The countdown to free agency is on.
At 10 a.m. MST on Monday, NFL teams will have permission to contact all free agents whose contracts expired after last season. At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, teams will be allowed to officialize the deals they’ve made.
The Broncos enter free agency with about $10 million in open cap space, which is slightly more than the league average. However, a few simple moves (like moving on from Ronald Darby, Graham Glasgow and Chase Edmonds) could balloon that figure toward $40 million. If they’re willing to restructure a couple of contracts, surpassing the $50 million mark isn’t out of the question.
But it’s tough to guess just how aggressive Sean Payton will be in his first offseason as the Broncos’ head coach.
Denver has holes at right tackle, left guard and running back. Those are the three offensive positions they’re virtually guaranteed to fill in the coming weeks. The question is whether they’ll find temporary solutions at low cost or if they’ll invest big money on new players who will become core pieces.
The players below are generally listed in order of demand; the biggest additions are at the top, and the smaller moves are toward the bottom. For the most part, these are the top players on the market at each position, plus anybody who could be particularly notable to the Broncos.
This list will be updated to include players who have signed with or are tied to the Broncos. A defensive version of this list will be available this weekend.
Here’s who the Broncos could target on the offensive side of the ball…
On the roster: Javonte Williams (injured), Chase Edmonds (Broncos could save $6 million by releasing him), Tyler Badie (2022 fifth-round pick), Damarea Crocket (returning from torn ACL).
The Broncos need a running back. They might even need two.
When healthy, Javonte Williams is one of the 10 best backs in the league, but his knee injury isn’t as simple as a torn ACL. The torn PCL is much more concerning. A reasonable expectation would be for Williams to return sometime around midseason, but not quite look like himself in 2023. (You can find more stats on the injury here.)
The top backs on the market—Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard—were all franchised tagged by the respective teams, meaning they won’t hit free agency. Despite a sudden lack of superstar talent, the running back class is loaded with starting-caliber options.
Instant No. 1 running backs.
Miles Sanders, 25 (Eagles) — Fresh off a Super Bowl appearance, Sanders is set to hit the market on Monday. He led the Eagles with nearly 1300 rushing yards in 2022 and came up just shy of a five yards per carry average. Sanders served as Philly’s first- and second-down back but was rarely on the field on third downs. His speed is what separates him, and he was able to show it off behind the best offensive line in football.
David Montgomery, 25 (Bears) — For the fourth time in his four-year career, Montgomery provided 1,000 scrimmage yards to the Bears in 2022 thanks to his wiggle, vision and contact balance. Standing 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds, Montgomery finished in the league’s top 10 in broken tackles for the third time. His 3.9 yards per carry average is lackluster, but his two yards per carry before contact passes some of the blame to the offensive line. Montgomery is effective in pass protection and as a receiver.
Devin Singletary, 25 (Bills) — The three-year starter lacks home-run speed, but he’s a consistent three-down back who can do a little bit of everything. On one play he’ll put his shoulder down and fight with a linebacker for extra yards. On the next, he’ll bounce a run to the outside and turn the corner. Singletary has only missed one game in the past three seasons and has averaged a little over 1,000 scrimmage yards per season.
D’Onta Foreman, 26 (Panthers) — Foreman started four games in his first four seasons, but he stole the show in Carolina after the Panthers traded away Christian McCaffrey. The 6-foot-1, 236-pound back ran for at least 100 yards in five of the final 11 games of the year and averaged 4.6 yards per carry in that stretch. The Broncos could see him as a younger version of Latavius Murray, with a little more burst.
Jamaal Williams, 27 (Lions) — After splitting time with Green Bay’s Aaron Jones for four years, Williams signed a two-year contract with the Lions. The first was nothing special, but Williams scored a league-leading 17 touchdowns in the second. The bruiser picked up his first 1,000-yard season in 2022 and his 262 carries were the seventh-most in the league.
The next Kamara, Sproles or Bush?
Kareem Hunt, 27 (Browns) — Hunt hasn’t come close to his 2017 production when he led the league with 1,327 rushing yards and earned a Rookie of the Year Award, but that’s a lofty standard. Hunt has primarily served third-down duty over four seasons in Cleveland. He checks off enough boxes to fill an every-down role and is one of the league’s most explosive and violent runners, but his streaky injury history might lead to continued limited usage. Don’t be scared by his 3.8 yards per carry in 2022, his 1.9 yards per carry before contact give him a case for league’s unluckiest runner.
Jerrick McKinnon, 30 (Chiefs) — In his second season in Kansas City, McKinnon flourished. Only three running backs provided more receiving yards than McKinnon in 2022 and no running back came close to his nine receiving touchdowns. Working in the NFL’s highest-scoring offense probably didn’t hurt.
Damien Harris, 26 (Patriots) — Rhamondre Stevenson split the starting job with Harris for the second half of the season, ending a two-and-a-half-year run for Harris as the Patriots’ No. 1 back. The former third-round pick ran for 929 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021 but may have been a victim of one of the league’s worst-managed offenses in 2022. Harris is a between-the-tackles runner who has enough juice to take advantage of bad angles at the second level and produce explosive runs.
Rashaad Penny, 27 (Seahawks) — If not for injuries, the San Diego State product might be one of the best backs in the league. Penny took over the starting job halfway through the 2021 season and averaged 115 yards per game in his six starts. He finished the year with a league-leading 6.3 yards per carry average. The number slipped slightly to 6.1 in 2022, but the bigger story was that he missed 12 games. Penny’s combination of size and speed made him a first-round pick and he feels like a near-lock for 1,000 yards… if he can finally stay healthy.
Latavius Murray, 33 (Broncos) — The early returns after the veteran joined the Broncos were disappointing, but Murray blossomed after he became the starting back. In seven starts, he averaged more than 70 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. Can he carry that level of play into his age-33 season?
Mark Ingram, 33 (Saints) — Now three years removed from his 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown campaign with Ravens, the three-time Pro Bowler doesn’t appear to have much gas left in the tank.
Other names to know: Raheem Mostert (30, Dolphins), Jeff Wilson, Jr. (27, Dolphins), Semaje Perine (27, Bengals), Alexander Mattison (24, Vikings), Boston Scott (27, Eagles), Marlon Mack (27, Broncos).
On the roster: Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick (returning from torn ACL), Courtland Sutton, KJ Hamler, Kendall Hinton, Montrell Washington, Lil’jordan Humphrey, Freddie Swain, Jalen Virgil, Brandon Johnson.
The Broncos didn’t get enough from their receivers in 2022, but with Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton in tow, it’s tough to imagine the Broncos making any major moves to add more players to the room…. unless one of those three is traded. After scratching the bottom of the wide receiver barrel in 2022, the Broncos may want more proven depth this time around.
No. 1 Wideouts
Every-down weapons, who could take the top job for their new team. The Broncos probably aren’t interested, unless they trade away part of their Big 3.
Odell Beckham Jr., 30 (Free Agent) — OBJ was one the game’s best receivers for the first half-decade of his career, posting four 1,000-yard seasons in his first five with a torn ACL in the other. Since then, Beckham has fallen off. He’s participated in two regular seasons, one that was injury-plagued and another that finished with less than 600 yards. Extrapolated across a regular season, Beckham’s Super Bowl run with the Rams was on a 1,200-plus-yard and eight-touchdown pace. A torn ACL in the Super Bowl sidelined him for the entire 2022 campaign.
Allen Lazard, 27 (Packers) — The three-year starter has a surprising buzz around his name entering free agency. He has the skill set to be a high-volume possession receiver, and his 6-foot-5, 227-pound frame forces defenses to respect the deep ball, but results have been modest. His 788 yards in 2022 were easily the best of his career. He caught 14 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Robert Woods, 30 (Titans) — The Titans released Woods to salvage $12 million in cap space, following a 53-catch, 527-yard season in which Woods played every game. He surpassed the 1,100-yard mark in 2018 and 2019, and was on pace to do so again in the nine games he played in 2021 before a season-ending injury.
Michael Thomas, 30 (Saints) — Will the two-time first-team All-Pro be available three years removed from his NFL Offensive Player of the Year campaign? Probably, but what his market will look like is anyone’s guess. Thomas had three touchdowns in the first two games of the 2022 season, but was injured in the third. He only played seven total games in the two previous seasons. If Thomas hits the market, a reunion with Sean Payton is the most-likely outcome.
Tim Patrick was hyped as a “big slot” option before his torn ACL last offseason. Jerry Jeudy has been remarkably efficient in the slot. But if the new staff has other plans for those two, a couple of reliable options are on the market.
Jakobi Meyers, 26 (Patriots) — Placing the receiver likely to land the biggest contract this offseason in the slot category might be disrespectful, but 60% of his snaps and 70% of his routes came from the interior in 2022. Meyers has provided at least 800 yards in each of the past two seasons. He’s also finished in the top 15 in slot production in both of those seasons, primarily behind the league’s biggest names at receiver.
JuJu Smith-Schuster 26 (Chiefs) — The hype was just a little too high after Smith-Schuster’s 1,426-yard sophomore campaign in 2018. He put up 831 yards on 97 catches in 2020 but his other two seasons with an aging Ben Roethlisberger left plenty to be desired. In one year with the Chiefs, Smith-Schuster was the team’s second option behind Travis Kelce and posted 933 yards.
KJ Hamler has played well on a per-snap basis, but 10 appearances in the last two seasons just aren’t enough. The Broncos may look for a more consistent speed option.
Darius Slayton, 26 (Giants) — Three 700-yard seasons in four years is solid production for a third receiver. Putting up those numbers in an offense that was anemic for the majority of that timeframe is even more impressive. Slayton, who ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, could be the speed threat to open up the Broncos’ offense, and he’s no slouch working underneath either.
Mecole Hardman, 24 (Chiefs) — Hardman is a prototypical speed guy. He’s either taking a jet sweep behind the line of scrimmage or he’s running deep. With Tyreek Hill out of the picture in 2022, Hardman had a chance to graduate into Hill’s role in the Kansas City offense. Instead, Hardman fell just shy of the 300-yard mark while missing half of the team’s games. He’s a big-play threat but has never broken the 700-yard mark while playing inside the league’s most potent offense.
Other names to know: Julio Jones (34, Buccaneers), Jarvis Landry (30, Saints), Nelson Agholor (29, Patriots), DJ Chark (26, Lions).
On the roster: Greg Dulcich, Albert Okwuegbunam, Hunter Thedford.
Greg Dulcich was electric when he was on the field in his rookie season, but there’s room for more talent in the tight ends room. The Broncos could look for an every-down stud, or they could set their sights on a solid No. 2. Regardless, the Broncos need more tight ends, even if that means bringing back a couple of free agents from last year’s squad.
Dalton Schultz, 26 (Cowboys) — Entering his prime, Schultz checks just about every box for a tight end; he’s consistently healthy, he’s a good blocker and he’ll hover around the top-10 receiving tight ends year in and year out. He’ll be one of the league’s highest-paid tight ends next season.
Mike Gesicki, 27 (Dolphins) — Gesicki’s lack of blocking ability made him a tough fit for Mike McDaniel’s offense in Miami. Now he may come at a discount, despite posting back-to-back 700-yard seasons in the two previous years. Nearly 80% of Gesicki’s snaps over the past three seasons have come in the slot or out wide.
Austin Hooper, 28 (Titans) — Hooper is more receiver than blocker, but he’s capable of fulfilling any and all tight end duties. Three years removed from his back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances, Hooper settled into the No. 2 role in Tennessee this season. He’s likely to find a starting gig this offseason.
Other names to know: Hayden Hurst (29, Bengals), Robert Tonyan (28, Packers), Eric Saubert (28, Broncos), Eric Tomlinson (30, Broncos), Andrew Beck (26, Broncos).
On the roster: Garett Bolles, Isaiah Prince, Casey Tucker, Christian Dilauro.
Garett Bolles will be back at left tackle by offseason workouts, but right tackle might be the biggest hole on the roster. Quinn Bailey—who played 50 snaps at right tackle—is the only player who made an appearance at the position in 2022 who is currently under contract.
In theory, Bolles might be a better fit on the right side of the line but he’s played exclusively on the left in his six-year career. Assuming no change is made, the Broncos will need to find a starting right tackle and a backup this offseason.
Orlando Brown Jr., 26 (Chiefs) — The clear top tackle available, Brown is unlikely to reset the market but he could come close. Brown has the versatility to play on either side of the line but has made his preference to hold down the left tackle spot clear. At 6-foot-8 and 340 pounds, Brown has the talent to be one of the league’s best linemen. Despite four straight Pro Bowl appearances, there’s still some room for growth, primarily in pass protection. He allowed the most pressures of any tackle in 2022, but playing a few extra postseason games factors into that equation. Neither does playing with a quarterback that likes to hold onto the ball. And neither does being trusted to play on an island without any help.
Mike McGlinchey, 28 (49ers) — The top right tackle on the market, McGlinchey has lived up to his first-round status. He’s a solid pass blocker at worst, and his work against Maxx Crosby in Week 17 in particular should intrigue the Broncos. McGlinchey made his name as one of the NFL’s best run-blocking right tackles. He’s a staple of the 49ers’ wide-zone running game, thanks to the mobility afforded by his 6-foot-8, 310-pound frame. Working with George Kittle on double teams makes his job a little easier.
Kaleb McGary, 28 (Falcons) — The Falcons might be kicking themselves for not picking up McGary’s fifth-year option. McGary is set to hit the market and his price tag should be higher than the $13.2 million the Falcons could have spent on him. The decision made sense at the time, but now McGary is coming off a revelation of a season, during which he helped lead the league’s No. 3 rushing attack from his right tackle spot. While he is a one-year wonder, his work against TJ Watt (primarily working on an island) makes you wonder if he could be a late-blooming star.
Jawaan Taylor, 25 (Jaguars) — If you need a durable pass protector for your quarterback’s blind side, Taylor might be your guy. He’s coming off a stellar year protecting Trevor Lawrence, but his previous work was nothing special and he still doesn’t provide much in the running game, so sticking him on the right side would be a bad idea. The youngest starter on the market, Taylor’s best could be yet to come.
Donovan Smith, 29 (Buccaneers) — An eight-year starter in Tampa Bay, Smith was released by the Bucs to save $10 million as they try to get back under the salary cap. The Penn State product only missed six games in eight seasons, four of which came in 2022. In the 14 games that he played in 2022 (including the playoffs), Smith led the NFL with 100 penalty yards and finished second with 12 total penalties. He hadn’t had a similar season since 2016. Smith is a pure left tackle, who will start for whichever team he signs with.
Cam Fleming, 30 (Broncos) — A late addition to the Broncos’ roster in August, Fleming was the Broncos’ opening-day starter at right tackle, and finished the year with 15 total starts with half on each side of the line. He gave up the most sacks of any Broncos’ lineman, but that’s at least partially a function of spending more snaps on the field than any other offensive player. He’s a stout run blocker, who could fight for another season as the Broncos’ starting right tackle.
Other names to know: Taylor Lewan (31, Titans), Andrew Wylie (28, Chiefs), Kelvin Beachum (33, Cardinals), Calvin Anderson (26, Broncos), Billy Turner (31, Broncos).
On the roster: Lloyd Cushenberry III, Luke Wattenberg.
Lloyd Cushenberry III took over as the Broncos’ center as a third-round rookie in 2020 and has held the job ever since. He rarely lets defenders by him in pass protection, but his anchor isn’t strong enough to hold his ground and he wasn’t mobile enough to fit the Broncos’ zone-running scheme last season. He hit injured reserve halfway through last season (he’d only missed one start previously in his career) and the Broncos chose not to activate him even when he was healthy late in the year, as Graham Glasgow had performed admirably in his place.
Now entering the final year of his contract, Cushenberry is the Broncos’ starting center but an upgrade isn’t out of the question. Competition or insurance might not be a bad idea.
Ethan Pocic, 27 (Browns) — The LSU grad took over as the Seahawks’ center in 2020, after three years primarily spent on the bench. The next offseason, Russell Wilson publicly asked the Seahawks for better pass protection. Seattle extended Pocic on a one-year $3 million deal. After the season, he took a minimum deal to join the Browns and exploded into the upper echelon of NFL centers. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Pocic can hold his ground against the league’s biggest nose tackles and he can extend to the second level. That’s a rare combination and he should be in line for a major raise.
Connor McGovern, 29 (Jets) — Where would the Broncos’ offense be if they hadn’t let McGovern walk? We’ll never know. But there’s no doubt they wish they gave McGovern the three-year, $27 million deal that’s about to expire. McGovern started all but two games in that stretch and, while he didn’t set the world on fire, he’s grown into one of the league’s better centers. He lacks elite size and strength but his mobility and quickness allow him to gain leverage easily and create running lanes.
Garrett Bradbury, 27 (Vikings) — A former first-round pick, Bradbury has underwhelmed despite being a worthy starting center. He’s more mobile than he is strong, which makes him a better fit for the previous Broncos’ regime than the current one. Still, if the Broncos think they need a trustworthy starter, Bradbury could be their guy.
Bradley Bozeman, 28 (Panthers) — Bozeman started the past three seasons at various positions in the interior of the Ravens’ line. He joined the Panthers last offseason and opened the season on the bench, but was a crucial piece of Carolina’s running game in the second half of the year. Given the league’s dearth of offensive line talent, Bozeman is probably in line for a starting job somewhere. If not, he could compete with Lloyd Cushenberry in Denver.
Other names to know: Rodney Hudson (33, Cardinals), Jake Brendel (30, 49ers), Graham Glasgow (30, Broncos).
On the roster: Quinn Meinerz, Graham Glasgow (Broncos could save $10 million by releasing him), Will Sherman.
No Broncos lineman is safer in his role than right guard Quinn Meinerz, who is among the league’s most physical linemen. But who will play left guard is anybody’s guess. Dalton Risner has held the job since being chosen in the second round of the 2019 draft, but now he’s on the open market and the Broncos don’t have an in-house replacement.
Ben Powers, 26 (Ravens) — Listed at 6-foot-4 and 338 pounds, Powers (as you’d expect) isn’t the most mobile lineman and that can make it tough for him to extend to the second level, but if he gets a defender in his sights, there’s a good chance that defender will wind up on the ground. SIS says Powers had the second-best run-block win rate in the NFL last season, while PFF ranked him in the bottom tier of run blockers. Powers’ signature stat is that he didn’t allow a sack last season. He was also only called for one penalty.
Isaac Seumalo, 29 (Eagles) — How much did Seumalo benefit from playing on the best line in the league? There’s no telling, but he was one-fifth of the unit and deserves his due. He blends mobility with functional strength as well as any other guard in this class. Seumalo’s downfall: injuries. He only played three games in 2021. He played nine games in 2020. His price tag will fall because of those injuries and he could be a great value if he stays healthy.
Dalton Risner, 27 (Broncos) — Over his four years in Denver, Risner was very good in pass protection but the run-blocking came and went. He’ll be one of the top guards on the market and there’s a good chance the Broncos will downgrade at the position if they let him walk. Risner started 62 of a possible 66 games as a Bronco.
Nate Davis, 26 (Titans) — Davis has been an important part of the Titans’ power-running system since 2019, when he was a third-round pick. He’s very mobile for his size and defenders struggle to disengage from his blocks. His shorter arms make pass protection challenging but he’s taken steps in that regard, as well. You might remember the move Nik Bonitto threw at him in November…
Davis could still be ascending, but injuries will scare teams away from an eight-figure salary. He missed five games in 2022 and three games in 2021.
Gabe Jackson, 31 (Seahawks) — Jackson was a mainstay on the Raiders’ offensive line for seven seasons, but his play has fallen off during his two years in Seattle, where he started 31 of a possible 34 games. On Thursday the Seahawks released Jackson to save $7 million. The veteran will be a cheap target who could be a steal if he has any juice left in the tank. A backup plan would be necessary.
Other names to know: Will Hernandez (27, Cardinals), Andre Dillard (27, Eagles), Justin Pugh (32, Cardinals).