Elway, Broncos need their free-agency efforts to work this year

Elway uncertain about Keenum's future with Broncos (1:57)

John Elway joins Adam Schefter to discuss the acquisition of Joe Flacco and Case Keenum's future with the Broncos. (1:57)

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the Denver Broncos prepare to dive into free agency, they could use far more return on their investment than they got a year ago.

The Broncos took a largely measured approach in 2018 with a two-year, $36 million deal to quarterback Case Keenum being their big-ticket item. That’s a far cry from Peyton Manning's $96 million megadeal or when Emmanuel Sanders, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware were all signed in the opening hours of 2014's free agency.

But 2018 still stung plenty. It left a bit of a mark on the Broncos’ salary cap and leads to some lessons going into the market this time around with limited resources to do it -- as it stands right now the Broncos could have about $18 million to $20 million worth of salary-cap space once the deal for quarterback Joe Flacco hits the books on March 13.

Still, call it fate, the worst of injury luck or simply collateral damage in a 6-10 season, but most of the Broncos’ efforts in free agency a year ago simply didn’t yield the results that were hoped for.

  • Keenum is still on the roster and played all but one snap last season, but he’s already been replaced as the Broncos’ starter given the trade in place to acquire Flacco when free agency begins March 13.

  • Punter Marquette King (three years, $6 million) played in just four games, was on injured reserve for four games and wasn’t on the team for the final eight games.

  • Defensive lineman Clinton McDonald (two years, $7 million) renegotiated his contract in June, cutting his base salary, but never played a down for the Broncos after his shoulder didn't rebound from offseason surgery.

  • Safety Su'a Cravens was on injured reserve for eight games after he battled knee troubles in training camp after he had arrived in a trade, played in five before he was shelved by the former coaching staff as a game-day inactive for the final three games. He played 32.8 percent of the defensive snaps on the season.

  • Cornerback Adam Jones was signed in August after the Broncos dealt with an assortment of injuries in the secondary (one year, $1.015 million), missed time with a thigh injury, played in seven games and was released in November.

  • Cornerback Tramaine Brock (one year, $3 million) wasn’t quite as impactful as the coaches had hoped he would be as he missed four games and played 54.8 percent of the defensive snaps.

  • Jared Veldheer, acquired in a trade, started 12 games at right tackle and was a settling presence in the lineup. But he is now an unrestricted free agent and the Broncos have to decide if his injuries of the past two years are a sign of things to come.

Of that list, only Keenum and Cravens are still under contract for 2019, as the Broncos are shopping Keenum after the deal for Flacco. Cravens' future is up in the air.

“He can still have a role with this team and we’re looking forward to seeing him on the practice field when we get started and see where he’s at," head coach Vic Fangio said.

That was a sentiment GM John Elway echoed when he said Cravens would be able to “compete for a spot."

The Broncos have pressing needs on the offensive line, at cornerback, linebacker and, if Emmanuel Sanders’ comeback from surgery to repair a torn Achilles hits a bump, at wide receiver. They also don’t have a quarterback on their roster they selected in the draft.

That’s a fairly big to-do list for a team that has already missed the playoffs the past three seasons.

Asked Wednesday at the scouting combine if the Broncos would have the salary-cap flexibility to do what he wanted to when the market opens, Elway said with a laugh:

“No. ... We have enough to be able to help our football team, which is the goal, that’s not exactly everything I’d like to do, but we can still be effective and get better."