4 Cost-Effective Free Agents the Denver Broncos Should Target
If there's one thing John Elway is good at besides throwing a football, it's finding cost-effective free agents.
He locked up Wes Welker for just $12 million total last offseason. He signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a $5 million deal. He signed standout defensive tackle Terrance Knighton for a mere $4 million over two years. He claimed Louis Vasquez for an average annual salary of less than $6 million.
His genius was on full display last offseason, and if the Denver Broncos are lucky, the same will be true in 2014.
But how can that happen? Which cost-effective free agents should Elway and the Broncos target to become the next stars in Denver?
The Denver Broncos struck it rich last offseason with right guard Vasquez. This offseason, they are looking to do the same thing.
However, they're doing it on the other side of the offensive line. Zane Beadles is likely a goner, so the Broncos will need a replacement at left guard.
Jon Asamoah is a potential fit.
He played on the right side in 2013, but he has experience as a left guard. He played two games at left guard in 2010, and he graded out positively. He received a plus-1.8 grade in just 68 snaps at the position, and he could duplicate that success in 2014.
Asamoah has been successful every year, providing a model of consistency. However, Geoff Schwartz, who stole Asamoah's job when the latter went down with an injury, is also a free agent. The Chiefs could let Asamoah walk in favor of Schwartz.
He is expected to have a few suitors, but Denver should be able to lure him in. Kansas City lost twice to the Broncos, and he remembers the Broncos as the AFC's best team, not the team that lost in the Super Bowl.
If Asamoah, who has been consistently solid as a pass-blocker and run-blocker, is willing to switch positions at a good price, the Broncos should try to sign him. There are other guards, such as Beadles and Travelle Wharton, who will command interest, so Asamoah won't be unreasonably expensive.
If Denver signs Jairus Byrd and re-signs its other key players, it might not have cap space for a guard. It could shuffle its current line by moving Chris Clark to right tackle and Orlando Franklin to left guard, but that should only happen if the Broncos have no money for a free-agent guard.
Because if the Broncos can add Asamoah, they should not pass up the opportunity.
If the Broncos sign their next starting running back this offseason, they would be foolish.
However, if they don't sign a veteran for depth, they would also be foolish.
Toby Gerhart is very inexperienced, as he has waited behind 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson for his entire career. His numbers were phenomenal in 2013, but he played sparingly. He has never received the chance to be a franchise running back.
Unfortunately for him, he likely won't receive that chance this offseason. But if he signs a short-term deal with the right team, it could positively alter the course of his career.
And eventually, he could get a gig as a starter.
He could sign with Denver. The Broncos have speed with Ronnie Hillman and solid all-around runners in Montee Ball and C.J. Anderson, but they don't have a power running back. Assuming Knowshon Moreno leaves, Denver could have trouble picking up first downs or touchdowns on short-yardage situations.
Gerhart would be perfect in those situations.
He averaged 7.9 yards per carry in 2013 on 36 carries, and his career average is 4.7 yards per carry. However, he does have fumbling issues. He has fumbled five times on 276 carries, which is about one fumble every 55 carries.
The frequent fumbles are disconcerting, but everything else indicates that he could help out the team. He would likely come at a cheap price, but he could be a perfect complement to likely starter Ball and the potent Anderson.
The Broncos need a pass-rusher, but they need to get one on the cheap.
As I previously stated, they need to place the secondary higher on their list of priorities than the pass rush. However, they can't rely on just Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson and Quanterus Smith. They need to re-sign Robert Ayers or Shaun Phillips, and if not, they need to sign a free agent.
That free agent should be Willie Young.
He will be cheap because he has just six sacks in three years. However, he's a solid all-around player who finished third among 52 4-3 defensive end in quarterback hurries. In fact, he had more than Greg Hardy and J.J. Watt.
In addition, he would likely accept a reasonable contract because of Denver's back-to-back 13-3 seasons and its tendency for turning nobodies like Knighton into multimillionaires.
Plus, with Justin Tuck, Michael Bennett, Jared Allen, Michael Johnson and potentially DeMarcus Ware on the market, Young might not garner an abundance of interest.
Still, he is a player whom the Broncos would love to have. He graded out positively as a pass-rusher and as a run defender in 2013, and while he had problems with penalties, he was solid in all other aspects. He is a perfect fit for the Broncos.
Additionally, while they could likely sign him to a low-risk, high-reward deal, he isn't a seasoned veteran like some of Denver's previous free-agent pickups. For instance, Paris Lenon and Wes Welker both signed short-term deals last offseason.
The Broncos have plenty of veterans, but they need an injection of youth. At age 28, Young could bring that.
If Smith and Jackson—who are both full of potential—live up to their expectations, Von Miller comes back strong, and Knighton's production matches or is near his insane 2013 production, the defensive line would be stellar. Young would just provide a solid presence and a tremendous complement to Miller.
And who knows? He could end up being the next Knighton.
Golden Tate's showboating and disappearing act in the postseason won't appeal to the Broncos, but there are many positives about his game.
For starters, his 64 receptions for 898 yards were impressive. He finished 31st in receiving yards with the conservative Russell Wilson in a run-first offense, leading all Seahawks pass-catchers by a wide margin. He also piled up a remarkable 451 yards after the catch.
However, in the playoffs, he caught eight passes for 61 yards and zero touchdowns in three games. His postseason performance was poor, as he took a backseat to Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse.
In the playoffs, Kearse scored two touchdowns, and Baldwin led the team with 202 receiving yards. Tate didn't do much of anything.
Consequently, the Broncos can get a bargain here. There are many receivers who are more talented than Tate on the open market. Eric Decker, James Jones, Hakeem Nicks and Julian Edelman are examples. This year's free-agent class for wide receivers is loaded, which is bad news for Tate.
Even though he ranked 17th among wide receivers in the passing game, he won't get paid a lot. But if he signs a short-term deal with Denver, he could get paid a truckload of money after his initial contract.
Peyton Manning can make any receiver look good, especially one who did well in a less prolific offense. An offense with Tate, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker might be slightly less polarizing than an offense without Tate and with Eric Decker, but the only place it would be noticeable would be on the payroll.
All advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required) unless specified otherwise.
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