Five Homegrown Free Agents Broncos are at Risk of Losing in 2020

Zack Kelberman

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.

Follow Zack on Twitter @KelbermanNFL and @MileHighHuddle

Comments (26)
smilinassassin
smilinassassin

Wilkinson is cheap and will be valuable depth on the interior, something Denver doesn’t have, and something they would have to replace via free agency (which makes no sense) or the draft (which would like yield worse results early on).

No. 1-16
BobMorris
BobMorris

Agreed with SA on Wilkinson. The right-of-first-refusal tender is fine for a swing tackle, plus the money isn't guaranteed, meaning the Broncos could cut him with no penalty if they find another option in the draft. Or they can move Wilkinson to guard, whether as a starter or to upgrade the depth.

DKMI
DKMI

I don’t blame Harris for looking for the most money he can get. This is the end for him. He was also not drafted, and as such was initially under compensated, just like Lindsay. It’s a fault of the NFL contract rules that a guy like him would be paid less while outperforming people taken in the first round and getting many millions more. Time to go out and get what he can. NFL careers are short enough as it is. The opportunities to cash in are few.

7 Replies

Chilly303
Chilly303

Brock's an example of how going for the money without regard for anything else can set a player up, ultimately, for disappointment.

Brainco
Brainco

Totally different story with CHJ. This is his last chance to get, as Shelby called it, “generational money”. Broncos fans need to let go of one or more favorites every year. A few years ago it was TJ Ward. Then Talib. Then DT. Then Sanders. Now it’s Chris Harris. Life, and the team, goes on...

DKMI
DKMI

Brock did it early on in his career. He ultimately made less than 10% more than he would have made in Denver. He can’t be compared to Harris, who is at the back side of his career. The interesting thing with Brock is he might still be making millions had he stuck around. He might have developed into a special QB. He had the team to help him along. I guess we’ll never know.

Chilly303
Chilly303

That's nice. Malika Jackson probably thought so too, and he could've been with the Broncos for several more years making good money but chose the fat wad the Jaguars threw out there, only to get cut a few years later and not see it come to fruition. Same with Julius Thomas. He was never the same.

Chilly303
Chilly303

$13 million here or maybe as much as $15 million elsewhere, and maybe after a year not being as productive and then a cap hit, and settling for less money over 3 years. Who's to say Harris plays at a Pro Bowl level elsewhere? Sanders wanted a bigger contract and to play on a competitive team. He won't get a bigger contract.

CUBuffinTX
CUBuffinTX

The Harris thing is a simple case of results per dollars paid. Being sentimental, and looking at the past will net you more 5-11 seasons. Great GM's use the Golden Rule "pay players for what they can do, not what they have done" Thank you for the memories CHJ and good luck.

DKMI
DKMI

Exactly. That golden rule should apply everywhere. The Detroit Tigers are paying Miguel Cabrera $30M/year until he’s 40. His extension came two years before his old contract ended. He was 32. A contract that stood no chance of paying dividends to the team. This isn’t a rarity either. It’s sometimes hard to admit that a beloved player is not going to be much help going forward, but a good organization does just this.

Brainco
Brainco

Also agree with the above comments re: Wilkinson. Came to say the same. He could be a starter on the inside for us, that’s his true position.

Denverkewl
Denverkewl

Nicely analyzed Zach! Spot on...especially CHJ. It will be amazing to see what he pedals this season's tape for...maybe he was out of position, I don't know, but Elway gave him a fair offer for slot money given his age. He trades on the good ole CHJ name, I didn't recognize him last year or his attitude. Take the names away and compare him to Yaidom...

broncofan55555
broncofan55555

CHJ was an incredible find. He and Lindsay are at the top of the list of undrafted players Elway snagged. I wish him the best. He will be missed, but his financials and Denver's financials dictate a parting of the ways. I just hope that Elway can field a decent CB group. Denver has an incredible safety duo. Now, it is time to start putting together the rest of the NO FLY ZONE part 2.

Kebby77
Kebby77

Wilkenson is a descent lineman. Maybe not starter at tackle but he handles the RG position th in just fine. Keep if it's on the cheap. If you're trying to help Lock get better than get him some help. I think we should draft 2 lineman minimum, 1 being a tackle.

BeGoodBroncos
BeGoodBroncos

Really wonder how much of an impact the new cba is gonna have. Is it gonna get done business like or turn into a bunch of bs ? Hope that maurice isn't gonna ego out again but I wouldn't bet on it.

Kebby77
Kebby77

Dont necessarily agree completely. If we can get Booker and Wilkenson on the cheap why not keep them? Has Booker really been given a solid chance to succeed? And wilkenson is a solid Guard and is there in a pinch if we need a backup tackle. Again it depends on the price for me. Gotsis too may be able to improve and we may be able to keep him cheap.

broncobuckeyenomad
broncobuckeyenomad

Wilkinson and Parks are two that I'd be happy to keep at the right price. I think Wilkinson will get paid on the market as a potential starting RG though.

ezqferg
ezqferg

Why did Booker not get more snaps? He always looked like a strong explosive runner to me. I like Lindsay and Freeman, but CJ and Booker were good backs too. Broncos keep trying different backs, when most of them could do the job if you have good linemen to create truck lanes to run through.

heykyleinsf
heykyleinsf

I would probably add Shelby Harris, not because he isn't a great football player, he is. But he's going to get a deal like Malik Jackson. You all remember him? Left us for Jacksonville and a 6-year $85M contract. He was benched in year 3, then cut at the end of the season (last year's preseason). Last year he went to the Eagles and went out for the year in the first game. That's the last we've heard of him.

Maybe this is not fair to Shelby, but there definitely is a lesson here.. A lot of DLmen get stupid contracts, and a lot of teams regret them. I will bet some team gives Shelby a $100,000,000.00 contract. Shelby is great, but wow.. I hope we have more sense than to shovel him that.

Jefffrey55
Jefffrey55

Problem with letting Booker go is he is consistenly reliable and consistently a play maker in crucial 3rd downs. Wilkenson could be a good guard, but who knows? I like moving up from round two to #24 the Saints pick if Jackson is available. I don't believe he will be, but if he is Bolles can move to RG after 8 games.

Gmancan03
Gmancan03

We should keep Booker and think about cutting Freeman. Thought he was a bruiser and he goes down with arm tackles

Gmancan03
Gmancan03

Keep wilks, McGovern and shelby


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