Over the past handful of seasons, conventional wisdom has held that successful NFL teams be built primarily through the draft. Unlike the NBA or MLB, professional football is structured to allow teams to retain their “franchise” players—meaning if a player is a free agent, he is normally a free agent for a reason (injury, age, declining production, etc.).
Conventional wisdom should still hold. However, unique circumstances in 2012 present free agency options that the Broncos (who possess substantial salary cap space) should certainly explore. Despite a better than expected 2011 that resulted in a division title and the team’s first playoff win since 2005, Denver still finds itself with a number of holes.
Here are a few of the options potentially available to the Broncos, along with why they make sense for the Orange & Blue:
Jason Jones, DT, Tennessee Titans
With interior defensive line being one of the Broncos greatest areas of need, along with what appears to be another strong draft class at the position (it is estimated that as many as five or six defensive tackles could go in the first round), Denver would be wise to use their number 25 overall pick to address this need. However, Jones is still an intriguing possibility. Tennessee moved him to defensive end for the second half of the season, which means two things: 1) he has the athleticism to create pressure up the middle, rather than simply occupy space (something the team desperately needs in order to compliment the edge-rushing capabilities of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil and 2) because Tennessee evidently sees him as a DE (and, in doing so, will likely want to pay him less), there is a good chance Jones will be available to a team that is interested in using him in the interior.
Carlos Rogers, CB, San Francisco 49ers
With one side of the field on proverbial “lock down” thanks to the presence of Champ Bailey, how the Broncos solve the other half of the cornerback “situation” (i.e. problem) continues as an unresolved issue. Veteran Andre Goodman still has a couple of years remaining on his current contract, so he isn’t likely going anywhere. However, Denver still needs to improve at the position. Rogers would help the Broncos immensely and there is a chance he can be had because the Niners also need to re-sign safety Dashon Goldson. Both free agents are going to command big money and there is some question surrounding the willingness of San Francisco to ink two DB’s requiring that kind of coin. That being said, San Francisco does have substantial salary cap space, so if they decide it’s in their best interest to back up the Brinks truck, they certainly can.
Brent Grimes, CB, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta/Grimes situation is similar to the San Francisco/Rogers scenario. Grimes is a very strong corner who has years of production left (age 29), but the Falcons recently locked up CB Dunta Robinson for six years at a price of $57 million. Again, like the 49ers, the Falcons are well under the salary cap, creating questions as to whether Grimes will hit the open market or not.
Brandon Carr, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Despite the fact that Carr is young (25) and talented, he is more than likely playing somewhere other than Kansas City next season. There is still a very outside chance the Chiefs will place their only franchise tag on Carr. However, that designation is more than likely going to be used on receiver Dwayne Bowe. Kansas City already has tremendous dollars invested in their secondary and “stealing” someone the caliber of Carr (who is younger than the aforementioned Rogers or Grimes) would be a major plus for the Broncos.
Broncos EVP for football operations, John Elway has tempered this kind of talk by saying that Denver will only spend in ways that help the team and not simply spend because they have salary cap space. Decoded, it means don’t expect the Orange & Blue to make much of a splash in free agency. Regardless, it’s fun to discuss the possibilities.