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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Darious Williams, 29, cornerback, Rams
New Denver defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero was Williams’ secondary coach last year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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