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9 free agents who may draw Broncos interest

Biggest needs: Outside pass rusher, right tackle, tight end, defensive lineman, inside linebacker, cornerback (maybe two), and a safety.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As NFL teams enter free agency, they begin with set budgets for each position group, and then they have price ranges on each available player within those positions.

Sometimes multiple teams will go after the same player, kindling a bidding war that forces a team to decide whether to go beyond their price tag budget to get their guy. If the money gets too crazy, then it’s on to Plan B.

George Paton, the general manager in charge of Broncos’ free agency, has multiple plans for the many needs he still has on his team, even after their ground-trembling trade for quarterback Russell Wilson. In fact, the Broncos now have more holes to fill in their starting lineup than before the Wilson trade, not that anyone is complaining.

With no draft pick until the No. 64 and final selection in the second round – but then two picks in the third round and two more in the fourth in what some mocksters are calling a middle-round draft – Paton needs to have a strong free agency class.

Broncos needs: Outside pass rusher, right tackle, tight end, defensive lineman, inside linebacker, cornerback (maybe two), and a safety. There are a lot of quality offensive tackles in the draft, but not many cornerbacks.

The Broncos’ budget is larger than most, but not the largest. Von Miller? Probably too expensive for the Broncos whose numerous needs means they will likely have to spread the money around. If the money is equal, the Broncos now have two great recruiting tools – Denver, Colorado. And Russell Wilson.

Here are 9 free agents, plus a bonus back quarterback option, who may be somewhere on the Broncos’ wish list:

Credit: AP
Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) is hit between Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, left, and defensive tackle Corey Liuget during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/John Hefti)

Uchenna Nwosu, 25, edge, Chargers

The youngest of the quality free-agent pass rushers. And Nwosu played for Brandon Staley, whose defensive system mimics Fangio’s system. Shaq Barrett had 3.0 sacks in his last season for the Broncos in 2018, then had 19.5 in his next year with Tampa Bay. Nwosu would be nice competition for Malik Reed as the No. 2 outside linebacker.

Credit: AP
Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones (55) defends against the Dallas Cowboys during an NFL Football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Chandler Jones, 32, edge, Cardinals

Like Von Miller, Jones' market would have to surprisingly deflate before the Broncos step in. The trick is to get younger pass rushers who have not quite reached their prime, rather than 30-something players going on a third contract. Still, Miller and Jones are the most proven. Jones has 107.5 career sacks, second among active players to Miller's 115.5. 

Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory (94) celebrates after recovering a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fumble during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Randy Gregory, 29, edge, Cowboys

Paton is a film guy and Gregory’s high motor and talent jump off the screen. A defensive end in Dan Quinn’s 4-3 system but a natural edge linebacker at 6-5, 255 pounds. Had some weed issues earlier in his career, but the NFL has since eased its marijuana testing laws.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos inside linebacker Josey Jewell lines up during an NFL football game between the Denver Broncos and the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Josey Jewell, 27, inside linebacker, Broncos

Considered to have glue-like qualities to the Denver defense, Jewell likely would have commanded $5 million to $6 million a year had he come off a healthy, productive season. But his market may be hurt by the fact he suffered a season-ending torn pec muscle in game 2 last year.

Credit: Patrick Gorski
Sep 17, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Seattle Seahawks tight end Will Dissly (88) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Will Dissly, 25, tight end, Seahawks

A complete tight end who blocks better than he receives – and he catches the ball pretty well. A strong blocking tight end is imperative for head coach Nathaniel Hackett’s West Coast system to work. Played the previous four seasons with Wilson.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this Oct. 26, 2020, file photo, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Darious Williams watches a play develop during the team's NFL football game against the Chicago Bears in Inglewood, Calif. The Rams found untapped talent in an undrafted third-year pro who bounced around college football and then got waived by Baltimore as a rookie two years ago. He landed with the Rams and relentlessly played his way into a career. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong, File)

Darious Williams, 29, cornerback, Rams

New Denver defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero was Williams’ secondary coach last year.  

Credit: AP
Seattle Seahawks free safety D.J. Reed (29) stops Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) from making a catch in the end zone during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

D.J. Reed Jr., 25, cornerback, Seahawks

Had been a slot corner until he became a full-time starter on the outside this past season. Versatility could make him attractive to the Broncos, who have Ronald Darby on the outside and Pat Surtain II, who played both inside and outside last season. And former teammate Wilson could make the Broncos attractive to Reed.

Credit: AP
Atlanta Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver (26) defends against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

Isaiah Oliver, 25, Falcons

He would have been the top nickel corner in the market had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury that required surgery in game 4 last season. Signing Oliver would take a leap of medical faith, but the 2022 season opener would come 11 months after his injury so he would have a chance to make it.  

Credit: AP
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) tackles Houston Texans strong safety Justin Reid (20) after throwing an interception during an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Cleveland. The Browns won 31-21. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Justin Reid, 25, safety, Texans

With Kareem Jackson hitting free agency at 34, the Broncos will be looking for younger legs to complement second-team All Pro Justin Simmons. Reid was a four-year starter for Houston. He is the younger brother for former NFL safety Eric Reid, a seven-year starter for San Francisco and Carolina. The Broncos haven’t closed the door on Kareem’s return.

Credit: AP
Cleveland Browns quarterback Nick Mullens throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

BONUS: Nick Mullens, 27/Case Keenum, 34, QBs, Browns

Mullens threw a 41-yard touchdown pass in a December 2018 game to beat Russell Wilson’s Seahawks, 26-23. We’re putting Keenum on the list in case he’s released in lieu of his $7.1 million non-guaranteed salary in 2022. Both Mullens and Keenum, the Broncos’ 16-game starter in 2018, are well-schooled in the Hackett play-action boot passing system and are the type of experienced backups who can come off the bench and win a couple games.

Others: Sebastian Joseph-Day, defensive tackle, Rams; Leighton Vander Esch, inside linebacker, Cowboys; Anthony Barr, inside linebacker, Vikings; Kenny Young, inside linebacker, Broncos; Von Miller, edge, Rams; Zach Ertz, tight end, Cardinals; Rob Gronkowski, tight end, Bucs; Gerald Everett, tight end, Seahawks.

RELATED: Broncos' free-agent budget may be tight but edge rusher need is vast

RELATED: All hail, Russell Wilson: But what about the offensive line?

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