Updated: January 6, 2010 at 12:00 am
ENGLEWOOD – Of all the terms to describe the upcoming offseason for the Denver Broncos, don’t forget “complicated.”
Already the team is working on two different free-agency plans – with and without a new collective-bargaining agreement. If there is no new agreement, key players like outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, receiver Brandon Marshall, tight end Tony Scheffler, quarterback Kyle Orton and guard Chris Kuper will be restricted free agents, not unrestricted as they would have been under the old agreement.
Many teams will be affected by what happens on the labor front in the next few months, but few are watching closer than the Broncos.
“We will have to wait and see,” coach Josh McDaniels said. “It’s certainly a thing that we are going to have to be patient with.”
While Orton and Dumervil might be pricey to keep, their spots with the team seem relatively secure. They both want to return and the organization appears ready to bring them back. The futures of Marshall and Scheffler are much messier. Both were deactivated for the season finale, and while nobody involved ruled out a return, it seems likely both could move on. If Marshall and Scheffler don’t return the Broncos lose two key pieces of their passing attack. Marshall would be particularly tough to replace, considering he caught 68 passes in his past eight games.
“We just want to have the guys that want to be here and play,” Orton said. “I hope that’s them. I hope they want to be here. They’re obviously great football players.”
Many of the Broncos’ issues in the offseason – more big plays on offense, a consistent pass rush from players other than Dumervil, finding eventual successors for the four starters in the secondary who are all older than 30, and beefing up the offensive line to run a power scheme – could be solved by the progress of the 2009 draft class. First-day picks running back Knowshon Moreno, outside linebacker Robert Ayers, cornerback Alphonso Smith and tight end Richard Quinn all got to play as rookies, with mixed results. The Broncos need all of them to have a bigger impact in 2010.
McDaniels said he met with the rookies the day after the season and let them know they aren’t rookies anymore, and more will be asked of them.
“We need to expect them to do some things that maybe we didn’t expect of them this year and they need to expect that of themselves,” McDaniels said.
McDaniels had a tough time answering questions about the Broncos’ plan in free agency, given the labor unrest. Last year Denver mostly targeted second-tier free agents like receiver Jabar Gaffney, running back Correll Buckhalter and defensive tackle Ronald Fields and signed them early in free agency.
Denver’s draft preparation will be different, McDaniels said. He said last year the front office didn’t get a full opportunity to evaluate college players because he was hired in January. This year, the Broncos already have preliminary draft rankings after scouting players during the season.
“That’s something that we didn’t get to last year until late February or early March,” McDaniels said. “We’re months in advance of that. We’ve got a really good idea of what we want to look for and the kind of players we’re looking for.”
Denver’s only first-round pick is the one it acquired from Chicago in the Jay Cutler trade. The pick will be 10th or 11th, depending on a coin flip with Jacksonville. The Broncos’ first-round pick, 14th overall, was traded to Seattle. Denver also does not have a fifth-round pick.
Unrestricted free agents
P Mitch Berger, S Vernon Fox, OT Brandon Gorin, LB Nick Greisen, G Ben Hamilton, G Russ Hochstein, DE Vonnie Holliday, CB Ty Law, WR Brandon Lloyd
Free agents affected by CBA (restricted with no new agreement)
OLB Elvis Dumervil, G Chris Kuper, WR Brandon Marshall, QB Kyle Orton, TE Tony Scheffler, DE Le Kevin Smith
Restricted free agent
K Matt Prater
Exclusive rights free agent
S Josh Barrett
- Receiver: Even if Brandon Marshall returns, the Broncos need more from their receivers. Denver needs to look long and hard at adding a deep threat.
- Defensive line: The Broncos’ run defense wore down late in the year. Denver’s 3-4 defense demands top-notch players up front to be successful.
- Offensive line: Guard Russ Hochstein’s season-ending knee injury makes the line even thinner. Josh McDaniels will want bigger linemen to run a power scheme.