Knowshon Moreno Has Earned Big Payday from Denver Broncos

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Knowshon Moreno Has Earned Big Payday from Denver Broncos
Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

When the free-agent period starts in the NFL next Tuesday, one of the most interesting teams to watch will be the Denver Broncos.

Still smarting from the 35-point whipping they suffered in Super Bowl XLVIII, the team has multiple key decisions to make in regards to their own free agents.

Wide receiver Eric Decker and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are two of the marquee names on that list. The other is Knowshon Moreno.

Before the 2013 season, most Broncos fans would probably have liked for Moreno to play anywhere but Denver. But after the season he is coming off of, they need to think long and hard about his future.

Knowshon Moreno's Stats Among NFL RBs- 2013
Category 2013 Total NFL Rank
Rushing Yards 1,038 12
Receptions 60 6
Rushing TDs 10 Tied- 4
First Downs 53 13

NFL Statistics

Moreno turned in a solid season, rushing for 1,038 yards while averaging 4.3 yards per carry and scoring 10 touchdowns. In a Week 6 win over Jacksonville, he scored three times, and in Week 12 against New England, he carried the rock for an impressive 224 yards, good for third-most in a game in Denver history.

But it's the passing game where Moreno is truly invaluable, and because of what he gives Peyton Manning, the Broncos need to retain him.

Not only is Moreno a very good receiver out of the backfield, he is also by far the best option they have in pass protection. Picking up the blitz is essential in the Denver offense due to Manning's lack of mobility and the fact that he has undergone four operations on his neck.

On top of that, he was the team's most effective runner on goal-to-go situations.

So what is John Elway and the front office to do?

As tweeted by ESPN's Adam Schefter, they started by letting go of Champ Bailey, one of the best defensive players in team history, in order to free up $10 million in salary-cap space.

However, the team will likely be focusing on the defensive side of the ball in free agency. A strong pass-rusher and help in the secondary are major needs, and re-signing Rodgers-Cromartie will likely be the team's top priority.

If there is an option to keep either Decker or Moreno, the choice should be Moreno, hands down. The Broncos can find another receiver to do what Decker has done. In an offense led by Manning, contributors in the passing game aren't hard to find.

Just ask Austin Collie or Marcus Pollard.

It will be much more difficult to duplicate Moreno's skills. Yes, Elway and Co. will point to guys like Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson, but Moreno fits the team and the offense so much better.

Denver Broncos 2013 Running Backs- Percentage of Team Totals
Player Carries Rushing Yards Rushing TDs Lost Fumbles Receptions
Knowshon Moreno 52.2% 55.4% 66.6% 0 65.2%
Montee Ball 26.0% 29.8% 26.6% 66% 21.7%
Ronnie Hillman 11.9% 11.6% 6.6% 33% 13.0%
C.J. Anderson 1.5% 2.0% 0 0 0

NFL Statistics

Ball started to turn the corner late in the season in 2013 after a bit of a fumbling problem earlier in the year, but does the team really want to feature him in their backfield with only Anderson and Hillman to fall back on?

Hillman will have to show that his confidence isn't totally gone after a disastrous season that saw him benched due to a fumbling problem. Anderson has just seven career carries.

It would make much more sense to work out a deal with Moreno and keep a rotation of himself and Ball.

So how much should Denver pay?

Moreno will likely be asking for a hefty raise due to the stats he put up in 2013. Denver may be able to sway his opinion by reminding him that he'll be part of a team that should contend for a Super Bowl again next season.

Teams that need a running back will likely come calling, however, and there is a good chance they'll throw a better deal at Moreno. Still, Denver needs to do everything in their power to keep him.

The one knock on Moreno is his injury history. He's missed 20 games in his five-year career and was knocked out of the team's divisional round playoff loss to Baltimore in January 2013. This season was the first year since he was a rookie that he played in all 16 games.

That is something Denver can use to their advantage in negotiations, and it's also something that could make other teams leery of offering him a huge contract.

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

But Moreno needs to stick to his guns. Yes, he has had issues with injuries, but he was incredibly productive for Denver in 2013, showing the promise that made him a first-round draft pick.

He played in all 16 games, he caught passes, he kept Manning upright and, most importantly, he secured the football. Moreno didn't lose a single fumble last season.

Ball seems ready to be in a bigger role next year, but is that the right move for the team? The key to whether Moreno stays or goes depends on how the team feels about Ball, Hillman and Anderson.

Is Ball capable in pass protection? One of the hardest hits Manning suffered all season was during a preseason game against Seattle. Ball missed a block and Manning was blasted and dropped flat on his back.

Will Hillman be able to put the fumbles behind him? If there is even a slight hesitation with either of these questions, then Moreno must be retained.

One of the memorable images of the 2013 NFL season was that of Moreno shedding tears during the National Anthem before a game versus Kansas City. Though Moreno became the brunt of many jokes, he explained his love of the game as the reason, as shown in the above video.

Moreno is motivated. He will have plenty of momentum entering the 2014 campaign. He loves the game and the team he plays for. Is that not someone you would want on your team?

Rightfully, the Broncos should search the market for players who can improve their defense. But if they allow Moreno to walk, they'll soon regret it.

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