Defensive Players Who Could Impact the Broncos Free Agency Plan

The Broncos have the cap space to be players in free agency this month. With so many holes on defense, what does the free-agent market look like at Denver's biggest positions of need?
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Although the Denver Broncos have $42.3 million in cap space and are in position to create more, I'm not convinced the team will be that active in free agency.

My expectation is the Broncos will focus more on taking care of their own first. Extending safety Justin Simmons remains a priority, plus the Broncos may try to keep defensive lineman Shelby Harris. There are a couple of players better suited for depth, such as Will Parks and DeMarcus Walker, who might stick around in that capacity. 

I can see Denver pursuing a backup quarterback and possibly a cornerback, but I'm not convinced GM George Paton will be active at other positions.

When it comes to Simmons, the safety market will have several players who will come at or near the top of the highest paid, which may explain why Simmons hasn't agreed to a deal yet. The same might be true for Harris, but it's going to be a soft market given the lack of talent that's out there.

And one position Broncos fans might think can be addressed in free agency is off-ball linebacker. Although I believe the Broncos will look to the draft instead, I wouldn't rule out free agency because there are a couple of players worth consideration.

Otherwise, the action will be at wide receiver, which the Broncos don't need to pursue, and edge rusher, in which Denver isn't likely to be involved unless it parts ways with Von Miller — and even then, the team may prefer to retain Jeremiah Attaochu and draft an edge rusher early.

That said, I won't go into much detail about free agents at other positions, but will review the notable names among off-ball linebackers in case the Broncos show interest, the notable safeties who could be seeking top deals, and the notable defensive linemen who might impact what Harris gets.

In each case, it's limited to four each, Simmons aside among safeties and Harris aside among interior defenders. Let's look at each position.

Off-Ball Linebackers

Lavonte David | TB: At 31 years old, David continues to play at a high level. He'll be one of several Buccaneers who is up for a new deal, and there is sure to be plenty of interest in his services.

The off-ball linebacker market cooled considerably last year, so David shouldn't re-set the market — though I would expect he'll get a little more than the top names last year did. The Broncos might have an interest, but if they do, they won't be the only team.

Jayon Brown | TEN: A three-year starter for the Titans, Brown is a strong coverage linebacker and would certainly help the Broncos in that department. He has missed time with elbow and groin injuries, but they weren't long-term injuries.

Brown should come at a slightly lower price than David, and because he will be 26 years old, he would make more sense for the Broncos if they would rather get younger players in their prime.

Matt Milano | BUF: Another linebacker who has good coverage skills, Milano isn't as strong in the run game as others who could hit free agency. Still, he has developed into a quality player for the Bills.

Milano played well in 2019, but injuries cost him playing time in 2020, so the cost for his s.ervices could be lower than others. If the Broncos want to add an off-ball linebacker in free agency, Brown is a better option, but if he signs elsewhere, the Broncos could consider Milano at the right price.

K.J. Wright | SEA: A solid player in both run defense and coverage, Wright could certainly help the Broncos in both departments. The downsides to Wright are his age (he'll be 33 years old) and how well he would fit into Vic Fangio's scheme.

I'm not convinced the Broncos will pursue Wright in free agency, and more importantly, it's likely he'll stay in Seattle given that he fits the defense well. If he does hit the open market, I'd rather stick to a one-year deal and no more than that.

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Safeties

Marcus Williams | NO: He'll hit the open market because the Saints are in serious cap trouble and even the franchise tag for Williams will make it more difficult on the team to manage the cap. He's in position to surpass Budda Baker in terms of APY salary — and that likely explains why Simmons hasn't agreed to a new contract yet.

Think of it this way. Why would Simmons and his agent agree to a deal now when Williams could top that deal when free agency starts? The more likely scenario is this: Simmons gets the tag, Williams agrees to a deal during the so-called legal tampering period, then the Broncos negotiate further with Simmons on a deal that surpasses Williams.

Marcus Maye | NYJ: The other top safety who could hit the open market, Maye was a bright spot for the Jets. He continued to excel despite the Jets trading away Jamal Adams and is in position to get to the top of the market.

However, the Jets could put the franchise tag on him, and because the tag is lower for Maye than it will be for Simmons, that could affect what he actually gets in a new deal. We'll see what the Jets do, but if he hits free agency, he's the other player who could impact the Simmons negotiations.

Anthony Harris | MIN: Like Simmons, Harris got the franchise tag in 2020 and the Vikings couldn't come to terms with him on a new contract. He wasn't as good as Simmons, Williams, or Maye and there may be questions about how well he would play in another system.

I don't see Harris reaching the top of the safety market, but he could be like Kareem Jackson was when he signed with the Broncos and come close to it. It's possible Simmons and his agent will keep an eye on the deal Harris gets, though I don't expect that one to impact negotiations as much as Williams and Maye will.

John Johnson III | LAR: Johnson missed most of 2019 with a shoulder injury, but returned in 2020 and played quite well. He'll be 26 years old and is likely to hit the open market, with the Rams needing to focus on contract restructures and adding lower-cost free agents, given their cap situation.

Johnson will likely be similar to Harris, in that he won't re-set the safety market, but will come in under the top paid players. That won't make him an inexpensive player, but his contract is not likely to impact the negotiations the Broncos have with Simmons.

Interior Defensive Line

Leonard Williams | NYG: The Giants traded for Williams during the 2019 season, then gave him the franchise tag. He didn't sign an extension and the expectation is the Giants will tag him again. He's going to get at least $20M in a new contract, between the second tag and his level of play last season.

However, he's the only interior defender who is going to get a massive contract. Don't expect Shelby Harris to come close to the money Williams will get.

Dalvin Tomlinson | NYG: Another Giants free agent, Tomlinson's strength is in run defense, though he can pressure the quarterback. Because Williams likely gets the tag, Tomlinson will hit the open market. It's possible Williams will push to the level that D.J. Reader got last year because he will be the top name hitting the market.

It's possible Harris could approach Tomlinson in terms of what he gets in a new deal. However, I had expected Harris to fare well in free agency last year and that didn't happen. For all we know, Tomlinson might not hit it big in free agency this year, and if that's the case, that will impact what Harris gets as well.

Ndamukong Suh | TB: The 34-year-old Suh has been content to take low-cost deals with teams who are playoff contenders. He's not the game-changer he used to be, but he can still contribute in the right situation.

Suh is most likely going to take a one-year deal with a playoff contender, and his pay may be more in line with what Harris would expect to get per year. I don't see anybody giving Suh more than a one-year deal, given his age.

Xavier Woods | DAL: He's been a starter for the Cowboys since his second season in the NFL and has developed into a good, but not great, interior defender. He's 26 years old and can take on different roles on defense.

Woods is likely to be the player who most impacts what Harris will get in a new contract. He's not a top player at the position, but a steady performer, much like Harris. 

Perhaps Woods will get a little more than Harris because he is younger. And should Harris sign elsewhere and Woods is available, he's a player the Broncos should consider as a replacement.


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