John Elway has never built a team without having Virgil Green on his roster.
“It’s crazy to think about that,’’ Green said Sunday morning in an interview with 9NEWS. “I would love to be a Bronco. I’d love to come back -- I love it here.
“But obviously this is a business and there are going to be a lot of changes made. I’m going into this situation prepared for change, period. Whether it’s with the Broncos or without the Broncos, I’m prepared for change.’’
As the Broncos’ general manager, Elway may have missed on a few picks in the second and third rounds over the years but he’s had some nice selections in the later rounds.
Starting with Elway’s first GM season of 2011 when he took Green, a tight end from Nevada, in the seventh round.
“I think I should have been drafted higher but at the same time it was the right place for me,’’ Green said. “Denver’s been a great place. I’ve learned how to be a professional here. I’ve been around so many greats: Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins, Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware. I’ve been surrounded by so many legends and the organization has done such a great job of, not just creating a winning atmosphere but … just to be affiliated with the history of the Broncos and winning Super Bowl 50, it’s been a great journey.’’
After missing just 12 games in seven seasons – less than two a year – Green now heads a group of Broncos players who are about to become unrestricted free agents.
Which means there is a good chance they will be Broncos no more.
“One thing I do know, I’m not just a tight end – I’m a competitor, first,’’ Green said.
No one knows that more than 9NEWS sports department. As a local TV station with the rights to shoot video footage on the sidelines during games, 9NEWS has caught the occasional glimpse of Green – who is a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, intellectual sort off the field – in a crazed, maniacal state on the sidelines.
“This is a physical game and half the guys I’m going against are bigger than myself,’’ Green said. “You have to go into a different mode, a different zone to be able to compete with those guys. I’m not a huge tight end – 6-4, 245 – so in order to go to war in the trenches with those guys, the Hulk in me comes out.’’
Green, who will turn 30 in August, spent his first five seasons mostly as a backup tight end behind the likes of Daniel Fells, Joel Dreessen, Julius Thomas and Owen Daniels. Keep in mind tight end is one position where the backup is often used. Green became the No. 1 tight end the past two seasons.
He was a solid Bronco who blocked way more than he caught. But with Jeff Heuerman returning for the fourth season on his four-year rookie contract, and Jake Butt ready after sitting out his rookie season recovering from ACL surgery, Green is expendable.
A look at the Broncos who will become unrestricted free agents on March 14:
1. Virgil Green, tight end
He averaged 18 catches the past two years. To keep up with the league’s elite teams, the Broncos need to do a better job of incorporating the tight end into their passing game.
When Green hits the market on March 14, he’d rather not be labeled as a “blocking” tight end.
“I think I’m a very good blocking tight end,’’ Green said. “I think if you watched the film and looked around the league, I don’t think there’s another tight end blocking with the consistency I’m doing it.
“But I do not like that title. I feel like I can do a lot more in the passing game if given the opportunity. I do think I could get the ball a little bit more, but that hasn’t happened.
“Has it frustrated me? Absolutely. But at the same time, I’m a team player and this game is only fun when you win. So, if the team needs me to block Khalil Mack, I’m doing what I’m asked to do.’’
2. Brock Osweiler, quarterback
When it comes to evaluating quarterbacks, the NFL don’t know. Suddenly, AJ McCarron is the hottest QB going and based on what? Four starts in 2015.
In one of those starts, McCarron was outplayed by Osweiler.
It was game 15, a 20-17 overtime win by Osweiler’s Broncos against McCarron’s Bengals. Osweiler was 27 of 39 for 299 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions for a 100.3 passer rating. McCarron was 22 of 35 for 200 yards, a touchdown and no picks for an 87.8 rating.
Yet, there is a far greater chance McCarron will be the Broncos’ opening-day quarterback in 2018 than Osweiler, who has no chance.
And so it goes in the annual dart game the NFL plays with its quarterbacks.
3. Todd Davis, inside linebacker
The Broncos would like him back, but he will hit the market as a solid, two-down linebacker who can tackle with the best of them. He could command a deal worth somewhere between $5 million and $8 million a year – which is probably more than the Broncos can afford.
The Broncos are expected to bring back Davis’ linebacker partner Brandon Marshall, whose $5 million salary becomes guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year (March 18).
And the Broncos would also like to bring back Corey Nelson.
4. Corey Nelson, inside linebacker
This may be the free agent the Broncos would most like to bring back. Nelson has more speed than brawn and is perhaps the Broncos’ best cover linebacker.
The season-ending elbow injury he suffered during a practice leading into game 6 was an underrated factor in the Denver D struggling to stop passing plays to the tight end and running backs last season.
It would not be a surprise if the Broncos try to sign Nelson during the negotiating window between March 12 and the start of free agency at 2 p.m. March 14.
5. Jamaal Charles, running back
We still don’t know how much this former Kansas City superstar has left because the Broncos barely used him last season.
He wound up making $2.34 million last year but was only given 92 touches – less than six a game in a 16-game season.
Charles intends to play an 11th NFL season at age 31 in 2018. Just not with the Broncos.
6. Cody Latimer, receiver
The second-round draft pick had just 35 catches in four seasons, although he was a terrific special teams player.
Latimer finally emerged as the Broncos’ best No. 3 receiver in 2017, but then he suffered knee and thigh contusion injuries that forced him to miss five games.
He will hit the market. If he doesn’t get much in the way of a contract offer, the Broncos would consider bringing him back.
7. Donald Stephenson, offensive tackle
He played well while starting at right tackle the first four games of December but he couldn’t stay healthy. He would still be a nice swing offensive tackle upgrade for several teams, but the Broncos won’t re-sign him.
8. Jared Crick, defensive end
Signed a rotational player-like, two-year, $4 million contract prior to 2016. He never did play that role as he was an every-down starter in 2016 and then missed the entire 2017 season to recover from disc surgery.
A high-effort pro’s pro, he may have to wait until the second or third wave of free agency to sign up for his comeback.
9. Allen Barbre, guard
A versatile offensive lineman who had two starts at left guard, where he otherwise split time with Max Garcia the first 11 games, and two starts at right tackle in his 11th NFL season.
Turns 34 in June.
10. Billy Winn, defensive linemen
Suffered a season-ending torn ACL injury in the first preseason game at Chicago. Hopes to keep playing and he’d be a nice vet-minimum ($790,000 salary) pickup for a team.
11. Billy Turner, offensive lineman
A guard who filled in for the injured Menelik Watson at right tackle in game 5 against the New York Giants – and suffered a season-ending fractured right hand injury.