ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Often, after weeks of rumors and reported interest, a team’s real free-agent priorities can be seen in the opening hours of the bidding.
The Broncos made it abundantly clear Tuesday they believed tight end was a spot that needed quick work as free agency opened. Free agency had barely begun Tuesday and the Broncos already had two tight ends under contract -- one of their own in Virgil Green and one new addition in Owen Daniels -- at a position where their top three players were set to be unrestricted free agents.
Green, a seventh-round selection in the 2011 draft, is now the first draft pick made by John Elway as the team’s top football decision-maker to re-sign with the team. Green received $4.2 million guaranteed in a three-year deal that averages $2.8 million a year before incentives. Daniels got a three-year deal believed to be worth $12 million.
Those two deals together are well short of what Julius Thomas is expected to receive from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The deals also say a lot about what the Broncos want from the position and why they deemed Thomas, and his 24 touchdown receptions over the past two seasons, too expensive to pursue. The Broncos have proceeded, at least since the team and Thomas’ representatives briefly talked about a new contract this past season, with the understanding that Thomas wanted to see what the market had to offer and for good reason, given what Thomas received.
The Broncos are changing offenses. They want to run the ball with more efficiency and need tight ends who can block when it’s time to block and catch when it’s time to catch. Add that in with the price tag Thomas carried and that led to Tuesday’s events for the Broncos.
Are they right? They obviously think so and believe Green is ready to go as a guy who blocks well and occasionally catches the ball.
“We’re really thrilled Virgil’s going to be back. Virgil’s been a big part of what we do; he’s been one of those guys that’s been, not necessarily out in front of the scenes, but behind the scenes, has been a tremendous worker," said Elway, the Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager. “ … We’re really excited with what we’re going to do offensively. We really think Virgil’s going to flourish because of his strengths as a blocker, but also be more involved in the passing game."
Green has 23 career receptions and one touchdown -- on a pass from Broncos backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, no less -- but the team is betting on the potential Green can do more.
Daniels, 32, is a known commodity -- he has seven seasons with at least 40 receptions in offenses Gary Kubiak has directed, including 48 catches and four touchdowns last season with the Baltimore Ravens. But Green is the key piece in the decisions the Broncos have made at the position.
They see him as an underused, athletic player ready to do more. Green believes that as well, so much that he turned away a concerted effort from the Chicago Bears, where former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase will call plays, to stay with the Broncos.
Green said he talked to former Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen, who played for Kubiak with the Houston Texans, and former Texans linebacker Zac Diles, a high school teammate of Green, to find out more about both Kubiak as a coach and Kubiak’s playbook.
“I did go and try to learn more about what Kubiak’s offense is about," Green said. “And you see tight ends have flourished … but [the Broncos] didn’t have to do too much talking. I understand how I’m going to earn my keep on this team."
In the end, the Broncos' 2011 draft class, headlined by linebacker Von Miller and one that included both Thomas and Orlando Franklin, yielded seven players who have started games for the team. And it’s Green, the second-to-last player selected by the team that year -- the 204th player overall -- who is the first to sign his second contract with the Broncos.
“I think back all the time about how I shouldn’t be here," Green said. “A lot of seventh-round guys that were drafted in my year, a lot of fifth-round guys that were drafted in my year, are sitting at home right now. … I’ve taken advantage of opportunities to come my way. I’m not much to complain about things; I just go out and do. I feel like I earn the right to say something, I just need to keep my mouth shut and do my job.
“It is a true honor. I realize they understand how hard I work," he added. “That was always the goal for me, to always let people know at the end of the day, regardless of what’s happened, Virgil Green is going to work hard."