Creating the Denver Broncos' Free-Agency Fallback Plan
On the eve of free agency, the Denver Broncos have a master plan they are set to put in place. Under general manager John Elway, the Broncos usually add starters via free agency and depth via the draft.
Still in a Super Bowl window, the Broncos can maintain their dominance in the AFC with the right moves in free agency. With almost $28 million in cap space, the Broncos could be bigger players in the open market than some think.
Free agency usually comes in waves.
The first wave is full of marquee players at their position. They are highly coveted by other teams, and their price tags are usually at the top of the class.
The second wave is full of “value” players. These are players who aren’t quite at the top of their game. They’re either younger players with upside, or veterans who aren’t the same players they used to be.
The third wave usually happens much later than the other two. This is a wave full of one-year “prove it” deals. These contracts are for players with injury or character concerns. They need to “prove it” for one year in order to see a larger payday in the future.
Every team needs to have an alternate plan in place in case a player’s price tag gets too large. No team should overpay or get desperate at this time of year, although there are several teams that do.
Let’s take a look at moves the Broncos could make as a fallback plan if their top targets sign elsewhere. These are likely second or third-wave free agents who could step in and contribute for the team.
Cornerback: Carlos Rogers
Carlos Rogers will be allowed to test the open market, per Josina Anderson from ESPN:
Source: The San Francisco 49ers will indeed cut CB Carlos Rogers allowing him to test the market.— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 10, 2014
This is a move that creates $5.1 million in cap saving for the San Francisco 49ers. Rogers is not the player he used to be, but he should generate a decent amount of interest on the open market.
He could command a contract worth about $2-$3 million annually because he’s versatile enough to play outside or in the slot.
Rogers turns 33 before the start of the season, and the veteran is likely better suited playing in the slot. Last year, he played in 16 games for the 49ers and finished with 39 tackles, two interceptions, and eight passes defensed.
The Broncos could look to Rogers as a backup option if they don’t land a top-tier corner. He’s also an emergency option if they have a tough time getting a new contract worked out with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Inside Linebacker: Brandon Spikes
Brandon Spikes is looking for a fresh start. Per Field Yates, from ESPNBoston.com, Spikes says he’s 100 percent healthy.
Spikes ended his season last year on injured reserve due to a knee injury that didn’t require surgery. He’s only 26 years old, and Spikes is known as an incredible run defender.
The Broncos need strength in the middle of the defense. They could also use an intimidating threat at middle linebacker. They have been lacking swagger at that position since “Smoke Dog” Al Wilson had to retire early due to a neck injury after the 2006 season.
Spikes played in 16 games last year for the New England Patriots. He finished with 48 tackles, one fumble recovery, one interception and two passes defensed.
Jeff Howe, from the Boston Globe, expects Spikes to sign a deal similar to what Rey Maualuga received from the Cincinnati Bengals. That means Spikes could get a two-year deal around $6.5 million total.
That price is well within the budget for the Broncos.
Their top target at middle linebacker could be a guy like Daryl Smith of the Baltimore Ravens. If Smith decides to stay with the Ravens (or picks another team), the Broncos could add an impact player by signing Spikes.
Defensive End: Alex Carrington
Carrinton’s 2013 season was cut short by a torn quad he suffered in September. He finished the year appearing in only three games for the Bills. Thus, his stats were nearly nonexistent.
In 2013, Carrington had only four tackles and six assisted tackles.
At 6’5”, 301 pounds, Carrington fits perfectly in Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s “Big Seven” philosophy. He’s position versatile and can line up all across the defensive line.
The Broncos may be able to add a defensive end like Jared Allen in free agency. Allen is a much better pass-rusher than Carrington, and he’s going to come with an inflated price tag as well.
If Allen gets away from the Broncos, they will look at bringing back Shaun Phillips. If that falls through, the team could look to a big run-stuffer like Carrington.
If they can’t find a more impactful defensive end in free agency, that could lean them in the direction of guys like Dee Ford (Auburn) or Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame) in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Wide Receiver: Santonio Holmes
He was due a $1 million roster bonus on Thursday, and he came with a $10.75 million cap number in 2014. His contract and recent injury history (plus his lack of production) made him an easy cut.
Holmes has just 43 catches for 728 yards and two touchdowns over his past 15 games with the Jets. Staying healthy has been a problem for Holmes in recent years, and some have called his motivation into question.
The allure of playing with Peyton Manning is quite attractive for free agents on the offensive side of the ball. Holmes could rehabilitate his reputation by putting up big numbers in the Broncos' high-powered offense.
His price tag may be so low the team could sign him to a one-year “prove it” deal.
If they lose Eric Decker in free agency, then players like James Jones (Green Bay Packers) or Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants) could be options for the Broncos. Missing out on that tier of free agent wide receiver would bring them to the likes of Holmes and Kenny Britt (Tennesse Titans).
Tight End: Jeff King
The Broncos have yet to make a move with either Jacob Tamme or Joel Dreessen. If they were to keep both players, then a need for a tight end wouldn’t be there.
However, Tamme has a $3.5 million cap number with only $500,000 in dead money and Dreessen has a $3.1 million cap number with around $667,000 in dead money.
This makes both prime candidates for release (or at least restructuring).
If Denver decides to part ways with either Tamme or Dreessen, then Jeff King could be a backup plan.
King has experience playing under head coach John Fox from their days together with the Carolina Panthers. He’s a reliable, yet unexciting, veteran who could work well as a part-time blocker and once-in-a-blue-moon receiver.
His price tag should be near the veteran minimum, and that might make him more attractive than a guy like Dreessen at his current price tag.
Safety: Malcolm Jenkins
Per Mike Klis, of the Denver Post, the Broncos are likely to go after Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward in free agency. Ward has a connection with director of pro personnel Tom Heckert dating back to his days in Cleveland.
It’s not outlandish to believe that Ward is the top target for the Broncos.
However, there may be as many as a dozen teams after Ward, per Aaron Wilson from National Football Post. If the Broncos lose out on Ward, they need to be ready with a backup plan.
That backup plan could include former New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins.
Coming off a down season, Jenkins could be a value play if the Broncos don’t add Ward. Jenkins is a converted corner, but he hasn’t played a full 16-game season in the last five years with the Saints.
He’s not a top-tier option, so Jenkins could sign a multi-year deal worth $3-$4 million annually.
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.