What No Preseason Means For Job Security Of Broncos Players On Offense

There's no preseason games and the practice squad will be larger. How could that affect the Broncos final offensive roster?
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The lack of preseason games, plus an expanded practice squad, could mean that some players thought to be on the bubble might not be, because the Broncos can afford to place some younger players on the practice squad to open the season.

However, that doesn't mean all veterans have their jobs secure, nor does it mean that a player who starts the season on the practice squad is destined to spend the entire season there.

It's not just because players could be promoted to the active roster if anyone is injured or tests positive for COVID-19. It's because a younger player could develop during the course of the season and get the chance to move to the active roster.

Meanwhile, with no limit on accrued seasons for a player to be on the practice squad, a veteran who has three accrued seasons could be placed there at some point. It's possible those with four or more go there, but not likely in most cases.

Let's examine the offensive side of the ball first, to see how the roster and practice squad might take shape.

Quarterback

Drew Lock, of course, will be the starter and Jeff Driskel is likely to be the backup. Though it's possible Brett Rypien could sneak in and take the backup job, don't bet on the Broncos cutting Driskel, because he has $1M base salary guaranteed for this season.

If Rypien doesn't claim the backup job, he's likely heading to the practice squad. A 16-player practice squad means it makes the most sense to have your third quarterback there and save a 53-man roster spot for another position.

Riley Neal isn't likely to take the backup job, but if he outperforms Rypien, he could claim a practice squad spot. But don't expect the Broncos to keep two QBs on the practice squad.

Running back

I'm projecting the Broncos to keep four running backs on the 53-man roster, meaning Royce Freeman, once thought to be on the bubble, is likely a safe bet to make the roster.

LeVante Bellamy is an intriguing undrafted rookie who could have the inside track on earning the fourth running back spot. However, don't overlook Khalfani Muhammad, who spent last season on the practice squad.

Jeremy Cox is also in the competition, though he's going to have to show a lot to get past Bellamy and Muhammad. For now, expect it to be between Bellamy and Muhammad for the active roster spot, with the other going to the practice squad.

Freeman, meanwhile, can't rest on his laurels if he makes the roster, because whoever makes the practice squad will be looking to impress.

Wide receiver

We know that Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and DaeSean Hamilton will make it. Hamilton might have been on the bubble at one point, but his game experience gives him an edge.

The fifth WR spot could be between Tim Patrick and Juwann Winfree. Patrick has more game experience, but an impressive showing by Winfree could give him the edge. Both would be likely practice squad candidates.

The sixth WR spot may come down to Diontae Spencer and Tyree Cleveland. The thinking is that the Broncos will want two players who can return punts and kicks, so the sixth WR likely joins Hamler in those duties. It's likely that the one between Spencer and Cleveland who doesn't make the roster will be a practice squad addition.

There are a host of other receivers hoping to impress, but most are likely hoping to make the practice squad, unless a surprise emerges in training camp. And no matter who makes the active roster or practice squad, it wouldn't surprise me if the Broncos call somebody up as competition continues for depth spots on the active roster.

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Tight end

There's no question that Jeff Heuerman is on the bubble, even with the rule changes. His $3M base salary doesn't become fully guaranteed unless he's on the 53-man roster for Week 1 of the regular season.

The Broncos could keep four tight ends if they go with just two QBs on the main roster. And given that the likes of Jake Butt, Andrew Beck, Troy Fumagalli and Austin Fort would come on cheaper salaries that aren't guaranteed at all, it's likely to be one of those four making the cut.

Heuerman will likely stick around for most of training camp, in case a veteran tight end is injured. But that is likely the only way he makes the final cut.

As for the younger tight ends, at least one will likely be added to the practice squad. And given that three of those tight ends have NFL experience, the Broncos could choose one of them.

Offensive tackle

For those wondering about Garett Bolles, the only way he's not making the roster is if he's traded. His $1.9M base salary is fully guaranteed, because he got all four years guaranteed as a first-round pick. Thus, the Broncos get no cap or cash relief if he's cut.

The Broncos could save cap and cash by cutting Elijah Wilkinson, because the $3.25M he gets from the second-round restricted free agent tender isn't guaranteed. But that would leave the Broncos with nobody with NFL game experience for offensive tackle depth.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the tackle position, though, it's possible the Broncos keep two on the active roster and two on the practice squad. The expanded practice squad makes that combination possible.

Thus, it wouldn't surprise if Calvin Anderson, Quinn Bailey, Jake Rodgers and Hunter Wells all remain with the Broncos in some capacity. If so, the only question is who makes the active roster.

Interior offensive line

Because the Broncos have several players who could play offensive guard or center, we'll consider both positions here.

The starting guard positions are set and there will be competition between Lloyd Cushenberry III and Patrick Morris for the starting center job. That leaves the depth positions up in the air.

It seems likely that the edge for those spots could go to players who can play both guard and center, giving the Broncos some flexibility. That might be good news for Nico Falah and Austin Schlottmann.

Of course, sixth-round pick Netane Muli holds a lot of intrigue. It's possible the Broncos could stash him on the practice squad and let him get up to speed, then promote him to the active roster during the season.

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