With the NFL’s scouting combine opening Wednesday and free agency to follow on March 11, today marks the fourth installment of where the Denver Broncos stand at each position on the depth chart, the salary-cap commitments and where their needs are greatest.
Today: Tight ends.
Tuesday: Offensive line.
The Broncos were, without question, a three-wide receiver offense this past season, running about 73 percent of their snaps were out of a three-wide receiver set and they ran all but two snaps out of it in the Super Bowl loss.
But they lost a little versatility in their offense in that final week blowout when they made tight end Joel Dreessen a gameday inactive. In a game where they obviously could have used a little more power on offense to settle things down, the Broncos did not have that option.
Those gameday decisions are always difficult, but the Broncos kept 10 defensive backs active in uniform for the Super Bowl, including safety Michael Huff, who did not play a snap.
Overall, the Broncos' depth at tight end gives them a variety of options in the offense because of the quality of players. That includes Jacob Tamme, whose playing time took a hit with Julius Thomas’ emergence. Tamme, instead, was one of the team’s best special-teams players.
It will be a strong group again in the coming season with a potential tweak.
The Alpha: In terms of ability and potential, it’s Thomas. The former Portland State basketball player turned his first healthy season into an eye-opening Pro Bowl season. He’s a heady mix of speed, physicality and a rebounder’s knack to get the ball in a crowd. When he improves his work along the line of scrimmage, out of a three-point stance, he will be one of the toughest covers, down-to-down, the league has to offer. But in terms of maturity, work ethic and the ability to get things done, it’s Tamme, whose approach to the game is top shelf.
Salary cap: Tamme and Dreessen, who both signed before the 2012 season, lead the way. If the cap comes in at about 126.3 million for ’14, the Broncos have about 6.8 percent of their cap dollars wrapped up in the position. Tamme ($3.5 million cap figure for ’14) and Dreessen ($3.167 million) account for most of that. Thomas is still on his rookie deal, so he is a relative bargain ($741,000) and Virgil Green is at $661,236.
Pending free agents: All four were on the 53-man roster this past season are under contract through 2014. So the focus following the upcoming season will be on securing Thomas, barring injury, to some kind of long-term deal or at least putting together the kind of offer that would entice him to stay.
Who could stay: The Broncos are in a reasonably healthy salary-cap situation for the upcoming season so there is no reason to expect, at least at his point, too much change at tight end. But they will have to make a plan as to how they will allocate their dollars with Julius Thomas and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who are both set for unrestricted free agency after the ’14 season.
Who could go: Dreessen has the 12th highest cap figure on the team for the upcoming season. He also missed practice down the stretch to rest his knee -- he had two surgeries last offseason -- but was available to play despite being made a gameday inactive for all three of the postseason games.
Dreessen is the best receiver/blocker combination in the group, so the Broncos would need to have a replacement if they decide to make a salary cap move and release him.
What they like/want: The Broncos like a tight end who can catch like Thomas and block with almost equal ability.
That’s tough to find, but things didn’t go well in the Broncos’ offense when they couldn’t maintain the edges of the formation in their open sets. And while the record-setting results on offense this past season were largely out of the three-wide set, the Broncos figure to tweak some things in the playbook this offseason, including what they do in the run game.
They have to be more efficient in the power game and the tight ends certainly would be part of that.
Overall, Denver's hope is Thomas continues to develop a more well-rounded game to go with the skills the others will add to the offense. Tight ends coach Clancy Barone said about Thomas, “He’s done a lot, but he’s still got so much upside in his game overall."
Need index (1 is low priority, 5 the highest): 1
Other than any potential salary-cap gymnastics the Broncos might try with Dreessen, and there’s no guarantee they do anything, they’ve got the players who fit their offense.
Gerell Robinson, who spent this past season on the practice squad, was a college wide receiver at Arizona State the Broncos worked at tight end this past season. They also signed two tight ends -- Jameson Konz, a former linebacker at Kent State, and Cameron Morrah -- to futures contacts.
They’ll always look on the draft board if the opportunity presents itself and could bring another veteran to training camp at the position, but the Broncos have no pressing needs.