Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
All across the league, teams are forced to let talented players explore the free-agent market. The Broncos are prepared to pounce on some of these players when free agency opens on March 11.
Targets at inside linebacker already include D’Qwell Jackson and Lofa Tatupu. Other targets might be Brandon Spikes, Daryl Smith and Jameel McClain.
Spikes constantly ruffled feathers during his time with the Patriots, and he is looking for a fresh start. He’s a two-down run-stuffer who plays the game with plenty of attitude.
Smith was a quality starter for the Ravens last year, and they may consider him a priority to keep this offseason. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Ravens wrap him up before the start of free agency.
McClain visited the Broncos when he was a free agent in 2012. The problem was that the Broncos were courting Peyton Manning at the same time. John Elway, John Fox and former general manager Brian Xanders were all away from the facility when McClain visited.
Targets at the safety position begin with Jairus Byrd. He was not franchise-tagged this year, and he could sign a new contract that pays him more than any other safety in the league.
If the Broncos don’t want to pay a hefty price tag for Byrd, they could make a run at T.J. Ward. He will have a lower price tag, and he has a previous relationship with director of pro personnel Tom Heckert. Ward was selected by the Browns when Heckert was the team’s general manager.
The Broncos want more attitude on the defense. Enter Donte Whitner from the 49ers. He is hitting the open market after making $4.9 million in 2013. His price tag could be somewhat hefty as well, but the swagger he would bring to the defense is worth it.
The Broncos want to strengthen their pass-rush. Adding a player like Michael Bennett would be a huge move for the Broncos. He made $4.8 million last year in Seattle, and now he’s looking for a much richer long-term contract.
The Broncos could also consider B.J. Raji.
He hasn’t recorded a sack since Week 12 in 2011 and is an odd fit for Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense. Raji has the size to play inside, but he would be an interesting fit at defensive end in Jack Del Rio’s system. He could be added for a lower price on a “prove it” deal.
The Broncos can add pass-rushers to the roster at the outside linebacker position. They have a need with Von Miller coming back from his Week 16 ACL injury. His status for the season opener is in question at this point.
O’Brien Schofield has a history of battling through knee injuries. He played a part-time role for the Seahawks in 2013, and his price tag is not going to be enormous. He has good upside as long as he can stay healthy.
If the Broncos let Eric Decker walk in free agency, they will have a need at the wide receiver position. Several veterans on the open market could help.
Hakeem Nicks could go from one Manning to another. He has long been a favorite target of Eli, and he could easily slide into a similar role catching passes from Peyton.
Nicks has struggled to stay healthy over the last couple of years, so he could sign for a lower price. If healthy, he could more than adequately replace Decker.
Like Nicks, Kenny Britt could sign for a lower price on a “prove it” deal. Injuries, attitude and inconsistencies have been problems for him during his entire pro career.
He’s never played up to his potential, but Britt could flourish with a fresh start. He could especially prosper with a team like the Broncos. They have the veteran leaders in the locker room to keep him in line.
Putting up big numbers by catching passes from Manning could jump-start his career.
If Knowshon Moreno leaves in free agency, the team would have a hole to fill at the running back position. Montee Ball should get the first crack to win the starting job without Moreno.
However, the Broncos could add a lower-priced veteran in free agency.
One of those free agents might be Donald Brown. He has experience working with Manning from their days together with the Colts. He could work as a change-of-pace back alongside Ball. However, he may not want to go to a team where he cannot compete for the starting job.
Another back the team could look at is Darren McFadden. He’s never played a full 16 games during his pro career, but he would not have to carry the full load in Denver. He is still an explosive player who can score any time he touches the ball.