- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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There were times, especially late in Mike Shanahan’s 14-year tenure as the Denver Broncos' head coach and in Josh McDaniels’ two-year run with the Broncos, the team would release a player or two or five without so much as a ripple of interest from anyone else in the league after the Broncos had cast them into the market.
For the moment, anyway, those days are past.
Due to a variety of reasons, those Broncos players who formally became unrestricted free agents Tuesday were not on the Broncos' to-do list as an organization this time around. But three of the now former Broncos were certainly popular selections elsewhere once the bidding opened.
So as the first week of free agency draws to a close, here’s a scorecard of the major Broncos’ departures thus far, including signings, releases and in one, case, retirement:
Where did he go?: Announced his retirement.
How it happened: Kuper had tried to battle back from a left ankle dislocation in the final game of the 2011 regular season and a serious infection that followed a year later after another procedure on the ankle.
He was a high-character player who was one of the Broncos' best when he was healthy, a physical, technically-sound lineman who always handled his business. Kuper wasn’t part of the lineup very often over the last two seasons -- six starts in last two years combined -- but his leadership, work ethic and day-to-day approach will be missed.
CB Champ Bailey
Where did he go?: Released.
How it happened: It has long been true in the league it can be difficult for a player to return to the locker room where he has been one of the Alpha players for so long when his role, or pay, or both have been reduced. It’s why many guys simply choose to sign elsewhere for a deal that was similar to the one they were offered as a pay cut by their former team.
And Bailey, with a $10 million salary cap figure for the 2014 season, after playing in just five games last season because of a foot injury, was facing that kind of scenario. But the Broncos took even a more severe approach and didn’t offer him an alternative. They simply decided to move on.
Bailey is a future Hall of Famer, a future Broncos Ring of Famer, a Broncos captain for a decade and certainly one of the team’s best-ever players. It was tough on both sides for that to end the way it did, but players rarely get to choose their football fate when their career clocks wind down. NFL personnel executives worry about the condition of Bailey’s foot and watched the Seattle Seahawks repeatedly target him in the Broncos’ Super Bowl loss.
So while Bailey has said he wants to play in 2014, it will bear watching to when a team is ready to offer him the opportunity.
Where did he go?: Signed with Tennessee Titans.
How it happened: The Broncos felt Woodyard, a captain for all six of his seasons in Denver, either on defense or special teams, was not the same player when he returned from a neck injury this past season.
It was a tough contract year for Woodyard. First, the Broncos put him at middle linebacker in the preseason, a tough assignment for the undersized Woodyard and then they benched him in the base defense down the stretch and in the postseason when the Broncos believed he was not holding up in the run game after missing two games with his injury.
The Broncos didn’t really make an attempt to retain him, and even if they had it wouldn’t have been for the kind of contract he got with the Titans -- four years, $16 million overall with a $3 million signing bonus. Woodyard will play one of the inside linebacker spots in the Titans’ 3-4 look and if healthy should have a quality year in Ray Horton's defense.
WR Eric Decker
Where did he go?: Signed with New York Jets.
How it happened: Decker got caught, in a bit of bad timing, in the Broncos' plan for the future. The Broncos face the prospect of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, the team's top wideout, and tight end Julius Thomas, a top-shelf playmaker in waiting, to be poised for free agency after the 2014 season.
To pay Decker big dollars now to go with big dollars to the two Thomas’ next year is to have too much salary cap room taken up by players who have the same job in the offense. Also, the Broncos saw Decker as a No. 2 receiver who had bouts of inconsistency at times, even in his back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with 24 receiving touchdowns in the last two years combined.
Decker had 11 drops in 2012 to go with seven this past season. He had five 100-yard games, but also had games of 32, 50, 42, 5 and 42 yards receiving along the way. In the Broncos’ three postseason games he finished with two catches for 32 yards in the divisional round against the San Diego Chargers and with one catch, for 6 yards, in the Super Bowl.
In the Broncos' minds there had to be more consistency to even consider an offer to Decker and in the end no formal offer was made. And despite the many good things Decker did in the Broncos' record-setting offense, the Jets, and their faithful, will expect more after a five-year, $36.3 million deal with $15 million guaranteed.
Where did he go?: Signed with Jacksonville Jaguars.
How it happened: Beadles played in every game of his time with the Broncos -- 64 in all, with 62 starts. He’s just 27 years old, a home-grown player who was a second-round pick in the 2010 draft.
But the Broncos invested $26 million last March in Louis Vasquez at right guard and signed left tackle Ryan Clady to a five-year, $52.5 million deal in 2013. That’s a lot of investment in back-to-back years in two spots up front.
And Beadles was looking for something on the order of what he got from the Jaguars -- five years, $30 million, with $13 million guaranteed -- more than the Broncos would have been willing to entertain. So while Beadles is smart, assignment sound and performed well much of the time in the multiple schemes the team played in his time in Denver, the Broncos are of the opinion they want to be more physical up front and that Beadles had difficulty at times with the power players across from him. To that end they will consider moving right tackle Orlando Franklin inside into Beadles’ left guard spot.
In that scenario Chris Clark would move to right tackle with Vinston Painter, a 2014 draft pick, a possibility down the road as well. With those in-house options on hand, the Broncos simply chose not to bid because they weren’t going to go nearly as high as somebody else would, and did.