After the Denver Broncos soundly won Super Bowl 50, rejoicing is warranted. The players are doing interviews, going to parades and otherwise enjoying the hard earned championship. Fans are reveling in all the festivities as well because their team just won the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the third time. What a great feeling. However, the NFL has just started the offseason and it is a near certainty that John Elway and his slew of talented individuals behind the scenes are back to work. They are planning their road back the championship and that starts with their own free agents. Which players will stay and which players will leave?
Miller is the #1 priority by far. Miller has otherworldly talent and is the best player on the Broncos. He almost single handedly won the Super Bowl. There is no way he leaves the team. If they can’t reach a deal before the free agency period starts he will be slapped with the franchise tag. Miller has expressed his desire to stay and the team certainly wants to work out a deal. That deal may just make him the highest paid player in the NFL, but however it works out, the Broncos are not letting Miller leave in free agency. Millers’ chance of staying: 100%.
Jackson is the #2 priority, but only at the right price. The team probably won’t go above $12M per year and it seems like Jackson is after $13-15M. Furthermore, his agent has to be telling him to wait and see what he is offered out on the market. His decline of an in-season offer further solidifies that belief. There is no denying Jackson’s talent. He is one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL and is arguably the best one hitting free agency. He is so disruptive against the run and a good pass rusher. He controls the line of scrimmage well and commands double teams from the offensive line. With that being said, he is not on the same level as Miller or JJ Watt. The Broncos cannot afford to overpay him. Jackson is likely not on the team next season due to the riches he will receive from other teams. If he does leave, the team has Vance Walker, who is not nearly as talented, but did play very well as a starter during Derek Wolfe’s suspension and was solid in relief duty. Walker could be the type of player that bridges the gap until a new arrival via the draft is ready to start. This draft is deep with defensive line talent. Here are some potential replacements for Jackson: Jonathan Bullard, Robert Nkemdiche, Adolphus Washington, and Carl Nassib in rounds one and two. Jacksons’ chance of staying: 50%.
Here is another high priority free agent with an agent telling him to test the market. Osweiler is the second best option in free agent quarterbacks at the moment (Kirk Cousins is not leaving Washington). He may actually be the best option considering Sam Bradford’s injury history. Osweiler filled in for an injured Peyton Manning and did a great job considering he took little to no game snaps since arriving in Denver. He has the tools to lead the offense under Gary Kubiak. He definitely has some issues to work on, but with experience he could be an above average quarterback. Possible replacements if Osweiler chases the money: Trevor Siemian (on team), Robert Griffin III (through free agency), and Conner Cook (late round one draft). Osweiler’s chance of staying: 75%.
Of the top three free agents who could actually leave the Broncos, Trevathan seems the most willing to make a deal that is friendly enough to the team that will allow him to stay. He is one of the better inside linebackers in the NFL. He is a solid run stopper and provides good pass coverage. He is definitely aided by the amazing defensive line, but he is still a very valuable member of the defense. It seems as though he is going to be with the Broncos, but if he doesn’t here are some replacements: Todd Davis (on team), Zaire Anderson (on team’s practice squad), and several prospects in the draft will be available. Trevathan’s chance of staying: 85%.
Hillman had his moments this season, but his role should be that of a change of pace running back. The team will likely not bring him back because he doesn’t have the traits to excel in the zone blocking scheme nor does he have elite elusiveness or pass catching ability to be a legitimate threat as a change of pace type. His production can be replaced and it is very doubtful the Broncos will give him a sizeable amount of money to keep him. Replacement options include: draft prospects such as Aaron Green and Daniel Lasco. Hillman’s chance of staying: 20%.
Bruton is one of those players who may not be a superstar, but whom everyone still loves. He does what is asked of him, plays a pivotal role when needed, and is a great person. It would be a shame to see him leave the Broncos. If he does, there will be almost zero depth at safety. Hopefully Elway can offer him a contract to keep him in Denver for the next few years. It wouldn’t be an expensive deal and Bruton probably won’t command big money in the free agent market. If he does leave, the Broncos can find on the field replacements in mid rounds of the draft or perhaps free agency. It will be hard to replace his value to the team and community. Bruton’s chance of staying: 50%.
There are several role players and one-year signings who are unrestricted free agents. Some may get new deals while others will walk. Hard to say who those will be, but it seems as though Evan Mathis, Vernon Davis, Antonio Smith, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Norwood and Tyler Polumbus will be gone. It would be great if the team could resign Mathis, but that is doubtful. Bringing back Smith would also be helpful if Jackson somehow finds his way to another team. There is a good chance that the team will try to resign Omar Bolden, Ryan Harris, Shiloh Keo, and Kyle Williams for depth purposes.
This season is a perfect storm for Broncos free agents. Several late round gems became stars at the same time that the high round draft picks were set to become free agents. The timing of it all does not bode well, but Elway has been very good in free agency. Trusting his judgment would be prudent. If he can somehow find a way to keep the defense together and get the offensive line figured out, this team could very well repeat as champions.