Denver Broncos: Latest News, Rumors and Speculation Entering Combine
The 2015 NFL Scouting Combine starts this week, Feb. 17, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. It’s about this time of year when things really start to build steam in the NFL. Free agency is set to begin in less than a month, and the combine is a major event in draft season.
It may be the offseason, but there’s plenty of news items for the Denver Broncos. In addition to preparing for the draft, the Broncos are also looking at this class of free agents. They have to decide which players they want to keep, and which ones they will have to let go. In addition, they are also considering players from other teams who will possibly make it to the open market.
After the Super Bowl, there is a bit of a slow time for NFL news. That time is quickly coming to a close with so many key dates coming up in the league.
Here are the latest rumors, news and speculation surrounding the Broncos as we enter the week of the combine.
No Talks with Terrance Knighton
One of the most important pieces to the new 3-4 defense is missing at this time. Under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the Broncos are switching to a 3-4—a move that fits most of the personnel they already have in place. However, there is still a huge hole in the middle at nose tackle, and Denver needs to find the fulcrum of the defensive line through the draft or free agency.
Troy E. Renck, from the The Denver Post, reports there have been no contract talks between Knighton and the Broncos at this time.
Knighton has expressed to me previously that he would like very much to stay in Denver. His willingness to accept a hometown discount in order to stay with the Broncos is no mystery. To Knighton, winning is more important than money.
That being said, there is a fair-market price that Knighton must receive in order to stay with the Broncos. An annual average salary of around $6 million-$8 million seems to be a fair price when looking at the highest-paid defensive tackles in the NFL.
The Broncos won’t have to break the bank in order to sign Knighton. However, there is a large question mark about whether or not he can play nose tackle in a 3-4. The Broncos have to figure this out—then sign Knighton to a fair deal if they believe he’s a fit.
Wes Welker Considering Retirement
The Broncos are going to have a different look in 2015 on both sides of the ball. Not only is the coaching staff turned over, there will also be several different players in key roles for the Broncos this season. The offense is going to look different because of both of these factors.
Mike Garafolo, with Fox Sports, reports that Welker is considering retirement.
Welker isn’t the same player he used to be, and it seems like age and injuries have caught up to him. In 2014, Welker began the season on the suspended list for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. What was a four-game suspension was eventually reduced to only two games, but Welker never seemed to get in a groove last season.
His 64 targets and 49 receptions were the lowest he’s had since his rookie season (2005—52 targets, 29 receptions) with the Miami Dolphins.
Welker’s time with the Broncos has been plagued by three concussions in two seasons. It’s definitely time for Welker to be considering his retirement. With 890 career receptions—the most by any undrafted wide receiver in NFL history—we could see Welker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.
Cody Latimer Could Have Bigger Role
Second-year wide receiver Cody Latimer could have a larger role in the offense this season. The Broncos moved up in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft so they could secure Latimer’s services, but his rookie season was quite nondescript.
Andrew Mason, from DenverBroncos.com, believes Latimer’s role could be larger in 2015 for a couple of reasons.
First, Latimer could have a larger role if Wes Welker moves on in free agency or retires. When the Broncos use three-wide receiver sets, Emmanuel Sanders could move inside to the slot, and Latimer could line up outside opposite Demaryius Thomas.
Second, Latimer was arguably the best blocking wide receiver in his draft class. In 2014, we saw an incredibly talented group of wideouts come into the NFL. It’s not out of the question to anticipate that year will be remembered as the best WR class in NFL history. In this prestigious group, Latimer ranks highly and has tremendous upside.
Latimer plays bigger than his size, and he has the wingspan to be a fantastic option for Peyton Manning in the red zone. His leaping ability and “my ball” mentality allow him to regularly make difficult catches seem routine. He got up to speed as a rookie, and now it’s time for the Broncos to unleash this incredible talent.
Julius Thomas Looking to Get Paid
The Broncos found a gem when they selected Julius Thomas out of Portland State in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft. Thomas missed most of his first two years in the league due to an ankle injury that required surgery. In 2013, Thomas was a breakout star for Denver, and he carried that momentum over to the start of the 2014 season. When healthy, Thomas can produce like one of the best tight ends in the game.
According to Jeff Legwold, from ESPN.com, Thomas’ representatives have made it clear they want their client to be among the highest-paid at his position. That’s an understandable position to have as an agent, but the reality is that Thomas’ new deal may fall quite short.
There is no question about Thomas’ talent. Again, when healthy the numbers are there. However, there are huge question marks about his problems with durability.
In four seasons, Thomas has never played a full 16-game season. In his breakout year of 2013, Thomas still missed two games with a minor knee injury. Last season, Thomas technically only missed three games—but there were more like six games where he was not himself due to another ankle injury.
The highest annual average salary for a tight end is the $10 million that Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints) earns, according to his contract. Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots) is arguably the best tight end in the game, and he makes $9 million annually. It would be a shock to see Thomas get that type of money from any team in free agency.
Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota Vikings) signed a new deal last year that pays him an average annual salary of $7.3 million. That’s closer to what Thomas could earn, but even that might be a stretch.
Thomas is worth every penny he gets, but to ask for—or expect—top dollar after four injury-riddled seasons is a bit much.
Ryan Clady a Candidate to Restructure His Contract
The Broncos could look to a few high-priced veterans and ask them to restructure their contracts in order to free up salary-cap space.
According to Spotrac, the Broncos have more than $116 million committed to 45 players who are under contract for 2015. With the salary cap predicted to rise between $138 and $141 million, per Jarrett Bell of USA Today, Elway will have around $22 million to make additional moves. With so many free agents to keep or add, the Broncos may want more cap space.
Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com reports Clady could be asked to restructure his deal.
With a $10.5 million average annual salary, Clady is the third-highest paid left tackle in the NFL. The Broncos used the franchise tag on Clady in 2013, but they were able to work out a long-term deal before the deadline for franchise players. Clady signed a five-year, $52.5 million contract with a $3 million signing bonus and $15 million in guaranteed money.
In 2015, Clady has a cap hit of $10.6 million, but there’s only $1.8 million left in dead money on his contract. There’s a good possibility that Denver could move some money around to get additional salary-cap space. Clady may have to restructure, but he may not have to take a pay cut in order for Denver to get the wiggle room they may need.
The offensive line may have three new starters in 2015, but they are set at left tackle with Clady. In fact, Clady is perfect for a zone-blocking system. It’s what the Broncos ran when Clady was drafted in 2008, and he still has the elite footwork to be a standout player in that system.
Peyton Manning 'Physically and Mentally Prepared' to Play
Even though it’s not official, it looks as though Peyton Manning will return in 2015. After a humiliating defeat in the first round of the playoffs (again), some speculated that Manning would retire. He started off the 2014 season on a hot streak, but after a quad injury suffered later in the year, Manning just wasn’t the same.
Manning has informed the Broncos he is "physically and mentally prepared" to play football "at a significant level" in 2015, according to Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com.
The physical aspect is incredibly important for a quarterback who is going to be 39 years old in 2015. Manning just didn’t look the same when he couldn’t properly step into his throws because of the quad injury. The lack of velocity prevented him from throwing passes deep, but his accuracy suffered even on shorter routes.
To prove his health, Manning is set to take a physical about a week before the start of the new league year. This means Manning will be checked out by doctors to make sure he’s good to go near the end of February or beginning of March. Manning should have no problem passing the physical, and doing so would guarantee is salary for 2015.
Manning has a cap hit of $21.5 million this season. However, there is only $5 million in dead money left on his contract. The Broncos might approach Manning to see if he can move some of that money around.
Joel Corry, former agent and current writer for NationalFootballPost.com, tweeted last week that a simple restructure could save the Broncos just over $9 million in cap space this season.
Being mentally prepared for the grind of another season is important as well. Manning is arguably the hardest working player in the entire league. He prepares each week at an incredible pace, even going so far as to watch film on his iPad while in the ice tub. Manning just doesn’t take much time off—and he needs to be mentally ready to do that again in 2015.
The Broncos are in a Super Bowl window with Manning as the starter—but this is perhaps his (and their) last year in that sweet spot.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted.