I don't know about you, but all this talk about the end of the NFL lockout is getting me excited for free agency. One team that is rumored to be very active on the market is the Denver Broncos, so here we'll highlight seven players whom John Fox and John Elway should be targeting.
While some of these players may not be specifically rumored to have connections with the Broncos, they might be the best fits for Denver's free agency strategy, which is laid out by ESPN Insider.
Denver is rumored to be targeting one running back, two defensive tackles, one defensive back, one tight end, one fullback, one offensive tackle and one fullback. John Fox has reportedly stated the Broncos will rebuild through the NFL draft and won't necessarily break the bank on any free agents. Instead, they'll fill positions of need with reasonably-priced veterans.
This list of players will use that plan as a guideline and will also be based on the potential impact and price range of each player. Some of the selections may bore you to death, but others will hopefully pique your interest and create a little excitement.
As a little bit of a bonus, I'll add a "dream signing" on each slide who plays the same position but is an unrealistic option for the Broncos.
So, without further ado, here are my picks for Denver's seven best free agent options.
Sources: ESPN, WalterFootball.com
Alright folks, let's get the most boring one out of the way first.
DeAngelo Williams is a very good running back and will vastly improve Denver's running game if he is signed, but you can find his name in just about every recent Broncos article and I can imagine it is getting old.
Nevertheless, Williams is an important target for Denver if they want to bolster the offense.
The obvious connection here is John Fox, who was the head coach of the Panthers last season. Williams will command a huge contract, but ESPN quotes Fox saying, "We've got to run the ball more and better, and running back is our No. 1 priority."
Considering Williams is about the only option on the market without a bunch of question marks, expect the Broncos to make a hard run at him.
Dream Signing: DeAngelo Williams
That's right, if the Broncos can sign Williams, they'll have gotten possibly their most highly-regarded target. Denver would have to skimp on other positions, though.
Le'Ron McClain has been a solid starter at fullback for the Ravens since 2008, a year in which he also recorded 902 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
McClain's role on offense has since diminished with the outstanding play of Ray Rice, however, and he remains intent on being involved in toting the rock.
Denver would conceivably be a very nice fit for McClain, because with the questions they have in the running game (even if Williams is signed), McClain could get his wish. Knowshon Moreno has been injury-prone his whole career, and McClain could end up being the only consistently reliable ball carrier.
In addition to offensive production, McClain would provide the Broncos with a solid run-blocker.
Dream Signing: Vonta Leach, Houston Texans
Isn't this everyone's dream signing? Vonta Leach was one of the reasons for Arian Foster's 2010 rushing title, and the Texan is the consensus top fullback in the NFL.
This might be another boring pick, but Ryan Harris has been a solid right tackle for the Broncos since his rookie season and should be re-signed by Denver.
Harris apparently struggled in Josh McDaniels' offense, but he should be able to rebound. He should be an inexpensive signing though, and with all of the activity Denver is planning to take part in, that's an important aspect.
Dream Signing: Doug Free, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys' breakout left tackle will command a huge contract this offseason. Denver would love to have him protecting Tim Tebow, but his price range is unrealistic for the Broncos. There have been no rumors of talks between Free and the Broncos anyway.
This is just an educated guess, but Dante Rosario might be Denver's best option at tight end. Oh, and the only thing that makes it "educated" is that Rosario played all four of his seasons for John Fox as a Carolina Panther.
Rosario makes a lot of sense for the Broncos, however. He would be a very inexpensive signing, but he has shown potential with the Panthers and is still very young. He could end up being a steal.
Obviously, Fox has seen Rosario play, and if he signs him to play as a Bronco, chances are he sees potential in him too. Even if Fox doesn't see much in him, Rosario would fill a position of need at a realistic price.
Dream Signing: Zach Miller, Oakland Raiders
Honestly, who wouldn't want to sign one of the NFL's most underrated tight ends and steal him away from a division rival in the process? Unfortunately, the Oakland Raider is probably out of Denver's price range. Oakland will work hard to re-sign him anyway.
Cullen Jenkins has been a dominant force for the Green Bay Packers over seven seasons, but his recent injury history may make him expendable to the defending Super Bowl champs.
Jenkins would be a nice fit in Denver because he would drastically improve the run defense (assuming he stays healthy, of course) while being a half-way affordable signing.
On top of that, Jenkins has the size and versatility to play in both the 4-3 and 3-4. While the Broncos have switched to the 4-3, we may see them line up in some 3-4 formations. This is pure speculation on my part, but since star pass-rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller are both naturally 3-4 outside linebackers, it only makes sense to let them loose in their element from time to time.
Either way, Denver should target Jenkins if he doesn't demand too much money.
Dream Signing: Barry Cofield, New York Giants
Barry Cofield would provide the Broncos an excellent run-defender and solid pass-rusher, but without the injury baggage. Cofield is most likely well out of Denver's affordability range unless they don't sign DeAngelo Williams.
Alright, I admit it, I'm including Charles Johnson mostly because he also played for John Fox as a Carolina Panther. However, there are a few good reasons Johnson would make sense for Denver.
Johnson is actually a name that has been loosely linked to the Denver Broncos by ESPN. This may be for the same reason, but it's a reason that makes sense.
Another reason Johnson would be a good signing for Denver is that, because he's only had one good year, he might still be affordable. If he has another great year, his price probably skyrockets.
On top of that, the Denver Broncos have little at the defensive end position. Von Miller is a very talented player but, quite frankly, I'm not sure what the Broncos plan to do with him. He could conceivably make a smooth transition to 4-3 defensive end, but his ideal spot would be 3-4 outside linebacker.
Even if Miller does turn out to be a strong 4-3 end, the other side will probably be occupied by Elvis Dumervil, who is an elite pass-rusher in a 3-4 defense but struggled when he played defensive end in the Broncos' 4-3 a few seasons ago. On top of that, Dumervil was out for the entire 2010 season and is not a sure bet to come back and play as well as he did prior to his injury.
When you take all this into account, Johnson looks like a very intriguing option as a true 4-3 defensive end who would provide another excellent pass-rushing presence on Denver's defense.
Dream Signing: Brandon Mebane, DT, Seattle Seahawks
As Denver's reported free agency plan highlights, the Broncos would like to sign two defensive tackles rather than a defensive tackle and a defensive end. If they were able to sign both Barry Cofield and Brandon Mebane, they'd instantly have one of the best defensive lines in the league regardless of what they had at defensive end. Mebane is another player who Denver would have to splurge on, though. There are other teams that will work much harder to sign Mebane.
Dashon Goldson had a down year in 2010 relative to 2009 but still recorded 80 tackles, a sack and an interception which he returned for a touchdown.
In '09, Goldson burst onto the scene with 94 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles and four interceptions.
According to WalterFootball.com, Goldson played through injuries in 2010 and has a good shot at rebounding this coming season. He might, however, come at a very reasonable price based on his 2010 season.
Denver needs all the help it can get in the defensive backfield, but with Champ Bailey and Perrish Cox at cornerback, safety will be the bigger need.
When it's all said and done, Goldson may barely be affordable, but there aren't many other options at safety that would be both low price and good pass defenders. The 49er has no connections to the Broncos that I am aware of, but he might be a Bronco in 2011 based solely on need and value.
Dream Signing: Johnathan Joseph, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
Johnathan Joseph would fill Denver's other cornerback spot, and while the Broncos would still have questions at safety, Joseph and Champ Bailey would form quite possibly the league's best cornerback tandem. Joseph will command a huge contract, though, and he's expressed interest in staying with the Bengals anyway. If he's not in Cincinnati in 2011, he'll probably be in Detroit.