Denver Broncos: Virgil Green
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos got some much needed draft help Monday, or at least the potential for some much needed draft help.
Or as the team's top football decision-maker, John Elway, has put it; "you want the picks, but then you have to hit the picks, you've got to make them count, find some good football players who can be productive Denver Broncos."
The Broncos were awarded four compensatory draft picks by the NFL for their net free agency losses in 2014, pushing their original total of six selections to 10 picks in this year's draft on April 30 to May 2 in Chicago.
Denver received a fourth-round pick, a sixth-round pick and two seventh-round picks. Denver now has the potential for the team's first 10-player draft class since 2009.
And given starters and key depth players can found all over the board in a seven-round draft -- the Broncos had three starters alone last year in cornerback Chris Harris Jr., running back C.J. Anderson and long snapper Aaron Brewer who were all originally signed as undrafted rookies -- the Broncos are at a point with the salary cap and on the depth chart they need to make them all count.
The draft is a decidedly inexact endeavor, but the teams that succeed at it season after season consistently find the "fit" players well into the second and third days of the draft.
In Elway's four previous drafts since taking his current job the Broncos have had some quality hits and also some misses from the fourth round on. They also have some players who they still believe, and hope, will grow into key contributors.
The Broncos have three players selected from the fourth round on in those four drafts who have been starters and are still under contract with the team -- tight end Virgil Green (7th round in 2011), defensive end/tackle Malik Jackson (5th round in 2012) and linebacker Danny Trevathan (6th round in 2012).
They have one other player – tight end Julius Thomas (4th round in 2011) -- who was a starter as well as a two-time Pro Bowl selection before he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this month as an unrestricted free agent. Safety Quinton Carter (4th round in 2011) also started 10 games in 2011 for the Broncos before knee troubles derailed his career and he is an unsigned unrestricted free agent.
The Broncos selected five players form the fourth round on in those drafts who are no longer on the roster and didn't have a significant impact with the team while they were in Denver -- Mike Mohamed, Jeremy Beal, Philip Blake, Tavarres King and Vinston Painter -- though Mohamed did play in 14 games, with two starts, this past season for the Houston Texans.
The Broncos also have five other players still on the current roster who were selected from the fourth round on in those last four drafts who have not yet been starters, but the Broncos continue to hope they can carve out bigger roles.
In particular Elway has mentioned center Matt Paradis (6th round in 2014) as one of those players who could step forward for a far bigger role in the coming season. Paradis spent the 2014 season on the practice squad. Linebackers Lamin Barros (5th round in 2014) and Corey Nelson (7th round in 2014) each played a smattering of snaps on defense last season and each was a regular on special teams.
And Quanterus Smith (5th round in 2013) has potential to find some snaps in the new 3-4 defense if he can put his knee troubles behind him -- he has spent time on injured reserve in each of the last two seasons after an ACL tear in his senior season at Western Kentucky. Quarterback Zac Dysert (7th round in 2013) has spent the last two seasons, one on the practice squad and one on the active roster as the team's No. 3 quarterback.
In this draft the Broncos will have the newly-arrived fourth-round pick to go with two picks each in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. And since compensatory picks cannot be traded the Broncos' ability to make those picks count will directly impact how aggressive they feel they need to be in the free agency market in the seasons ahead.
As Elway has put it: "We want those homegrown players, we want to hit those picks ... to stack those drafts."
The Denver Broncos hoped they had packed some quality arithmetic in their luggage when they prepared for the NFL's annual spring meetings. Turns out their numbers were right on the draft money.
The Broncos, as executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway had cautiously predicted just after free agency had opened on March 10, received four compensatory draft picks Monday for their losses in free agency a year ago.
The Broncos received a fourth-round pick, a sixth-round pick and two seventh-round picks. With the six picks they already had, the Broncos now have the potential for the team’s first 10-player draft class since 2009.
Since 2000, the Broncos have had just four draft classes with at least 10 players selected – 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2009. With the picks they received Monday, the Broncos now have at least one pick in every round, including two picks each in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.
When Elway has discussed the team’s plan in free agency – it took a far more low-key approach this year than last – he has routinely answered questions about what other additions the team could make with “well, we’ll have 10 picks,’’ and often added “if we did the math correctly.’’
Compensatory picks cannot be traded so the Broncos’ ability to move around the draft board doesn’t improve all that much with the four extra picks, but it does give them the chance, if they hit the picks, to add some youth to the depth chart.
On the current roster, defensive tackle Malik Jackson was a fifth-round pick in 2012, linebacker Danny Trevathan was a sixth-round pick that same year and tight end Virgil Green was a seventh-round pick in 2011.
When they signed Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos were certainly one of the high-profile teams last March. However, in the world of compensatory math, Ware didn’t count as an addition for the Broncos because he had been released by the Dallas Cowboys before free agency opened last year.
And the Broncos' losses in free agency before the 2014 season included wide receiver Eric Decker (Jets), guard Zane Beadles (Jaguars), Mike Adams (Colts), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Giants), Wesley Woodyard (Titans) and Jeremy Mincey (Cowboys). All of those players were starters for their new teams. The Broncos' losses also included Robert Ayers, Knowshon Moreno (finished season on injured reserve) and Shaun Phillips.
Ayers played in 12 games for the Giants in '14, with one start, while Phillips played in 16 games for the Titans and Colts. Moreno's year with the Miami Dolphins ended early in the season because of injuries.
In the last eight drafts, the Broncos have had just one compensatory pick -- in 2011 when they selected Jeremy Beal in the seventh round. Since the 2004 draft, they have had just five compensatory picks overall -- 2004 (Brandon Miree), 2005 (Domonique Foxworth, Maurice Clarett), 2006 (Domenik Hixon) and 2011 (Jeremy Beal).
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Through the early part of free agency, the Denver Broncos have seen six players who started at least one game for the team in the last two seasons leave and signed a handful of players to try and cover the losses.
They also hope they did the math correctly and that four compensatory draft picks are headed their way on Monday to give the Broncos at least a 10-player draft class. At the moment they have 73 players under contract for the coming season – 34 on offense, 34 on defense and five specialists.
Here's the first of a three-day look at the current depth chart; tracking the departures and the signings to see where work still needs to be done.
Quarterback: The Broncos currently have three quarterbacks on the roster -- Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler and Zac Dysert -- and general manager John Elway usually likes the team to have four by the time the offseason workouts really kick in. But their pursuit of Tyrod Taylor -- Taylor eventually signed in Buffalo because of the chance to start for the Bills -- shows they do have interest in adding depth and are willing to spend at least some money to do it.
The Broncos offered Taylor a typical contract for a potential backup -- just more than $1 million for the 2015 season. This doesn't mean they don't like Osweiler's progress -- they do. It does show they want to push the backup as they decide what to do next since Osweiler is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2015 season.
Given Elway has said he likes the tight ends in this draft class, especially at the top of what is a fairly shallow group, the Broncos figure to take a long look at the position during the first or second day of the draft.
Offensive line: Overall, the Broncos are also still a little shallow on the depth chart in the middle of the offensive line. Matt Paradis, who was on the practice squad last year, is in line to compete at center -- Elway said it again just after free agency had opened -- but at the moment the only other centers are center/guard combo players in Shelley Smith and Manny Ramirez.
The Broncos moved Ramirez from center to right guard this past season because they didn't like how things were going in the middle of the formation. Smith has not started more than six games in any of his NFL seasons.
The Broncos also have just four tackles on the roster. Ryan Clady will start at left tackle while the Broncos want Michael Schofield to show them enough in the offseason work to be the starter at right tackle.
The other two tackles -- Chris Clark and Paul Cornick -- were tried at right tackle last season and eventually taken out of the lineup. Clark will be in the last year of his contract this season and Cornick was just given a one-year tender. So tackle and center figure to be on the Broncos' draft agenda as well.
Wide receiver: The Broncos do have 11 wide receivers on the roster at the moment. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are the clear starters. Both Elway and coach Gary Kubiak have said Cody Latimer will be in the mix with the expectation he can be productive as a third receiver.
The Broncos also want to see more from Jordan Norwood, who was poised to make the roster out of training camp last season before a season-ending knee injury. Norwood will be a wild card in camp, but the draft class, much like last year, is filled with big-framed receivers with elite speed. The Broncos will look, and could find quality value, into the second and third days of the draft.
Running back: The Broncos have six on the roster with three of those -- C.J. Anderson, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman -- having been the primary back at some point last season. Kubiak has said Anderson should arrive at the offseason program "like he's the starter." Anderson fits what the Broncos' run game will be.
But by all accounts Ball is working fiercely to earn back the No. 1 job that had been his. The Broncos are curious also to see how Kapri Bibbs, who spent much of the 2014 season on the practice squad, looks in the new offense as his progress was duly noted by team officials as last season drew to a close. Running backs coach Eric Studesville was also retained by Kubiak from John Fox's former staff so the progress the players at running back made last season will carry over at least some in the evaluation.
Kubiak has also said he'd like a fullback in the offense and a player like Juwan Thompson could get a look. They also could use a tight end from time to time lined up in the backfield.
And Thursday, Tamme became the sixth player who has started at least one game for the Broncos over the last two seasons to leave in free agency since March 10. Tamme signed a two-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons and took to Twitter to thank Broncos fans, as well as his former teammates and coaches, early Thursday morning.
I'm thankful for my @Broncos teammates & coaches and very much enjoyed my time being in Denver. A great organization and city.
— Jacob Tamme (@JacobTamme) March 19, 2015
On Wednesday, defensive tackle Mitch Unrein signed a two-year, $1.9 million deal. Toss the departures of the last eight days in with the change in coaching staffs immediately following the season and suddenly you have a rather significant makeover underway for a team that won 12 games this past season as well as it fourth consecutive AFC West title.
While the Broncos has said they would consider bringing Tamme back, the eighth year tight end’s departure is not a surprise given the Broncos had largely made clear, in both word and deed, that most of their free agents would find better offers elsewhere. And that has proved to be the case.
The Broncos re-signed cornerback Chris Harris Jr. in December, a player who would have commanded the biggest contract of any of their impending free agents had he reached the open market, and re-signed tight end Virgil Green in the opening days of free agency last week. By contrast, tight end Julius Thomas (Jacksonville), guard Orlando Franklin (San Diego), safety Rahim Moore (Houston), defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (Washington), Unrein (San Diego) and Tamme have now signed elsewhere.
Unrein, who has a touchdown catch on a pass from Peyton Manning on his career resume, had been with the Broncos since he was signed to the team’s practice squad during the 2010 season. He played in 54 games for the Broncos, starting three.
Last season, with the Broncos spending so much time in their nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six defensive backs) packages, Unrein’s playing time was reduced and he was a game-day inactive eight times in the regular season as well as the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Tamme, who had played in the Colts’ offense for three seasons with Manning at quarterback, including a 67-catch season in 2010, was signed in 2012, shortly after Manning had signed with the Broncos.
Tamme caught 52 passes in 2012, starting eight games and playing in all 16. However, Tamme's playing time has shrunk as the Broncos' three-wide receiver set became their base formation and as Julius Thomas emerged from two seasons largely lost to an ankle injury.
Tamme started one game in 2013 and made no starts in 2014. His 14 receptions this past season were also his lowest total since he had three catches in 2009 with the Colts.
Down the stretch this past season, Tamme -- slowed by a rib injury -- played nine, zero, seven and two snaps on offense in each of the last four regular-season games. The Broncos cut his base salary this past season from $3 million to $1.25 million and added $1.3 million in incentives.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – As the Denver Broncos close out the opening week of free agency there are some things that deserve a second look.
- When John Elway took his current job as the Broncos chief football decision-maker in 2011, two of the league’s general managers he tried to touch base with early on were Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers and Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens. Both operate successful, draft-driven teams that often take a far more patient approach in free agency than virtually all of their peers – the Packers have not signed a player from another team in free agency this offseason. And while some have said last year’s plunge into free agency for the Broncos was Elway’s go-for-it signature, his other four trips into the bidding, including this year, have shown a far more measured approach is his norm.
- Tight end Virgil Green now has the chance he has wanted and it likely means a slight turn-back-the-clock move in the offense. Over his first four seasons with the team he had consistently expressed the belief he could be more of a factor in the passing game if the ball came his way. Elway obviously agrees. When the Broncos re-signed Green last week – he is the first player from Elway’s first draft class to re-sign with the team – Elway lauded Green’s attitude, work ethic and potential. Certainly Owen Daniels is going to get the ball in the passing game as well, but Green figures to be far busier than he has been in the passing game to this point with 23 career receptions. That said there is every chance, even as the Broncos do run more this year, the offense looks a lot more like 2012 than '13 or '14. In 2012 two wideouts were 1,000-yard receivers (Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker), the No. 3 wide receiver (Brandon Stokley) had 45 catches as two tight ends – Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme – had 41 and 52 catches respectively. Right now Cody Latimer projects as the team’s No. 3 receiver even if the Broncos take a look at another deep class at the position in the draft with Daniels and Green as the top two tight ends.
- The Broncos have said they like Brock Osweiler’s progress as the No. 2 quarterback. They selected him in the second round in the 2012 draft with the idea of getting him ready to take over in the post-Peyton Manning era. But Elway and coach Gary Kubiak, both former quarterbacks in the league, want to keep pushing Osweiler as well as get a read on what they will do after this season when Osweiler will be an unrestricted free agent. So, the fact the Broncos did pursue former Baltimore Ravens backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor last week showed the Broncos were interested in cranking up the heat on Osweiler a bit, too. Kubiak was the Ravens offensive coordinator last season so Taylor would have had a head start in the Broncos’ new offense, but Taylor chose to pass on the offer because he can compete for the starting job in Buffalo.
- Tight end Julius Thomas and guard Orlando Franklin were fairly public in their surprise they did not receiver an offer from the Broncos as free agency approached – Thomas also said he had sold his house in Denver in September. This, too, has been the Broncos' way. When the team knows it’s not going to be in the negotiating neighborhood the player wants to be in, it takes a pass. There’s no low-ball, here’s-what-we’ve-got offer, the kind that also raise the ire of a player. There is simply a thanks and a wave. The Broncos were never, at any point, willing to put Thomas at the top of the pay-scale at the position. The team felt Franklin was going to get far more somewhere else and he did. It was the same sort of departure Zane Beadles and Decker had a year ago.
"Once he took the job there, or job here," Daniels said, quickly correcting himself, "that was definitely a team on my radar ... [It] was something I couldn't really pass up."
Daniels signed a three-year, $12 million deal as exactly the kind of receiver/blocker combination Kubiak wants at the position as the team installs its new offense. With the three players at tight end who were slated to be unrestricted free agents -- Julius Thomas, who signed in Jacksonville, Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme -- the Broncos moved quickly in the opening hours to re-sign Green and then sign Daniels.
For Daniels, it means it will be his 10th season on a team with Kubiak -- eight seasons when Kubiak was the Houston Texans coach to go with the 2014 season when Kubiak was the Baltimore Ravens offense coordinator.
"Unusual in this business," Kubiak said of their tenure together. "Sat down with John [Elway] about three weeks ago, talking about free agency, his name came up. I really just said two things to John, I said 'John, you can look at the film and judge for yourself, but I can tell you two things: He'll give you everything he has and he wants to win a championship.' That's the type of player you want on your football team."
Daniels has had seven seasons with at least 38 receptions, four with at least 54. Last season he had 48 receptions and four touchdowns for the Ravens. Daniels will turn 33 in November but said Wednesday he believed he would receive a multi-year offer when he entered free agency -- the Ravens had signed him to a one-year deal last year.
"I was hoping so, I understood last season was what it was with me coming off an injury in 2013 and people not really being sure about me and I was sure about myself," Daniels said. "I wanted to show people I could still play and play at a high level."
Daniels played five games in 2013 before he suffered a lower leg fracture.
"Really felt like I didn't take a lot of tread off the tires that year," Daniels said. "I looked at it like I got a lot of rest that year. Other people looked at it like I was probably done. That was definitely motivation."
In the end, Daniels called signing with the Broncos, with Kubiak as the team's coach and Peyton Manning as the team's quarterback "an unbeatable situation ... It's all about winning rings."
Elway also touched on the recent negotiations to trim quarterback Peyton Manning’s base salary from $19 million for the upcoming season to $15 million. The talks with Manning were on the front burner, as well as the Broncos' use of the franchise-player tag on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, before the Broncos could really get down to the business of free agency this week.
Manning’s base salary for the season was guaranteed Monday and free agency opened Tuesday, so the timetable was tight as it negotiated with Manning's representatives.
“That’s always a hard part; those discussions are always hard," Elway said of the talks. “It went fine and Peyton was good through the whole thing. It’s just not an easy thing to do. It’s just the business part. We got through that and everything’s fine. I talked to Peyton and he’s ready to go."
Elway also addressed the idea that while most of the high-profile free agents had already agreed to deals in the opening hours of free agency, he believes there are still available players who can contribute. He said the Broncos are paying particular attention to safeties and defensive linemen, especially players who could play nose tackle in the team’s new 3-4 defense.
“Everybody thinks it just opened yesterday and that’s the last day of free agency," Elway said. “This is a process that goes all the way through [when] the training deadline stops. You get out of the frenzy of everything and you can get back to the reality and try to find some good football players."
With Orlando Franklin’s departure in free agency and the fact center Will Montgomery is a free agent, the Broncos are also on the hunt for as many as three new starters on a revamped offensive line. It is also a position the Broncos assured would be improved during the talks with Manning about his new deal, and the Broncos have bigger designs on filling the jobs from within than perhaps many expected.
Elway said Michael Schofield, a third-round pick in the 2014 draft who was a game-day inactive in every week of the season, including the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, is expected to get the first look at right tackle. The Broncos see him as a future starter.
“We actually went back and looked at what he did in the preseason," Elway said. “We’re excited about what he did in the preseason. He’s just a young guy. He’s a talented kid and we have expectations."
Center Matt Paradis, a sixth-round pick in last year’s draft, will also compete for a job and Elway said Ben Garland would get a look at left guard, before adding that the position group as a whole will likely could get some attention in the coming days and weeks in free agency and the draft.
The Broncos have six draft picks right now, and Elway said Wednesday he believed the team would be awarded as many as four compensatory picks as well. Compensatory picks will be announced at the league meetings in Phoenix later this month.
“We do have some young guys that we think highly of," Elway said. “It’s time to put the pressure on them, step up, grow up and get in there. We’re not done either. … We’re not done. We've got 10 picks."
Wide receiver Cody Latimer, a second-round pick in 2014 who played just 37 snaps on offense last season, will also be in the mix far more, Elway said. He is expected to join Manning at workouts at Duke in the coming weeks.
“You get through that rookie year, he’s going to have his feet under him this year and feel a lot more comfortable with where he is," Elway said. “And I think the system is going to be easier, too."
In Green's continued quest to be a bigger participant in the Broncos' passing game -- every season, it seems, Green has said he hoped the team would throw him the ball a little more -- Daniels is one of the players he studied along the way to try and make that happen.
Green has 23 receptions in his NFL career, but from a scouting standpoint there is plenty reason to believe he could, and is ready to, take the next step as a player. Consider when he came into the 2011 draft, Green ran a 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds (hand-timed) and his official time on the electronic clock was 4.64.
At that same combine, Julius Thomas ran a 4.64 40 (hand-timed) and was at 4.68 on the electronic clock. Athletically, Green and Thomas have similar traits.
Thomas is a more fluid player and has shown a better feel, thus far, reeling in passes in a crowd. But Green's teammates, including quarterback Peyton Manning, have said Green has flashed plenty of potential on the practice field and a player with his speed, strength and work ethic should be as ascending player.
But it always seemed the Broncos have needed Green to do something else besides catch the ball, to block somebody, or line up as a fullback. Now Green will have his best chance to do more and more importantly for him, to be asked to do more.
That said, Daniels is going to catch some passes -- he has at least 38 receptions in seven of his previous nine seasons and caught more passes in each of his seasons than Green has in his career -- but the veteran should certainly be able to help Green learn Gary Kubiak's offense, given Daniels has already spent nine years in it.
The Broncos made it abundantly clear Tuesday they believed tight end was a spot that needed quick work as free agency opened. Free agency had barely begun Tuesday and the Broncos already had two tight ends under contract -- one of their own in Virgil Green and one new addition in Owen Daniels -- at a position where their top three players were set to be unrestricted free agents.
Those two deals together are well short of what Julius Thomas is expected to receive from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The deals also say a lot about what the Broncos want from the position and why they deemed Thomas, and his 24 touchdown receptions over the past two seasons, too expensive to pursue. The Broncos have proceeded, at least since the team and Thomas’ representatives briefly talked about a new contract this past season, with the understanding that Thomas wanted to see what the market had to offer and for good reason, given what Thomas received.
The Broncos are changing offenses. They want to run the ball with more efficiency and need tight ends who can block when it’s time to block and catch when it’s time to catch. Add that in with the price tag Thomas carried and that led to Tuesday’s events for the Broncos.
Are they right? They obviously think so and believe Green is ready to go as a guy who blocks well and occasionally catches the ball.
“We’re really thrilled Virgil’s going to be back. Virgil’s been a big part of what we do; he’s been one of those guys that’s been, not necessarily out in front of the scenes, but behind the scenes, has been a tremendous worker," said Elway, the Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager. “ … We’re really excited with what we’re going to do offensively. We really think Virgil’s going to flourish because of his strengths as a blocker, but also be more involved in the passing game."
Green has 23 career receptions and one touchdown -- on a pass from Broncos backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, no less -- but the team is betting on the potential Green can do more.
Daniels, 32, is a known commodity -- he has seven seasons with at least 40 receptions in offenses Gary Kubiak has directed, including 48 catches and four touchdowns last season with the Baltimore Ravens. But Green is the key piece in the decisions the Broncos have made at the position.
They see him as an underused, athletic player ready to do more. Green believes that as well, so much that he turned away a concerted effort from the Chicago Bears, where former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase will call plays, to stay with the Broncos.
Green said he talked to former Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen, who played for Kubiak with the Houston Texans, and former Texans linebacker Zac Diles, a high school teammate of Green, to find out more about both Kubiak as a coach and Kubiak’s playbook.
“I did go and try to learn more about what Kubiak’s offense is about," Green said. “And you see tight ends have flourished … but [the Broncos] didn’t have to do too much talking. I understand how I’m going to earn my keep on this team."
In the end, the Broncos' 2011 draft class, headlined by linebacker Von Miller and one that included both Thomas and Orlando Franklin, yielded seven players who have started games for the team. And it’s Green, the second-to-last player selected by the team that year -- the 204th player overall -- who is the first to sign his second contract with the Broncos.
“I think back all the time about how I shouldn’t be here," Green said. “A lot of seventh-round guys that were drafted in my year, a lot of fifth-round guys that were drafted in my year, are sitting at home right now. … I’ve taken advantage of opportunities to come my way. I’m not much to complain about things; I just go out and do. I feel like I earn the right to say something, I just need to keep my mouth shut and do my job.
“It is a true honor. I realize they understand how hard I work," he added. “That was always the goal for me, to always let people know at the end of the day, regardless of what’s happened, Virgil Green is going to work hard."
Still, the Denver Broncos already know a few things after the conversation-only period. Such as:
- They will lose most of their free agents and they are mostly OK with that. Sure, they would have liked to have kept the likes of guard Orlando Franklin and tight end Julius Thomas, but the bottom line was the bottom line. Other teams have been, and will be, inclined to pay the Broncos' high-profile unrestricted free agents more than the Broncos. That's especially true in Julius Thomas' case, in Franklin's case and is expected to be in Terrance Knighton's case and Rahim Moore's case as well. That's four starters on the way out, three of those from the team's 2011 draft class (Thomas, Franklin and Moore), though the Broncos had no real intention of signing Thomas at any point since the end of the season. And for the second consecutive year some of the Broncos' highest-profile free agents did not hear much, or anything, from the Broncos. Last year it was Zane Beadles and Eric Decker who signed elsewhere without an offer from the Broncos and this year it is Julius Thomas who the team simply let move on.
- The player with the best chance to return may not have been the first one recited by many folks -- tight end Virgil Green. Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has said he believes Green is versatile and can offer more in the passing game if afforded the opportunity. So much so that Green could be the team's third major move of free agency, after slapping the franchise player tag on Demaryius Thomas and re-working quarterback Peyton Manning's contract. Center Will Montgomery, too, with the change in offense, could be a player the Broncos turn to for depth at the position.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Jack DempseyThe Broncos have already let a few of their own free agents go, but they will make an attempt to secure Virgil Green.
- A big piece of the Broncos' work in free agency was already done in December when the re-signed cornerback Chris Harris Jr. to a five-year, $42.5 million deal. Harris Jr. likely could have gotten more in the open market -- at least if Byron Maxwell's expected deal with the Eagles is any guide at a reported $63 million for a player with 17 career starts -- and Harris admitted that when he signed. But he wanted to stay in Denver and the Broncos wanted to keep him. And beyond anything the Broncos will do for Demaryius Thomas in terms of a long-term deal, Harris' contract will be the biggest one the Broncos dole out for any of this year's free agents.
- The Broncos' pace is not surprising. Any team truly interested in competing over the long term cannot be as active as the Broncos were in free agency last year when they signed T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos want to be a sign-their-own team, but last year's spending binge was what most spending binges turn out to be -- an attempt to fix past draft shortcomings or overcome a lack of development of prospects. Of the nine players in the 2010 draft class, Demaryius Thomas is the only player remaining on the roster; of the 2009 draft class' 10 players only safety David Bruton Jr. remains on the roster. That's 19 players, eight of those chosen in the first or second rounds, and just two remain. Most deep plunges into free agency can usually be traced to one, two, three or more draft classes within a six-year span whose prospects are either out of the league or on somebody else's roster.
- The Broncos will try sign an offensive lineman or two in the coming days. Stefen Wisniewski will certainly get a long look and Chris Myers, who was a Broncos' rookie in 2005 when coach Gary Kubiak was the Broncos offensive coordinator and played for Kubiak for six seasons with the Houston Texans, is a player with plug-and-play potential in the new offense. Also, defensive tackle Kendall Langford is a player the Broncos hope to sign. Coaches for his former team -- the St. Louis Rams -- believe Langford could play nose tackle as well as one of the defensive end spots in the Broncos' 3-4 scheme as a run-down player.
Today: Jacob Tamme
Saturday: Will Montgomery
They were on the hunt for targets in the passing game, especially at tight end where they needed to make the transition from a run-first scheme to one that fit Manning. As a result, the Broncos signed tight end Joel Dreessen and Tamme in the same week.
Tamme had played in the Indianapolis Colts offense with Manning at quarterback for three seasons, including a 67-catch season in 2010. In his first year with the Broncos, it was no surprise when Tamme quickly acclimated to a Broncos' offense with Manning in it.
He caught 52 passes in '12, starting eight games and playing in all 16. However in the two seaons since Tamme has seen his playing time in the offense shrink as the Broncos went more and more to a three-wide receiver set as their base formation. He started one game in 2013 and made no starts this past season.
Tamme's 14 receptions this past season were also his lowest total since he had three catches in 2009. Even with Julius Thomas slowed with an ankle injury, Tamme, slowed by a rib injury of his own, played nine, zero, seven and two snaps on offense in each of the last four regular-season games.
He then played just seven snaps on offense in the playoff loss to the Colts. Tamme remained a valuable player with his contributions on special teams and he consistently prepared himself as if he would get more playing time than he did.
For the year he played 276 snaps on offense, or 24.5 percent, after he had taken a pay cut before the season began.
He is one of three tight ends who are set to be unrestricted free agents for the Broncos, to go with Thomas and Virgil Green. John Elway has said how much he would like to re-sign Green.
Thomas is expected to sign elsewhere since the Broncos don't figure to be the team that gives him the best offer. And the Broncos have had James Casey to their complex already for a free agent visit.
The Broncos need to sign multiple players at the position and coach Gary Kubiak has already said somebody is playing fullback at times as well, whether it is a traditional fullback or a tight end. Casey would seem to fit the sometimes-receiver, sometimes-blocker role Tamme has had at times over the last three years.
The Broncos coaches have always considered Tamme better in a receiving role than as a blocker, but he has been a willing blocker who has worked hard to try to improve that part of his game.
The Broncos will add players at the position and after the market opens, they'll try to bring Green back, they'll give Casey a long look and the team likes what the draft class has to offer as well at tight end. It all means they'll give Tamme a look as well, but the price tag will have to fit into the budget and the Broncos will have to believe they have enough depth at the position for Tamme to play a largely receiving role.
Today: Virgil Green.
Thursday: Nate Irving.
At least some of the numbers swirling around Green make him a curious case in this class of free agents for the Broncos. Start with the fact the team wants, and needs, what Green does, which is play the parts of football that don't include the ball and he plays them with passion.
"I always believe in my abilities to do more if the opportunities are there," Green said. "...I just do what they ask me to do."
That he does and it has usually involved rolling up his sleeves and getting to work while quarterback Peyton Manning throws the ball someplace else. Green has played in 56 games in his four seasons with the Broncos and he has caught 23 passes in those 56 games combined.
His lone career touchdown reception came in that 56th regular-season game -- the Broncos' regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders in December. He played 394 snaps on offense this past season -- 34.9 percent of the team's total -- and was the No. 1 guy at the position down the stretch as Julius Thomas recovered from an ankle injury.
Yet, this is what Broncos' executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has had to say about Green and free agency:
"We like Virgil a lot, he was a big part of, he's was kind of our rock, he was asked to do a lot of different things," Elway said. "...He does it all, he's very versatile, we like Virgil a lot too, we would love to have him back."
In fact, at least publicly, the Broncos have been far more complimentary about Green, a player with 23 receptions and one touchdown in his four seasons with the Broncos than they have been about a player at the same position with back-to-back seasons of 12 touchdowns and was in the same draft class as Green -- Thomas.
The Broncos do have significant work to do at the position given the top three tight ends -- Thomas, Green and Jacob Tamme -- are set to be unrestricted free agents, and combined the three played all but four of the snaps at the position in the offense this past season.
With the Broncos installing a new offense that will feature a bigger push to be better in the run game -- coach Gary Kubiak has already vowed, on multiple occasions, a more concerted effort to run the ball -- Green would have a place in the new offense.
And with Thomas expected to sign elsewhere given he's looking to be at, or near, the top of the league's pay-scale at the position and the Broncos haven't shown themselves willing to go there, re-signing Green will be something the Broncos look at hard in the opening days of free agency.
Kubiak wants players at the position who can produce as blockers in the run game with enough athleticism to participate in the passing game when asked to. It's an important piece of the puzzle on offense and in his eight seasons as Texans' coach, Kubiak had at least one tight end catch at least 35 passes in an offense where they were asked to block plenty in the run game as well.
In five of those seasons, Kubiak had two tight ends catch at least 26 passes, and in 2012 the Texans had three tight ends catch at least 28 passes and all three scored at least three touchdowns. One of those three included James Casey, who the Broncos had in for a free-agent visit last week.
So, no doubt the position is getting a makeover for the Broncos and they'd like Green to be a part of it. Now, they just have to see if he fits into their budget.
In the offensive front they are likely on the hunt for at least two, perhaps three new starters. And even if they believe they can move Michael Schofield, their third-round pick in the 2014 draft, into the right tackle spot, they still need more depth at tackle to go with help at guard and center.
Toss in the fact their top three tight ends from this past season -- Julius Thomas, Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme -- are all scheduled to be free agents and it’s a good bet plenty of the Broncos’ expenditures in free agency this time around will come on offense.
So, in his latest mock draft , Todd McShay believes all of that expected work in free agency to surround quarterback Peyton Manning with better protection could point the Broncos toward defense in the draft’s first round. McShay made Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman his pick for Denver.
Goldman is one of the bigger defensive tackles on the board, a potential nose tackle in Wade Phillips' defense, having measured in at 6-foot-4 and 336 pounds at the scouting combine. Goldman did not work out at the combine, so the Broncos and everybody else will have to see what he has to offer March 31 at his on-campus pro day, which will be packed given that Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston is expected to throw.
With the formal opening of free agency set for March 10 and the NFL's scouting combine having just adjourned, the Broncos are now poised to make their first moves at the two positions that figure to get their most attention -- tight end and offensive line.
Because Casey was released by the Philadelphia Eagles last week he's already an unrestricted free agent. So, he's set to visit the Arizona Cardinals in the coming days before visiting the Broncos.
His best statistical season in Houston came when he caught 34 passes to go with three touchdowns in 2012. Casey had signed a three-year, $12 million deal in 2013 to join the Eagles, but had just six receptions in two seasons with the team.
Casey could also play some fullback for the Broncos, something Kubiak has already said he's adding to the offense.
The Broncos' top three tight ends -- Julius Thomas, Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme -- are all scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, so the Broncos are expected to try to sign at least one in free agency as well as give it heavy consideration in the draft.
Elway said this past week in Indy he considered tight end to be a position of strength in this draft. Julius Thomas is expected to sign elsewhere as his representatives seek a deal that would put Thomas among the league's highest-paid tight ends.
Elway, however, made it a point to say he hoped the Broncos could bring Green back.
"We like Virgil a lot, he was a big part of, he's was kind of our rock, he was asked to do a lot of different things," Elway said. " … He does it all, he's very versatile, we like Virgil a lot too, we would love to have him back."
This past season Green played 394 snaps on offense -- or 35 percent of the team's total -- but after Thomas suffered an ankle injury in the Broncos' Nov. 16 loss to the St. Louis Rams, Green played at least 45 snaps in five of the last six games of the regular season. Tamme played 24.5 percent of the team's offensive snaps and played more than 37 snaps in one game on the year -- 56 against the St. Louis Rams.
On the prospects of Thomas' re-signing with the Broncos -- the two sides have had some discussions but no additional talks had been scheduled by the time team officials left Indy Monday -- Elway did offer a somewhat telling comment at the combine of where things are with their former fourth-round draft pick.
Asked if the team's relationship with Julius Thomas was a strong one, Elway said matter-of-factly: "I didn't have contact with Julius. I've never had a long conversation with him, other than saying ‘Hello, how are you doing?' No, I don't have an issue with Julius."
The Broncos have looked at prospective free agents among the offensive linemen set to hit the market as well. Overall, many in the league consider the value at center better than the players who figure to be available at guard, especially among those players that would be signed in free agency's first days.
The Broncos are on the hunt for at least two, possibly three new starters in the offensive line. Elway said at the combine he considered Michael Schofield, a third-round pick by the Broncos in the 2014 draft, a candidate for the right tackle job, but overall the Broncos need to fill right tackle, center and left guard. Center Will Montgomery, who started the last nine games, the playoff loss included, will get a look from team officials.
But among the centers on the open market, the Kansas City Chiefs' Rodney Hudson and the Oakland Raiders' Stefen Wisniewski have the kind of movement skills the Broncos seek for their new offense. Wisniewski, especially, has flourished in a zone-blocking scheme.
1. No timetable on Manning: Despite Peyton Manning's salary of $19 million for the upcoming season being guaranteed on March 9, Elway said there is no firm deadline on the quarterback's decision to play, or not, in 2015. Asked repeatedly if March 9 actually served as the deadline for a decision, Elway said: "He's got all the time he wants." Overall on the prospect of Manning's return, Elway said Manning had a physical in New Orleans recently -- he is scheduled for another on his neck next week -- and offered: "Let me say this, we're hopeful that Peyton comes back and we want him back. As I said after the season we wanted him back, and we still want him back. He has not given me a definitive answer, exactly what he wants to do, we're hopeful he's going to come back. I believe he'll be back and I believe he'll be our quarterback."
2. Competition for free agents: The Broncos are meeting with agents for several of their own free agents this week in Indianapolis. Elway said the Broncos would still like to re-sign several of them, players like safety Rahim Moore, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, tight end Virgil Green and tackle Orlando Franklin, but that neither side will likely move to deals before everybody knows what the market is for each. Teams can begin negotiating with prospective free agents March 7, but no deal can be completed and signed until free agency officially opens March 10. Elway said he believed Franklin, especially, would draw offers from others. "But I think Orlando is going to get a lot of interest. He finished strong, there's going to be a lot of interest in a lot of our guys," Elway said.
3. Julius Thomas headed to open market: Tight end Julius Thomas is an unrestricted free agent whom the Broncos expect to sign elsewhere. Elway said Thursday the Broncos tried to get a deal last season with Thomas and were told at that point the two-time Pro Bowl selection was headed into the market. "We have to wait and see, we tried to do something with Julius last year and couldn't get it done," Elway said. "I think he wants to test the market." Asked about his relationship with Thomas, Elway added, "I didn't have contact with Julius, I've never had long conversation with him other than saying, 'Hello, how are you doing?' I don't have an issue with Julius."
4. Don't throw: Chalk it up to his own experiences as a quarterback -- the draft's No. 1 pick in 1983 -- but Elway recounted his time as a prospect Thursday, saying he skipped what was then a regional combine in Seattle and he would not throw at the combine if he were a quarterback coming into the draft now. "I didn't want them to see my bad knee," Elway said. "I was up in Seattle ... going to go to a Golden Helmet award deal in Seattle and they were checking guys into the [regional] combine at the same time. I was checking in to go to this banquet, and they grabbed me and checked me in to the combine. I'm like, 'All right,' and then I called my dad. I said, 'Dad, there's a combine.' He said, 'Go to the banquet tonight, get up early next morning and get a cab to the airport.' That's what I did." On throwing now, Elway said, "If I was a quarterback I wouldn't throw here. Why? ... He's going to have a pro day."
5. Hang in there: With Manning poised to announce his intention to return for the 2015 season, it means backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, the Broncos' second-round pick in the 2012 draft, could reach the end of his original rookie deal at the end of the 2015 season without starting a regular-season game for the Broncos if Manning stays healthy. Elway said Thursday it was something he addressed with Osweiler at the end of the season. "I talked to Brock when he checked out," Elway said. "I told him and I mean the fact we are thrilled with his progress, he's worked his tail off. I know it's been a little frustrating for him because he hasn't been able to play ... but I told him keep your nose to the grindstone, keep working and you're going to get your opportunity some day."