5 Available Free Agents Still Within the Denver Broncos Reach
The Denver Broncos arguably made the biggest splashes in free agency this offseason.
They started free agency with a bang when they signed strong safety T.J. Ward. He’ll immediately make an impact for the Broncos as a starter. Adding Ward gives the defense a swagger they didn’t have last season.
They followed that move up with a somewhat surprising transaction by adding veteran cornerback Aqib Talib. He’ll step in as their top cornerback in 2014. Talib has the ability to regularly shut down an opponent’s best receiving weapon.
Almost immediately after adding Talib, the Broncos added future Hall of Fame pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware. He gives them another player who can put opposing quarterbacks under duress. Ware can also be a mentor to outside linebacker Von Miller.
They weren’t done yet! Their final big move came in the form of a wide receiver.
Emmanuel Sanders gives the team a lot of speed at the position. He’s arguably an upgrade over last year’s “Z” receiver Eric Decker.
At this time (like most teams), the Broncos are done adding free agents. Currently at Dove Valley they are assembling their board in preparation for the NFL draft.
However, they could look to some veterans who are still on the street in order to add better depth.
Here’s a look at five free agents who could draw interest from the Broncos.
Running Back Michael Bush
Last year’s top back, Knowshon Moreno, has moved on in free agency to the Miami Dolphins. The Broncos are likely to give a majority of the carries to last year’s second-round pick Montee Ball in 2014.
With Ball as their lead back, the Broncos will look to have a more balanced offense with a more effective ground game. In 2013, almost 80 percent (79.7) of Moreno’s carries came with six or fewer defenders in the box. Chances are good that Ball can be more productive against such fronts this season.
Behind Ball, the Broncos have question marks. They could use a veteran addition like Michael Bush.
C.J. Anderson is currently considered the primary backup behind Ball. He’s the team’s lone power back, and Anderson has a quicker-than-expected initial burst. This helps get him to the second level of the defense in a hurry. Once there, Anderson can be difficult to bring down.
Anderson is unproven as a pro back, having only seven carries for 38 yards as a pro. Even though he lacks experience, Anderson has the ability to be a quality starter if need be.
Behind Anderson is the team’s change-of-pace back Ronnie Hillman. He’s arguably the fastest player on the team, but he needs to hold onto the rock if he wants to keep his job. Hillman spent most of last offseason as the lead back, but lost the job in the preseason due to three fumbles.
A goal-line fumble against the Indianapolis Colts put Hillman on the bench (or inactive) for the rest of 2013. It’s no guarantee that he even makes the final roster.
Adding a player like Bush is a good move. He’s a bigger back with plenty of experience. Bush is a “swiss army knife” type of running back who can contribute as a runner or receiver out of the backfield.
Bush could be effective catching passes from Peyton Manning out of the backfield. He could also be relied on as a short-yardage and goal-line back.
In a six-degrees-of-separation sort of way, Bush has a connection with Broncos head coach John Fox. In college at Louisville, Bush backed up Eric Shelton. As the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, Fox selected Shelton in the second round of the 2005 NFL draft.
Bush is essentially a better version of Shelton. Fox could decide to add the multi-talented veteran for quality depth.
Wide Receiver Austin Collie
The Broncos may add more talent to their group of wide receivers in the 2014 NFL draft. In addition to acquiring a rookie, the Broncos may look to the veteran free agents left on the open market.
It would be an interesting move if they added former Colts and New England Patriots receiver Austin Collie. He has experience with Peyton Manning, as Collie was a fourth-round pick by the Colts in the 2009 NFL draft.
During his first two years in the league, Collie caught 118 passes for 1,325 yards and 15 touchdowns. Three concussions with the Colts and a 2012 knee injury caused Collie to move on from Indianapolis.
He was initially signed as a free agent last year by the San Francisco 49ers, but he failed to make the final roster. The New England Patriots did add Collie later in the season, but he bounced on and off the roster multiple times.
Collie is on the open market and could end up going back to the Patriots if he doesn’t get any offers. He recently worked out for Washington, according to Aaron Wilson from National Football Post.
His injury history is so long it reads like Infinite Jest. Taking that into account, the Broncos should be able to sign Collie for a cap-friendly deal.
The chemistry with Manning is the real attraction here. Collie would give the team a plug-and-play veteran at the receiver position.
Tight End Jeff King
At this time, both Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme are still on the roster. Both could be released for salary reasons if the team needs a little more wiggle room under the cap.
Dreessen has a cap number around $3.2 million in 2014, but there’s only approximately $665,000 in dead money left on his deal. Tamme has a $3.5 million cap number, and there’s only $500,000 left in dead money on his contract.
If the Broncos make a move to release one or both, they would need a tight end. This draft class is not a great one at the tight end position. That means the Broncos might add a veteran free agent like Jeff King.
The former Panthers tight end has a history with Broncos head coach John Fox. King was a fifth-round pick by the Fox-led Panthers in 2006. The veteran has been with the Arizona Cardinals the last two seasons, but his 2013 season was cut short by a knee injury he suffered in the preseason.
He’s not much of a receiving threat, but King is an in-line tight end who can hold his own as a blocker. Coming off this knee injury, King should be fresh for the 2014 season.
The Broncos have a top-tier move tight end in starter Julius Thomas. Behind him, Virgil Green is their all-purpose tight end who can catch and block. Without Tamme and Dreessen, the Broncos would take a long look at converted wide receiver Gerell Robinson at the position.
Having a player like King on the roster would give them veteran insurance at the position. His price tag is going to be a lot less than what Tamme and/or Dreessen are scheduled to make in 2014.
Linebacker O'Brien Schofield
The Broncos will continue looking for pass-rushers this offseason. They added veteran DeMarcus Ware in free agency, and he should be one of their top defenders in 2014.
Opposite of Ware will be Von Miller. He’s coming off the ACL injury he suffered in the team’s Week 16 game against the Houston Texans in 2013. Miller’s no lock to ready for the start of the regular season, and with this injury we may not see him look like his old self until the midway point of the year.
Denver can’t rely on an unknown like Quanterus Smith. The second-year linebacker missed his rookie season recovering from the knee injury that cut his 2012 season short at Western Kentucky. Smith has upside, but we don’t have any idea what kind of pro he’ll be.
This means a veteran pass-rusher could still be on the team’s radar.
O’Brien Schofield would make a lot of sense for the Broncos as a part-time player.
He was a talented pass-rusher coming out of Wisconsin in 2010. Schofield suffered a horrific leg injury during the first day of practice for the Senior Bowl that year, but the Arizona Cardinals still selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft.
Schofield was a free agent last year when he decided to sign a deal with the Seattle Seahawks. He compiled 15 tackles and one sack playing on a temporary basis in Seattle.
Schofield did end up passing a physical with the Tennessee Titans on April 9th, but he was not signed to a contract.
He has talent, but his injury concerns have kept potential suitors away. The Broncos could add Schofield for a good price, and (if healthy) he could outperform any sort of minimum contract as a rotational pass-rusher.
Safety Mike Adams
The Broncos let their own free agents test the market this offseason. By doing this, they lost guys like Zane Beadles, Eric Decker and Shaun Phillips—just to name a few.
One player that was allowed to hit free agency was veteran safety Mike Adams. However, there has been little interest in Adams on the open market at this time.
This means the Broncos could bring him back for a good price.
Adams is a team-first player. The Broncos have asked him to start—and he’s done an admirable job during his two seasons in Denver. They’ve benched Adams and asked him to play a reserve role too. Adams was fine with that also, and he was ready for more playing time when the opportunity arose in 2013 after the injury to Rahim Moore.
The veteran is great in the locker room. He’s seen it all during his time in the pros, and many of the young players look up to the veteran for guidance.
Adams obviously knows the system, having worked under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio over the last two years. There would be no learning curve involved with keeping Adams around.
He also has a previous working relationship with new starting strong safety T.J. Ward. Adams was a veteran when Ward was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the 2010 NFL draft.
Bringing Adams back just makes sense for the Broncos. He's beloved by the coaching staff and gives them versatile veteran depth.
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com. Contract information provided by Spotrac.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.