is a versatile player who can line up at defensive tackle or defensive end. In fact, the Seahawks seemed to use him more as a tackle last season.
There aren't many weaknesses in Bennett's game through five years in the NFL, but coming off a Super Bowl victory, his asking price may be a little high.
That should be the only thing that keeps Denver from inking him to a contract. If the price is right, this is their guy.
D'Qwell Jackson, Linebacker, Current Free Agent
One of the things Denver needs most is a field general in the middle of their defense.
Wesley Woodyard took a step back last season and by the time the Super Bowl rolled around, Paris Lenon was the starting middle linebacker.
Woodyard will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and the team has two solid starters in Von Miller and Danny Trevathan at the other two linebacker spots.
According to The Denver Post, the Broncos have already brought Jackson in for a free-agent visit. Since Cleveland released him, he is free to sign with any team prior to the start of free agency.
Jackson would be an immediate starter in Denver as the new middle linebacker. He is an attacking defender who is one of the best tacklers in the league. The 158 tackles he amassed in 2011 led the NFL.
Jackson can also drop back in pass coverage, as evidenced by his eight career interceptions.
Though the Browns did cut him, it wasn't due to poor performance. It was more the result of the financial side of the sport that led to Jackson's dismissal.
Even though Jackson is 30 years old, the demand for a good middle linebacker is high around the league. Though the Broncos are going to be highly interested in his services, they may have to win a bidding war involving several teams.
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