Broncos to look for No. 3 WR as it appears Fowler unlikely to return

It appears the Broncos plan to make a serious push at upgrading their No. 3 receiver position behind starters Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Bennie Fowler III will always have his enormous third-and-long conversion reception from Peyton Manning to rally the Broncos past the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 2015-season playoff game.

He will always have his big touchdown catch against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football in 2016 and two touchdowns on Monday Night Football in the season-opener of 2017 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

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But there's a good chance Fowler will not always be a Bronco.

At this point, it seems unlikely the Broncos will extend a low-level, $1.91 million contract tender to the restricted free agent receiver. Such a decision would allow Fowler to become an unrestricted free-agent when the NFL market opens Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Broncos most likely will extend second-round, $2.91 million tenders to two of their other restricted free agents, starting center Matt Paradis and pass-rushing outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett.

Restricted free agents are allowed to negotiate with other teams, but in the case of Paradis and Barrett, the Broncos would have the right to either match any competing contract offer or receive a second-round draft pick in return. Such restrictions almost always deter teams from submitting an offer.

A low-level tender of $1.91 million was under consideration for Fowler, who was undrafted out of Michigan State in 2014. This would have allowed the Broncos to match any competing offer.

Instead, it appears the Broncos plan to make a serious push at upgrading their No. 3 receiver position behind starters Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

The Broncos can start by considering their own Carlos Henderson, a third-round draft pick last year who missed his rookie season with a thumb injury that required surgery. Besides Henderson – who could be facing league discipline after he was arrested two months ago in Louisiana on a marijuana possession charge – the Broncos could look at free agents (Danny Amendola, Taylor Gabriel, Bruce Ellington, Donte Moncrief and Eric Decker) or the draft.

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Fowler has been one of the Broncos’ better undrafted finds. After spending his rookie season on the practice squad, he combined for 56 catches for 698 yards and five touchdowns in his next three seasons.

His biggest catch came in an AFC second-round, home playoff game during the Broncos’ march to Super Bowl 50. Trailing Pittsburgh, 13-12, with less than 9 minutes remaining, the Broncos were facing a third-and-12 at their own 33-yard line. Manning threw just past an outstretched defender and hit Fowler just beyond the first-down line. Fowler turned and ran for a 31-yard gain that gave the Broncos a first down in Pittsburgh territory.

The Broncos finished off the drive with a go-ahead touchdown that proved to be the game winner, then went on to win Super Bowl 50 -- which Fowler capped by catching a clinching, 2-point conversion from Manning.

Fowler also had a 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Trevor Siemian off a broken play that gave Denver a 24-16 lead against Kansas City with 3 minutes remaining in a late-November 2016 game. (Denver’s defense couldn’t stop the Chiefs and lost the game that sent the Broncos spiraling into a 7-15 skid that continued through the 2017 season.)

Consistency was an issue for Fowler, though, and it appears the Broncos will have a new set of No. 3 receiver candidates next season. Besides Fowler, the Broncos may lose another backup receiver in Cody Latimer, who will test the unrestricted free-agent market.

Latimer and Fowler have also been two of the Broncos’ better special teams players.

Although Fowler had stated he hoped to stay with the Broncos, he could benefit financially as a non-tender would mean he could hit the unrestricted free-agent market on Wednesday. Defensive tackle Zach Kerr was not extended a low-level, $1.8 million tender as an Indianapolis Colts’ restricted free agent last year. He wound up signing a two-year, $3.25 million with the Broncos.