Five Homegrown Free Agents Broncos are at Risk of Losing in 2020
Of the 26 impending Denver Broncos free agents, you could make reasonably strong cases to retain but a handful. Of that handful, only a select few will actually receive new deals from the organization.
The rest — the majority, especially those of the unrestricted variety — are to be left wanting, primed to shop their wares around the NFL. The Broncos may send out baseline feelers, but it’s impossible in today’s salary-cap age to prevent every last player from testing the open market.
Even if they could, Denver likely wouldn’t. There are unsigned stars and starters potentially set to depart, and it’s best for both parties if they indeed walk this offseason. Nobody envies general manager John Elway for his obligation to reach franchise-altering decisions — or non-decisions, as the situation might dictate.
So let’s do The Duke a solid.
Here are five free agents the Broncos must wave bye-bye to with the March 16 legal tampering period, the unofficial start to the league’s signing period, drawing closer.
Devontae Booker, RB | Unrestricted FA
The 2016 fourth-round pick has survived multiple regime changes, from Gary Kubiak to Vance Joseph to Vic Fangio. But after a solid end to his rookie year, Booker’s been completely marginalized, reduced to strict third-string duties behind Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman.
Although adept as a pass-catcher and pass-protector, he’s struggled with butterfingers (five lost fumbles) and offers limited playmaking upside. The Broncos are expected to reshape their RB room under new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, making Booker the odd man out.
Elijah Wilkinson, OL | Restricted FA
A little-known undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts, too much was put upon Wilkinson’s shoulders the past two seasons, during which he’s made 27 appearances, either filling in for an injured lineman or usurping a benched one. He can play several spots along the front-five but proved overwhelmed at tackle and a major liability as a starter.
Denver should put an overarching emphasis on protecting sophomore quarterback Drew Lock in 2020, with OL coach Mike Munchak lending his respected input. I can’t see him pounding the table for Wilkinson, who may not be tendered by the club.
If he’s let go, expect the Broncos to invest heavily in the draft, perhaps using its No. 15 overall selection on a tackle to safeguard against Garett Bolles and Ja'Wuan James’ respective faults.
Adam Gotsis, DE | UFA
Elway has experienced rotten luck drafting in the second round amid his tenure as Broncos boss, and Gotsis exemplifies that unflattering trend. Although stout as a run defender, the former Georgia Tech standout never impacted games as a pass-rusher, notching just five sacks across four seasons.
Even with fellow DE Derek Wolfe slated to explore free agency, Denver owns 2017 second-rounder DeMarcus Walker and 2019 third-rounder Dre’Mont Jones as valuable DL depth. Gotsis is entirely expendable — and replaceable.
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Will Parks, DB | UFA
I know, I know: Parks is a nice backup and capable pinch-starter. He’s a fan-favorite and an excellent locker room presence. Totally get it. However, there’s no “intangibles” column on the stat sheet, not to mention Denver already found their safeties of the future in Justin Simmons (whom they’ll re-sign) and Kareem Jackson, arguably the NFL’s best duo.
I wouldn’t be opposed to Parks returning, and I’m sure Fangio would love to keep him, but the team could just as easily turn to the draft for a No. 3 S. They might also bring back UFA Dymonte Thomas or exclusive-rights free agent Trey Marshall to function in that role, at a cheaper cost.
Chris Harris Jr., CB | UFA
The Broncos’ cream of their in-house free-agent crop is also the likeliest to don a different uniform. The four-time Pro Bowler not only fell off in coverage, he griped over his salary as it became plainly obvious he’s fueled by financials — a mercenary of sorts.
Entering his age-31 campaign, Harris undoubtedly will aim to secure a lucrative long-term contract; at least one team, the Philadelphia Eagles, reportedly are ready to engage in an “aggressive” pursuit. While suitors should abound, Harris is gravely mistaken if he believes Denver will cough up the cash he desires, particularly with Simmons in line for a deserved megadeal.