Last season, the Denver Broncos added a pair of key starters in the latter stages of free agency.
Shaun Phillips, who finished with double-digit sacks last year, was signed on the third day of the draft. Paris Lenon, who started during the playoffs at middle linebacker, was signed in August.
The Broncos benefited from the production of these players greatly. They ended up in Denver because the Broncos were willing to take chances late in free agency. Teams have leverage in contract talks at this time of the year, and Denver used that to its advantage last year.
And it should again this year.
As always, there are players available at positions of need. Denver would benefit from a middle linebacker, a veteran running back to complement Montee Ball and C.J. Anderson and depth at cornerback.
The draft is coming up, but it still makes sense to spend the team's remaining money on veteran talent.
According to NFL Network's Albert Breer, the Broncos had $5.31 million in cap space as of April 1. This was before they signed guard Will Montgomery.
According to overthecap.com, Montgomery has a cap number of $1.925 million. The Broncos still have cap space left, and they can still create more. Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, backup tight ends, have hefty cap numbers. Both are candidates to be released.
Plus, some of the team's current cap hit is coming from players who likely won't make the roster, meaning their contracts eventually won't count. That should nearly offset the money the team will spend on its draft picks, meaning the Broncos appear likely to have a bit of spending money.
But what would they do with the money?
First of all, they could pursue a change-of-pace running back.
Chris Johnson is available, and the Broncos have at least one available slot at running back. Johnson ran for 2,000 yards in 2009 and has never run for fewer than 1,000 yards, but he has a reputation of being a clubhouse cancer.
Oh, and in 2013, he was fairly ineffective.
Running backs don't command much money, as evidenced by LeGarrette Blount. He ran for nearly 200 yards in back-to-back games in 2013, averaging 5.0 YPC overall. However, he received just $3.85 million over two years from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With the uncertainty surrounding the 28-year-old Johnson, he won't receive lots of money. At the right price, the Broncos could target him as a change-of-pace back. They could also look at the experienced Ronnie Brown or the potent Andre Brown, both of whom would come at a nice price.
Denver has Ball, Anderson and Ronnie Hillman, so it only needs one more back. Whether that back is added in the draft or in free agency remains to be seen.
If the Broncos want to address the running back position in the draft, they could use their cash to sign a cornerback. Rashean Mathis, a playmaker from Detroit, is available. He defended 16 passes in 2013, and even though the veteran didn't intercept a pass, he had a solid season.
Right now, the Broncos don't have a definite starter in the nickel package. Also, Chris Harris' status for Week 1 is up in the air. Mathis could step in capably. According to Pro Football Focus, opponents completed fewer than half of their passes against him in 2013.
Mathis graded out positively in pass coverage, and he could continue his success in Denver. He is 33 years old, but he has proven to be solid despite his age. Plus, his age should lead to a discount.
There is still a nice crop of cornerbacks available. Jabari Greer, Drayton Florence and other corners are also available. If the Broncos want to bolster their secondary through free agency as opposed to the draft, they're going to have players to choose from.
The pickings at middle linebacker are slimmer, but there are still choices for the Broncos. Dan Connor is coming off of an injury, and he could serve as a solid option for the Broncos. He's decent enough for the team.
Desmond Bishop has also suffered injuries, but he has had great seasons before. He's an above-average pass-rusher and run defender, and his injury history should lead to a team-friendly deal.
Denver is more likely to pursue someone like Chris Borland in the draft as opposed to signing a middle linebacker, though. Pass coverage is their biggest issue at this position, and no one in free agency is likely to fill that hole.
Plus, with Nate Irving on the roster and Denver's tendency for using middle linebacker sparingly, general manager John Elway likely feels safe. In other words, if the Broncos do sign someone at this position, it wouldn't make headlines.
There wouldn't be much risk with these potential signings. However, there is the possibility of a reward. Denver has the draft to address some small needs and add an influx of youth, but it should still take a look at some of the available veteran players.
Last year, it paid dividends in the leadership department and on the field. And if John Elway, who has signed multiple veterans to cheap deals, is smart, he will sign more veterans.
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