An Early Look at Top-25 Free Agents Broncos Should Pursue in 2020
The Denver Broncos come out of their bye week with seven games left and thoughts will start turning toward the 2020 offseason. Along with preparations for the NFL Draft, there will be plans set in motion regarding what will happen in free agency.
I sat down with Erick Trickel to discuss the Broncos' outlook for free agency and players the team may either want to extend among their own, among outside unrestricted free agents, or among players who might be cut from their current teams for various reasons.
We focused mostly on positions at which the Broncos will have a need if they either don't keep a current player eligible for free agency or choose to release a player still under contract. We also considered what positions are the greatest needs to fill in free agency and tried to look for players who, if they aren't among the best at their position, would be a good scheme fit.
Positions the Broncos are going to have to look at will or may include backup quarterback, a wide receiver who can be a deep threat, left tackle, either center or right guard (depending on what happens with current players), interior defenders (mostly 3-techs, but a nose tackle might be added), off-ball linebacker, cornerback and safety. There may be a little interest in a running back who excels at pass-catching, too.
First, we put together a list of 25 top free agents for the Broncos to consider. These are all players who would be worth multi-year contracts of at least three years. We included current Broncos with expiring contracts and players from other teams who are likely to get extended or franchise tagged by their current teams.
Top-25 Free Agents
1. Justin Simmons, S, Broncos
2. Brandon Scherff, OG, Redskins
3. Chris Jones, ID, Chiefs
4. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Colts
5. Byron Jones, CB, Cowboys
6. Chris Harris, CB, Broncos
7. Graham Glasgow, C/OG, Lions
8. Corey Littleton, LB, Rams
9. Andrus Peat, OG, Saints
10. Anthony Harris, S, Vikings
11. Trae Wayans, CB, Vikings
12. Joe Schobert, LB, Browns
13. Shaq Thompson, LB, Panthers
14. Shelby Harris, ID, Broncos
15. Robby Anderson, WR, Jets
16. Logan Ryan, CB, Titans
17. Danny Trevathan, LB, Bears
18. Eli Apple, CB, Saints
19. Derek Wolfe, ID, Broncos
20. Brian Poole, CB, Jets
21. Michael Pierce, NT, Ravens
22. Michael Brockers, ID, Rams
23. Andrew Billings, ID, Bengals
24. Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Bears
25. Connor McGovern, C/OG, Broncos
Simmons tops the list because he is the one pending free agent whom the Broncos have the most interest in retaining. Scherff, Jones and Castonzo are all possibly getting a franchise tag or extension from their current teams, but if they do hit the open market, they are clearly the best at their respective positions.
Jones may be the best cornerback who could hit free agency, but that doesn't mean the Broncos should rule out Chris Harris, Jr. If Harris walks and Jones doesn't come to Denver, there are some other cornerbacks who could help and fit into Vic Fangio's scheme.
At this point, it doesn't appear likely that the Broncos will be able to keep both Shelby Harris and Derek Wolfe. Harris is ranked higher because he is a couple of years younger, but Wolfe shouldn't be ruled out, given how well he is playing. Connor McGovern, another pending Broncos free agent, also merits consideration for an extension.
You'll also notice an old friend, Danny Trevathan, on the list, and he is quite familiar with Fangio's scheme — though he won't be the best off-ball linebacker available and suffered a gruesome arm injury on Sunday.
There aren't many wide receivers who made the list. Robby Anderson may be the best bet among those who can be deep threats, You'll also notice that no quarterbacks made the list — a sign that it's best for the Broncos to stay out of the market for QBs who will get much consideration to be starters.
The 25 on this first list are the ones to consider in the first wave of free agency. After that initial wave has passed, it'll be time to look for value and short-term deals among any free agents still available.
Erick and I put together a list of 10 players to consider after the first wave of free agency. Keep in mind, these are all players that should get one-year, low-cost deals, though there may be one or two who are worth two-year deals.
Top-10 Second-Wave Free Agents
1. Jason Peters, OT, Eagles
2. Leonard Williams, ID, Jets
3. Theo Riddick, RB, Broncos
4. Ronald Darby, CB, Eagles
5. Donald Penn, OT, Redskins
6. Darian Thompson, S, Cowboys
7. Adam Gotsis, ID, Broncos
8. Josh Gordon, WR, Seahawks
9. Blake Bortles, QB, Rams
10. Darron Lee, LB, Chiefs
In most cases, you are looking at either aging players, players who need to prove themselves before getting longer contracts for more money, or players who are best utilized as backups. The last category definitely applies to Bortles — bear in mind you would only sign him to be the backup and get paid backup QB money, not starter money.
Peters might be worth a two-year deal because he continues to play well, but keep in mind you would still be drafting an offensive tackle who would be groomed to replace him. It's possible that Peters retires, so Penn on a one-year deal might be more likely.
Williams is the type of player who absolutely needs to take a one-year "prove it" deal. He has talent but is not playing well this season. What you would be doing is taking a chance on him for one season to see if Bill Kollar can get him back on track.
There is some reported interest in the Broncos keeping Riddick for another year, but it's best to let him test the market first. The same applies to Gotsis, should the Broncos think about keeping him around.
Each year, there are players who will get released by their current teams, but are worth adding to the Broncos roster. Sometimes players are cut for cap reasons, so these players make sense for multi-year deals.
Others are cut because they aren't good scheme fits for their current teams, but they could be good fits for the Broncos. Of course, some are cut for skill reasons, in which case you want to add them only on short-term, low-cost deals.
10 Players to Monitor
1. Alex Mack, C, Falcons
2. Prince Amukamara, CB, Bears
3. Cordy Glenn, OT, Bengals
4. Calais Campbell, ID, Jaguars
5. Kyle Long, OG, Bears
6. Cameron Fleming, OT, Cowboys
7. Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB, Rams
8. Akiem Hicks, ID, Bears
9. Kevin Zeitler, OG, Giants
10. Marcel Dareus, ID, Jaguars
The two current Jaguars are both interesting cases. The Broncos talked to Campbell back in 2016 before he opted to sign with the Jags. If they cut him, there's a chance the Broncos could contact him about finishing his career with them. And can you imagine if Dareus, who John Elway passed on to draft Von Miller in 2011, wound up joining the Broncos if the Jaguars cut him?
There are other players who could be intriguing if they do get cut. Glenn, for example, never turned into an elite player, but he could at least be an upgrade over Garett Bolles and allow the Broncos to ease a player they draft into the lineup or perhaps start on the right side if Ja'Wuan James still has problems with his knee next season.
You will also notice offensive linemen who could add a veteran presence to the interior, should the Broncos not retain McGovern or move on from Ronald Leary. There are also a couple of defensive players who are familiar with Fangio.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether any of these players are released from their current teams. But it's not a bad idea to keep these names in mind, should they become available.
While trading for a player is a possibility, this may be the offseason in which the Broncos should keep their draft picks and think more about using them on rookies or perhaps trading up for somebody.
There will be other free agents to keep in mind as well. The Broncos will have to consider what to do with their pending restricted free agents: QB Brandon Allen, LB Joseph Jones, NT Mike Purcell and OT Elijah Wilkinson.
There are also multiple players who will be exclusive right free agents, which are cheap one-year tenders that tie the player to the team if they are utilized: CB De'Vante Bausby, CB Davontae Harris, S Trey Marshall, WR Tim Patrick, OT Jake Rodgers, WR Diontae Spencer and S Dymonte Thomas
We'll talk more about specific players who the Broncos should try to retain, and how much they could expect to pay them, in the coming weeks, but this gives you an idea about what things could look like. And with an expected $68M in cap space before the Broncos cut any players currently under contract, the Broncos are in good position to explore the market.