ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have one of the longer lists of free agents in the league and just under two weeks out from the formal opening of the NFL’s festival of checks, it’s a good time to take a one-a-day look at some of the impending Broncos free agents.

Today: Orlando Franklin
Sunday: Brandon Marshall

In retrospect, John Elway’s first draft class as the Broncos’ top football executive played, for the most part, to his highest hopes. After the Broncos had finished making their nine picks in 2011, Elway said the goal was to pull "three, four starters right away out of the group."

Franklin
Four seasons have passed and seven players from that draft class -- Franklin, linebacker Von Miller, safety Rahim Moore, tight end Julius Thomas, tight end Virgil Green, linebacker Nate Irving and safety Quinton Carter -- have started games for the Broncos.

But since those four seasons have indeed passed that means the bill has come due as well, as those players (excluding Miller, who had an option year on his original contract) are now set to be free agents. And other than Thomas, it is Franklin who just might draw the most interest from other teams in free agency in the coming weeks. Elway said as much at the combine.

Elway said the Broncos would like Franklin back and that he would fit the team’s new offensive scheme, at guard, but he also said he expected “a lot of interest’’ in Franklin on the open market.

Given that the Broncos have so many other players in that ’11 draft class who are free agents to go with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, it’s likely Franklin will find bigger offers elsewhere. Especially given that several personnel executives around the league are known to have taken note of Franklin this past season and his impending trip into free agency.

Most of those teams see Franklin at guard at this point despite the fact Franklin started three seasons at right tackle before he was moved to left guard in 2014 as the Broncos tried to stay in-house to revamp their offensive line. That effort wasn’t all that successful overall, as seen in the Broncos’ pass-protection issues and the fact the team’s running backs were hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on a third of the team’s carries.

At least part of Franklin’s attraction in the open market will be his durability. He missed just one startduring his four seasons with the Broncos. And he started in the Broncos’ offense when it touched both ends of the run-pass spectrum, so teams have seen him in a variety of schematic situations.

In 2011, Franklin was a starter on the league’s No. 1 rushing team when the Broncos moved to a read-option look with Tim Tebow at quarterback and the Broncos were last in the league in pass attempts. And in 2013 he was a starter for an offense that set the league’s single-season scoring record with 606 points as quarterback Peyton Manning set league records for passing yards (5,477) and passing touchdowns (55).

So, yes the Broncos like what Franklin has done for the team, it’s just the chances are far greater another team will like Franklin, at least financially, a lot more.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – As teams around the league continue to jettison veteran players to take some contracts off the books in advance of the formal opening of free agency, the Denver Broncos will always take a look at the list if they believe a player will fill a need.

But most of the time, the players simply do not fit the profile of what the Broncos are usually searching for in free agency, as in they are often in the 30-something club, coming off big-money, multiyear deals and hoping for another.

In short, the Broncos prefer players heading into their second NFL contracts, or the kind of players who usually aren’t getting released before the start of free agency.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJohn Elway and the Broncos typically aren't major players on the opening days of free agency.
And while this new era of the salary cap – estimates are that it will come in between $143 million and $145 million per team, a significant jump from the $133-million limit in 2014 – has forced plenty of decision-makers across the league to wrap their heads around the idea of what is “too much" to pay a player at a given position. The Broncos have stuck to their profile for the most part.

At least in the big-ticket signings. You can take quarterback Peyton Manning’s signing in 2012 as the outlier, as Hall of Fame quarterbacks with football left in the tank don’t see the open market, so the Broncos dove in with a $96-million deal.

But overall, for much of John Elway’s early tenure with the Broncos, the team’s signings for those older free agents were usually on one-year contracts, usually well after the opening bell of free agency, especially if the player was well beyond his first contract in the league.

The players signed in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 free agency classes were largely veterans on one-year deals – Keith Brooking, Justin Bannan, Jim Leonhard, Dan Koppen, Brandon Stokley, Stewart Bradley and Shaun Phillips, just to name a few. Most of the exceptions didn't get much longer deals. Wes Welker got a two-year deal, Terrance Knighton got a two-year deal and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie got a two-year deal on paper, but the second year was voided five days after the Super Bowl following the 2013 season.

The exceptions in those earlier seasons were Manning and guard Louis Vasquez. But Vasquez was a 20-something was making his first venture into free agency, and the Broncos gave him a four-year deal for what was his second contract in the league.

He has been a starter, an All-Pro, the kind of return the Broncos want. Even in the 2014 splurge in free agency of the four high-profile, big-money, multi-year signings – Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Emmanuel Sanders and DeMarcus Ware – only Ware was older than 28 when the contracts were signed while Ward and Sanders were signing their second NFL contracts.

All four of those players went on to play in the Pro Bowl this past January.

So, when you see all of the veteran players released now, before free agency opens, the Broncos aren’t going to be all that active with those players because the price is the highest. Yes, they've already had tight end James Casey in for a visit, but only because Casey has played four seasons in Gary Kubiak’s offense.

The Broncos are looking to free agents more in line with Ward, Sanders and Vasquez, players just completing their initial contracts, players still ascending. Those are the kinds of players who will be shown the Broncos' checkbook in the coming weeks.

They’ll fill with older players later if they feel they need to, with "later" being some time after the initial flurry of free agency dies down.

Because with some of their needs, Elway has already said the Broncos will look within as well, especially to those in the 2014 draft class who didn’t play much last season – such as wide receiver Cody Latimer – or at all last season – such as tackle Michael Schofield.

As Elway put it: “They’re going to have expectations for those young guys to be able to step in and be able to contribute early. That’s the coaching staff, that’s Gary’s mindset, the coaching staff’s mindset -- they’re not afraid to play young guys. They’ll get them trained up to play, which is going to be beneficial to us."

So, as the list of veteran free agents already on the market grows, as teams shave their salary caps and send signed contracts into the wind, the Broncos will look. Just don’t expect them to dive in on most of the most familiar names.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos have one of the longer lists of free agents in the league and just under two weeks out from the formal opening of the NFL’s festival of checks, it’s a good time to take a one-a-day look at some of the impending Broncos’ free agents.

Today: Terrance Knighton
Saturday: Orlando Franklin

Ayodele
Knighton
Knighton has made his free agency parameters abundantly clear. The 28-year-old defensive tackle would like to play for a team “that can win, because losing sucks, even if you have a big contract. It's better to have a contract you like and have a chance to win."

He’d like that to be in Denver, “because this is a great spot, a great locker room."

And, of course, the Broncos' defensive captain would like to maximize his earning potential in what is a short career window for players, because “you do have to think about down the road, taking care of things, getting yourself in a good position."

Whether all of that adds up to Knighton and the Broncos eventually putting pen to paper, with smiles all around, remains to be seen. Knighton, on several fronts, has expressed his frustration in recent weeks with a lack of movement on that front from team officials.

The Broncos have had some discussions with representatives for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas -- the team's highest-profile free agents -- in recent weeks and months. Team officials, including director of football administration Mike Sullivan, who handles the team’s contract negotiations with players, made the rounds at the scouting combine with a variety of agents, including Knighton's.

But for the most part, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said he’s going to let the market open and then see what kinds of salary numbers are swirling around the players, and that includes Knighton.

“Obviously, players want all the money and they want to play where they want to play," Elway said in Indianapolis. “Heck, I’ve been a player; I understand that, but I can’t calm the frustration because we have to do what’s best for the Broncos and also know we would love to have him back, but we’ve got to see what that number is."

Elway said, in the end, it’s about “what we can fit and who can fit in there."

It means Knighton, who played 48.5 percent of the defensive snaps this past season (520 in all) as most often an early-down player, will almost certainly face a decision about a little more money somewhere else or a Broncos team that had 11 players named to the Pro Bowl with Peyton Manning poised to formally return for the 2015 season. Oakland, with former Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio now the team's coach, is expected to make an offer.

Knighton thinks highly of Del Rio and Del Rio has now made it a point to have Knighton in his defense in both Jacksonville and Denver. Knighton fits, as a nose tackle, in Wade Phillips’ defense for the Broncos, but he’s also at a position where the Broncos believe Sylvester Williams, their first-round pick in 2013, is ready for more – he played 39.7 percent of the defensive snaps last season.

The Broncos also have, with Manning’s imminent return, needs along the offensive line to address with the hunt for at least two and possibly three new starters as well as at tight end, where the team’s top three players at the position are all scheduled to be free agents.

It’s why Knighton has also said “it’s a business at the end of the day and they’re going to do what they think is best and I’ll do what I think is best."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have their greatest roster needs, with perhaps a quibble or two here and there, in the offensive line and at tight end.

In the offensive front they are likely on the hunt for at least two, perhaps three new starters. And even if they believe they can move Michael Schofield, their third-round pick in the 2014 draft, into the right tackle spot, they still need more depth at tackle to go with help at guard and center.

Toss in the fact their top three tight ends from this past season -- Julius Thomas, Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme -- are all scheduled to be free agents and it’s a good bet plenty of the Broncos’ expenditures in free agency this time around will come on offense.

So, in his latest mock draft , Todd McShay believes all of that expected work in free agency to surround quarterback Peyton Manning with better protection could point the Broncos toward defense in the draft’s first round. McShay made Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman his pick for Denver.

Goldman is one of the bigger defensive tackles on the board, a potential nose tackle in Wade Phillips' defense, having measured in at 6-foot-4 and 336 pounds at the scouting combine. Goldman did not work out at the combine, so the Broncos and everybody else will have to see what he has to offer March 31 at his on-campus pro day, which will be packed given that Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston is expected to throw.

Free-agency breakdown: Julius Thomas

February, 26, 2015
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos have one of the longer lists of free agents in the league and just under two weeks out from the formal opening of the NFL’s festival of checks, it’s a good time to take a one-a-day look at some of the impending Broncos’ free agents.

Today: Julius Thomas
Friday: Terrance Knighton

Thomas
When the Broncos traded fifth-round and sixth-round picks to move back into the fourth round of the 2011 draft, they did it because they wanted Thomas. At the time, executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway called Thomas, then a prospect who had played just one year of college football at Portland State, a “talented tight end with great potential, a tremendous athlete with good speed and strong hands."

This is how the draft is supposed to work, at least for teams that consistently make the most of the annual selection event. If it goes well, a team identifies quality prospects who grow and advance in the job. Then, four years into his career, that player arrives to the doorstep of free agency. That then puts the team in position to have to make a decision about whether to sign the player to the second contract, a formal notice that he is a "core'' guy, or the team and the player move on.

And that puts the Broncos and Thomas right here, right now. Thomas and his representatives believe back-to-back 12-touchdown seasons are worthy of a contract that would put Thomas at the top of the pay scale for his position.

Elway said the Broncos “tried to get something done with Julius last season. They wanted to test the market." The Broncos like Thomas as a player. But with Demaryius Thomas also a free agent, for the Broncos to sign and keep both in a salary-cap world, it would have mean one of those players would have to agree to a contract that was lower than he could have received on the open market.

At the scouting combine in Indianapolis, there were plenty of folks working the rooms, including Julius Thomas’ agent, Frank Bauer, who said Thomas is looking for -- as any player in free agency would be -- plenty of guaranteed money in a blockbuster deal. To this point, the guaranteed money is more than the Broncos are willing to give.

As a result the Broncos, still working through talks to get a long-term deal done for Demaryius Thomas, have shown their intentions on the matter. Demaryius Thomas will stay, with a likely franchise-player tag in the short-term followed by a long-term deal the Broncos believe will get done in the coming week and months.

The Broncos’ top three tight ends – Julius Thomas, Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme – are all scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, so the position needs plenty of attention and the Broncos have already scheduled a visit with James Casey.

Elway also had this to say about Green this past week; “We like Virgil a lot, he was a big part of, he’s was kind of our rock, he was asked to do a lot of different things. … He does it all, he’s very versatile. We like Virgil a lot, too; we would love to have him back."

In the end the Broncos enjoyed the fruits of Julius Thomas’ work in the scoring zone – 24 touchdowns in his last 27 games – but not enough to push him on to the front burner in terms of how their available salary-cap dollars will be allocated.

Thomas has not played more than 14 games in any season and even with all of the good he’s done in the offense, there is a part of the numbers game that pushed the Broncos another direction. Julius Thomas’ 109 career catches are two fewer than Demaryius Thomas had in the 2014 season alone.

Choices are made in free agency all the time, choices that turn out to be good, bad or somewhere in between, and unless one side or the other has the significant change of heart, the Broncos and Julius Thomas appear to have made theirs.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- From the moment the Denver Broncos hired Wade Phillips as the team's defensive coordinator, the move to a 3-4 scheme on defense has been a given.

Even Phillips, when he was formally introduced to his new job, said "I think everybody knows we're going to a 3-4."

Over the last four seasons with John Fox as head coach the team played with 3-4 principles on defense, so given how the defense was built, this isn't some from-the-ground up transition. The Broncos have linemen -- Malik Jackson, Sylvester Williams and Derek Wolfe -- already in house who should transition nicely.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Joe MahoneySylvester Williams will be a key piece to the Broncos' new 3-4 defense under Wade Phillips.
They have edge-rushers, two of which went to the Pro Bowl in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. They have an inside linebacker to play the middle in Brandon Marshall, who led the team in tackles last season. Should Danny Trevathan return -- as the Broncos' hope -- from the three separate left leg injuries suffered last season, they'll have the weak-side, inside linebacker they'll need.

They have three players under contract in the secondary who went to the Pro Bowl in Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward to go with growing expectations for where Bradley Roby can go in Year 2.

The player with the biggest jump to make is Williams. Start with the position he plays.

Joe Collier, who knows a thing or three or 9,000 about the 3-4 defense -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has publicly said he learned the 3-4 from Collier -- has always said the most important position in the defense is the nose tackle, the big guy in the middle of the defensive line. Collier has said "if you don't have that guy you can't play the defense … or play the defense like you need to play it."

And right now that guy would be Williams. As coach Gary Kubiak has pointed out in recent days, Phillips has adjusted to personnel through the years, lining up a mammoth nose tackle directly over the center or using a slightly smaller (relative term) player lined up slightly to one shoulder of the center. Williams, at 313 pounds, would be considered one of the "smaller'' types.

"Wade has played with both, Wade has had the huge guy and … Wade has played with the small guy -- Earl Mitchell in Houston," Kubiak said. "Wade has adjusted to both kinds of nose guard."

Kubiak also scored a bonus when Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien allowed defensive line coach Bill Kollar, who has family in Colorado, to accept a position on Kubiak's staff. Kollar is one of the most respected position coaches in the league and the players will find he is waiting to prod them plenty toward better things.

When the topic of Williams came up at the scouting combine last week, executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said: "Sylvester's going to tested, going to get pushed."

The Broncos will look hard at interior defensive linemen in the draft as well, and there is also the matter of Terrance Knighton. Knighton, too, would fit the nose tackle role for the Broncos, but he's also an unrestricted free agent.

Elway has said the Broncos will talk to Knighton's representatives, but also added the team had to see "where the market is," which often can mean the player will find bigger offers elsewhere.

It all pushes Williams, the Broncos first-round pick in the 2013 draft, to the front of the line.

Free agency comes into focus for Broncos

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
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video
ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold talks about the team’s free agents and who might be moving on.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have one of the longer lists of soon-to-be free agents in the league. So two weeks out from the formal opening of the NFL's festival of checks, it's a good time to take a one-a-day look at some of the impending, high-profile Broncos free agents.

Wednesday: Demaryius Thomas
Thursday: Julius Thomas

Bottom line, straight from the Broncos' chief football decision-maker, is Demaryius Thomas isn't going anywhere. It's just a matter of details.

Thomas
The Broncos' No. 1 option in the passing game is also their top priority in free agency. Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway couldn't have been any clearer this past week at the NFL's scouting combine.

The Broncos want, and will work toward, a long-term deal with Thomas. If they can't get it done over the next week the Broncos will place the franchise player tag on Thomas to give them more time to get it done.

"Our goal is to get something done with Demaryius," Elway said. " ... that market is changing, that wide receiver market is changing, too, but the bottom line is we want Demaryius to be a Bronco."

The Broncos and Thomas' representatives have had the framework of a five-year deal on the table at times over the past year. Elway said he believes most of the team's free agents, even if they did return, want to see what the market was for them after the formal opening of free agency. The team is of a similar mind at the moment: Just as the players don't want to leave potential income on the table, the team doesn't want to pay more than it believes it has to.

In Thomas' case, the Broncos would have to use the franchise player tag by March 2. The most likely scenario is the Broncos use the franchise player tag on Thomas -- a one-year, guaranteed deal for something on the order of $12.9 million (the franchise tag is the average of the top five salaries at the position) -- and then continue to work toward a long-term deal.

It would also give Thomas and his representatives a chance to see if any contracts signed by wide receivers in the opening days of free agency help dial in the numbers for both sides a little better.

"Really the bottom line is until the market opens, until you get out there and see what's out there, that's what sets the price," Elway said. "That's why it's very difficult for them to accept something before the free agency starts and very difficult for us -- we don't know what the market is."

Since the start of the 2011 season, Thomas is second in the NFL with 28 100-yard receiving games in the regular season and postseason combined, including 10 100-yard games this past season. Seven of those came in consecutive weeks.

His 226 yards in the Broncos' Oct. 5 win over the Arizona Cardinals are a franchise record for a game, and his 1,619 yards receiving this past season also set a season franchise record. He has had three consecutive seasons of at least 92 catches, at least 1,400 yards and at least 10 touchdowns.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Over the past three seasons, or since Peyton Manning signed on to be the quarterback, the Denver Broncos have largely used two personnel groupings on offense – the three-wide receiver set and a two-tight end package.

And while there is no disputing the Broncos' win output -- 38 in the last three years -- or scoring output, in the last years in particular when they have averaged 34 points per game over their last 32 regular-season games, both executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway and coach Gary Kubiak say that’s going to change.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning, Ryan Clady, Orlando Franklin, Virgil Green, C.J. Anderson
Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos' offensive huddle will include a fullback with frequency in 2015.
Kubiak said in the past week that he alwayshas had a fullback in the offense and intends to with the Broncos as well. And Elway added; “I think to be really effective in the run game, you’ve got to run with the fullback … We’ll have people who can play fullback.’’

Then asked if he believed there was still a place for a two-back offense in these pass happy times, he said; “Without a doubt I do.’’

With James Casey, a tight end who could line up as a fullback as well, set to be the first free agent the Broncos sit down with face to face with in the coming days -- Casey was released by the Eagles last week so he already is in the open market -- it's clear how much of a priority being able to staff the two-back look is at the moment. So, as the Broncos go about melding the playbook for quarterback Peyton Manning’s expected return with what Kubiak wants in the offense, it’s clear the Broncos will look different in how they go about things.

Over the last two seasons the Broncos have preferred the three-wide look to be their base formation. They had just two games last season when they lined up more with two tight ends than with three wide receivers – the season-opening win over the Indianapolis Colts and the Oct. 12 win over the New York Jets – and the difference was just one snap and three snaps, respectively.

It was far more common to lean almost exclusively on the three-wide look over the two tight end – 49 snaps to one in the first meeting with Kansas City, 63 to 10 against Arizona, 49-0 against San Francisco, 77-0 in the first meeting with Oakland, 63-3 against St. Louis and 41-9 against Cincinnati.

The totals against St. Louis and Cincinnati came in losses -- the loss against the Bengals in a period in the season when the Broncos were trying to run the ball more efficiently and they looked disjointed doing it at times.

And by the time the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Colts rolled around, they had a far different approach against the Colts. Last month they were in a three-wide look 56 times, penalty snaps included, as compared to two tight ends on 15 snaps, a far different ratio than they had used in the season-opening win over the same team.

From a football perspective once of the adjustments more two-back looks would bring would have to come from Manning. He could be under center more and face more crowded looks around the line of scrimmage than defenses have played against the Broncos over the last two seasons especially.

Kubiak, for one, says Manning would flourish in the offense because “he’s one of the best play-action quarterbacks ever to play the game. He can run whatever scheme he’s in.’’

But Kubiak did add; “We’re going to run whatever makes sense, whatever we think will get first downs and touchdowns, we’re going to run an offense that fits the personnel we have. Some of it could be different and some of it could look the same.’’
Take a listen to this week's NFL Nation TV podcast as the crew breaks down the lessons it learned from last week's NFL combine in Indianapolis, as well as the latest in the push for bringing the NFL to Los Angeles.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by four other NFL Nation reporters.

Eric Williams (San Diego Chargers reporter) joins to give an idea of how feasible it would be for the Raiders and Chargers to share a stadium in Southern California. Pat Yasinskas (Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter) discusses why he thinks Jameis Winston is all but a lock to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) breaks down which direction the Jets will go with the No. 6 overall draft pick. Will they go with a quarterback? Defense? Receiver? Paul Kuharsky (Tennessee Titans reporter) weighs with his thoughts on where the Titans will turn at No. 2 if Winston is off the board.

Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on ESPN.com at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT each Tuesday, and be sure to give the show's a podcast a listen following each taping.

NFL Nation TV wraps up the combine

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
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Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for NFL Nation TV's Spreecast as we return from a one-week hiatus for episode No. 45 with a decidedly combine feel.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by four other NFL Nation reporters throughout the show.

Eric Williams (San Diego Chargers reporter) and Gutierrez will attempt to make sense of the notion that the Chargers and Raiders, who have both called Los Angeles home in the past and have been fierce rivals since their AFL inception, could share a stadium in nearby Carson.

Pat Yasinkas (Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter) will also let us know what the Buc's might do with the No. 1 overall pick after James Winston's showing at the combine.

Staying with the QB vibe, Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) will give us an update on what he thinks Gang Green will do at No. 6 overall in the draft if both Winston and Marcus Mariota are off the board.

And Paul Kuharsky (Tennessee Titans reporter) opines on what the Titans might do at No. 2 overall, go with one of the QBs or perhaps rising USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams, or might they go in an entirely different direction?

Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

INDIANAPOLIS -- With James Casey, a tight end who has played in a Gary Kubiak offense before, set to visit this week, the wheels are officially in motion as the Denver Broncos begin to address their highest need positions.

With the formal opening of free agency set for March 10 and the NFL's scouting combine having just adjourned, the Broncos are now poised to make their first moves at the two positions that figure to get their most attention -- tight end and offensive line.

Because Casey was released by the Philadelphia Eagles last week he's already an unrestricted free agent. So, he's set to visit the Arizona Cardinals in the coming days before visiting the Broncos.

[+] EnlargeBroncos
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJohn Elway has indicated the Broncos are interested in re-signing tight end Virgil Green.
Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway and coach Gary Kubiak were in Indianapolis at the combine until Monday afternoon. Casey would be an easy fit into the Broncos' new offensive scheme, given he played four seasons with the Houston Texans with Kubiak as the team's coach.

His best statistical season in Houston came when he caught 34 passes to go with three touchdowns in 2012. Casey had signed a three-year, $12 million deal in 2013 to join the Eagles, but had just six receptions in two seasons with the team.

Casey could also play some fullback for the Broncos, something Kubiak has already said he's adding to the offense.

The Broncos' top three tight ends -- Julius Thomas, Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme -- are all scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, so the Broncos are expected to try to sign at least one in free agency as well as give it heavy consideration in the draft.

Elway said this past week in Indy he considered tight end to be a position of strength in this draft. Julius Thomas is expected to sign elsewhere as his representatives seek a deal that would put Thomas among the league's highest-paid tight ends.

Elway, however, made it a point to say he hoped the Broncos could bring Green back.

"We like Virgil a lot, he was a big part of, he's was kind of our rock, he was asked to do a lot of different things," Elway said. " … He does it all, he's very versatile, we like Virgil a lot too, we would love to have him back."

This past season Green played 394 snaps on offense -- or 35 percent of the team's total -- but after Thomas suffered an ankle injury in the Broncos' Nov. 16 loss to the St. Louis Rams, Green played at least 45 snaps in five of the last six games of the regular season. Tamme played 24.5 percent of the team's offensive snaps and played more than 37 snaps in one game on the year -- 56 against the St. Louis Rams.

On the prospects of Thomas' re-signing with the Broncos -- the two sides have had some discussions but no additional talks had been scheduled by the time team officials left Indy Monday -- Elway did offer a somewhat telling comment at the combine of where things are with their former fourth-round draft pick.

Asked if the team's relationship with Julius Thomas was a strong one, Elway said matter-of-factly: "I didn't have contact with Julius. I've never had a long conversation with him, other than saying ‘Hello, how are you doing?' No, I don't have an issue with Julius."

The Broncos have looked at prospective free agents among the offensive linemen set to hit the market as well. Overall, many in the league consider the value at center better than the players who figure to be available at guard, especially among those players that would be signed in free agency's first days.

The Broncos are on the hunt for at least two, possibly three new starters in the offensive line. Elway said at the combine he considered Michael Schofield, a third-round pick by the Broncos in the 2014 draft, a candidate for the right tackle job, but overall the Broncos need to fill right tackle, center and left guard. Center Will Montgomery, who started the last nine games, the playoff loss included, will get a look from team officials.

But among the centers on the open market, the Kansas City Chiefs' Rodney Hudson and the Oakland Raiders' Stefen Wisniewski have the kind of movement skills the Broncos seek for their new offense. Wisniewski, especially, has flourished in a zone-blocking scheme.

How the Broncos stay all-in

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
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Modeled after Insider's #NBAFrontOffice project, our NFL Front Office Insiders are taking a look at the biggest offseason questions facing the league's most compelling teams. In this edition, they take over the Denver Broncos, looking at how they should prioritize their top free agents such as Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, what to do on defense and whether to go all-in for what could be Peyton Manning's final season.

Mark Dominik serves as our general manager, Herm Edwards as our head coach, Louis Riddick as our director of player personnel, and Aaron Schatz provides his expertise using Football Outsiders' advanced metrics. Join the conversation on Twitter via @ESPNInsider with the hashtag #NFLFrontOffice


Mark Dominik (general manager): We're going to start this exercise making the assumption that Peyton Manning is going to be back playing quarterback for us next season, and I'm going to start by saying that we won't be looking to restructure his contract. Instead, to me this offseason is all about improving the offense around him. We invested heavily on defense last season with guys such as DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib, and this year needs to be about helping the offense.

We have two really good pass-catchers who are free agents in Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas. I want to hear from the three of you on how you prioritize those two guys.

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the on-field workouts continued Monday at the NFL's scouting combine, some players who will be of interest to the Denver Broncos were on display.

Monday the defensive backs closed things out on the combine’s final day.
  • The Broncos will be in the market for a safety, especially if Rahim Moore exits in free agency, but they face some potentially difficult decisions on this draft board. Overall, safety is considered by some in the league as potentially the thinnest position group in the draft, especially in terms of players who are expected to walk in and contribute immediately. Alabama’s Landon Collins re-affirmed his position as the top safety in the draft for many teams with his workout Monday. Collins’ size (6-foot, 228 pounds) and speed (an official clocking of 4.53 in the 40-yard dash) mean he will be long gone by the time the Broncos pick at No. 28 overall. That means the Broncos will likely move down the board, into the second and third days of the draft, where they will try to find value at a thin position.
  • Certainly a player like Virginia Tech's Kyshoen Jarrett makes sense. The Broncos have done plenty of due diligence on Jarrett, and he also fits kind of the hybrid mold the team has tried to find as they search for players who are willing tacklers in the run game, but possess cover skills closer to that of a cornerback. Jarrett, who measured in at 5-9 7/8 and a solid 200 pounds at the combine, was officially clocked at 4.57 in the 40 on Monday. The Broncos have used players built more like cornerbacks at safety in recent seasons, including Omar Bolden, who was drafted by the team as a cornerback and now plays safety.
  • Another player who fits that profile who the Broncos will have to wait until March 31 to see work out fully, is Connecticut’s Byron Jones. He did not do all of the drills at the combine Monday because he had shoulder surgery this past season to repair a torn labrum, but what he did do certainly got everyone’s attention. Jones' 12-3 broad jump is believed to be a combine record, and his vertical leap of 44 inches was also an attention-grabber. Jones was actually a safety for the Huskies before he was moved to cornerback in 2013, and at 6-1, 199 pounds, he too, fits the job description for a coverage safety/cornerback the Broncos will seek in their new defensive scheme. Jones had two interceptions in seven games this past season, to go with 24 tackles, including a seven-tackle game against Tulane. Jones started 12 games at safety in 2012 before starting the 19 games of his career at cornerback in the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
  • With Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, Bradley Roby, and Kayvon Webster all under contract for the coming season, cornerback is not necessarily a need position for the Broncos. But there are some bigger cornerbacks who could be worth a second-day look in the draft, like Miami's Quinten Rollins, who was officially timed at 4.57 in the 40 at 195 pounds, and Roby’s former teammate at Ohio State Doran Grant. At 200 pounds, Grant showed plenty of speed Monday, with an official 4.44 showing in the 40. Grant’s size-speed combination to go with good reports of his practice habits will push him up the board by the time the draft rolls around.

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