INDIANAPOLIS -- As the NFL’s scouting combine winds down Monday, Denver Broncos general manager John Elway has spent the past week previewing the draft's top prospects and navigating the hotbed of free agency that the event has become.
As teams and player agents scrambled to carve out time in between all of the running and jumping, the business of constructing a roster was at the forefront. A clearer picture has emerged after six frenetic days of how things will go for the Broncos once free agency officially opens on March 10.
Elway said in Indianapolis wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, as has been expected for weeks, will formally get the franchise player tag by the March 2 deadline if the two sides cannot work out a long-term deal. The franchise player tender is a one-year, guaranteed contract that would be for roughly $12.9 million for wide receivers this season -- the average of the top five contracts at the franchise player's position. The Broncos want, and intend, to keep Thomas and have made him the top priority this year among their own free agents. There was every indication that Thomas will get the franchise player tag and could then sign a long-term deal shortly after free agency opens and the market for front-line receivers is set.
Tight end Julius Thomas' representatives are seeking a long-term deal with near record guaranteed money for the position, as you would expect from a player with back-to-back 12-touchdown seasons. Denver has not given any indication that it expects to go that high. No talks are currently scheduled and Julius Thomas is expected to sign elsewhere. With all three of their top tight ends scheduled to be free agents, the Broncos will scan the market as well -- former Gary Kubiak favorite James Casey is available after having been released by the Philadelphia Eagles this past week. They will give a long look to selecting one in this year’s draft class as well. The team had particular interest in the tight ends workouts on Friday.
Yes, the Broncos would like to try to get players like defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, guard Orlando Franklin and safety Rahim Moore back, but Elway outlined this past week the difficulty in trying to do a deal for those players before free agency opens. He described the conversations as: “How much you want? Oh I don’t know. How much you got? I don’t know.’’ And he also said: “Really the bottom line is until the market opens and you get out there and see what’s out there, that’s what sets the price. That’s why it’s very difficult for them to accept something before free agency starts and why it’s difficult for us -- we don’t know what the market is, it could be different for some players … . Players want all the money and they want to play where they want to play. Heck I’ve been a player I understand that, but I can’t calm the frustration because we have to do what’s best for the Broncos and also know we would love to have him back, but we’ve got to see what that number is.’’ Elway said he believed Franklin would get "a lot of interest'' from other teams and the Broncos expect him to sign elsewhere.
Elway also made it clear some of the roster gaps left behind by departing free agents will be filled by young players already on the roster who may not have gotten much, if any, playing time last season. In particular, Elway talked about the potentials of tackle Michael Schofield and wide receiver Cody Latimer many times this past week. He also called the right tackle position “a need for us,’’ that a player like Schofield could fill. With Wes Welker scheduled to be a free agent and the Broncos not expected to bring him back, Latimer will be asked to do far more in the offense. The Broncos also saw what everybody else saw this past week in Indianapolis: A deep, athletic group of wide receivers that could reach into the draft’s third day.