INDIANAPOLIS—John Elway may well have two lists of free-agent budgets.
One would have Tony Romo on top of the list, and then a smaller budget for the two offensive linemen and two defensive linemen he seeks. The other would be the “No Romo” list that has a more expansive budget for offensive linemen and defensive linemen.
As it stands now, the Broncos have $35 million in salary cap room. That doesn’t include the $2.746 million second-round tenders the Broncos are expected to place on kicker Brandon McManus and inside linebacker Todd Davis. It also doesn’t include the exclusive right free agent deals the Broncos are expected to tender to at least centers Matt Paradis and James Ferentz, receivers Jordan Taylor and Bennie Fowler, linebackers Shaq Barrett and Zaire Anderson and long snapper Casey Kreiter.
In other words, Romo or no Romo, Broncos’ cap guru Mike Sullivan will have to be creative for Elway to make a dent into his wish list.
A look at the Broncos’ five positions of greatest need as the free-agent bargaining period opens Tuesday, with the market officially opening on Thursday:
Romo: Not quarterback, but Romo. The benched Dallas Cowboys star is the only passer who could cause Elway, the Broncos’ general manager, to pass on his current QB group of Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.
Romo, if he’s released by the Dallas Cowboys, figures to cost $10 million to $12 million a year – a good deal considering his current contract calls for $14 million, $19.5 million and $20.5 million in his final three years, but also risky deal considering he turns 37 next month and has played in just four games, plus one series in the past two seasons.
Five years after he signed Peyton Manning, Elway may try to catch quarterback magic again with Romo.
The situations are different, though.
Manning was a considered a better quarterback then than Romo is now. As for the Broncos incumbent quarterbacks, Siemian is a far better passer now than Tim Tebow was then.
In other words, there was a far greater gap between Manning and Tebow entering the 2012 season than there would be between the 37-year-old Romo and 25-year-old Siemian.
Still, Elway has already done substantial homework on Romo, an NFL source told 9News. Should the Cowboys release their star quarterback as so many expect, the Broncos would be ready to become among Romo’s suitors – providing Elway makes the final determination to go forward.
The Broncos would not be the only one. There was also buzz here at the NFL Scouting Combine the Houston Texans would also be players for Romo, who has a career 97.1 passer rating and 78-49 record as a starter, but he’s also missed 34 games to injury in the last nine seasons, including 19 games the previous two years.
Imagine that, the Texans and Broncos fighting over the same No. 1 quarterback for a second consecutive free agency period. The Texans “won” last year, outbidding the Broncos for Osweiler. Can’t win for losing.
The New York Jets, San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland and Buffalo are also teams in the quarterback market.
Offensive tackle: Cincinnati’s Andrew Whitworth, the Broncos’ Russell Okung and Jacksonville’s Kelvin Beachum are the top left tackles available in free agency. The Broncos aren’t looking for a right tackle.
“We want a left tackle,’’ said Broncos head coach Vance Joseph.
If the left tackle becomes Okung, then the Broncos might look at right tackles like Baltimore's Ricky Wagner or Detroit's Riley Reiff, who has also played left tackle.
Guards: If Okung is the Broncos' left guard, the team will sign one of the top free-agent guards. They might get a guard even if they don't bring back Okung. Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler will command an $11 million per year contract, which may be too rich for the Broncos. Green Bay’s T.J. Lang, who is 29, could be had for $9 million per year. Both are right guards, which is what the Broncos are looking for. The team is set with Max Garcia at left guard. Dallas' Ronald Leary is a left guard, who may be able to play right.
Defensive tackle: The Broncos need someone to replace Sylvester Williams. They may go with a budget player here and spend their money at the 5 technique, or 3-4 defensive end. Baltimore's Brandon Williams and Kansas City's Dontari Poe are the best nose tackles available.
Defensive end: Wouldn’t it be cool if the Broncos signed Calais Campbell? He is high on their wish list – perhaps No. 1 on the No Romo list. Born and raised in Denver, Campbell attended Denver South. He is a two-time Pro Bowler and the quintessential 3-4 defensive end.
Problem is, Campbell, who turns 31 on Sept. 1, wants to wind up in Malik Jackson’s neighborhood, which is $14.25 million a year.
Baltimore’s Lawrence Guy would be a less expensive alternative, although more than the $5.5 million Earl Mitchell just received in year one of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers.