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 in the front seven that need to be addressed. Plus, cornerback Damarri Mathis and safety Caden Sterns are currently penciled into starting roles, and the teams might want to add other options at those positions.

The biggest question is how much money the Broncos will be willing to spend on the defensive side of the ball, since the team’s offense was the worst in the NFL last season.

This list will be updated to include players who have signed with or are tied to the Broncos. You can check out the offensive version of this list here.

Here’s who the Broncos could target on the defensive side of the ball…

Defensive Line

The Broncos lost two linemen from their normal rotation when Dre’Mont Jones and DeShawn Williams hit free agency. They’ll need to patch the room up—more production from rookies Matt Hennignsen and Eyioma Uwazarike in Year 2 would help—but they don’t necessarily need top-end talent. That said, pairing DJ Jones with another stud pass rusher would be intriguing if the Broncos can foot the bill.

Javon Hargrave, 30 (Eagles) — The best interior pass-rusher on the market, Hargrave’s 11 sacks last season were the most of any free agent. They were also a career-high and expecting six or seven sacks per year might be more reasonable based on his career stats.

Dre’Mont Jones, 26 (Broncos) — After failing to come to an agreement with the Broncos, Jones figures to land among the league’s highest-paid free agents. His 5.5 sacks in the first eight games of the season put him on pace to potentially rest the market for non-Aaron-Donald interior pass rushers, but his single sack the rest of the way left some doubt. Jones has a high floor with at least 5.5 sacks in each of the past three seasons, but teams are bidding on his ceiling.

Zach Allen, 25 (Cardinals) — Vance Joseph could bring a familiar face with him from Arizona in Allen. The rush-first three-technique is coming off a career year during which he produced 5.5 sacks and tackles for loss. He also batted seven passes at the line of scrimmage, which was one off the league lead. Allen has missed about three games per season over the past three years.

Dalvin Tomlinson, 29 (Vikings) — The big-bodied nose tackle who can command double-teams and free up linebackers to make plays in the running game. He doesn’t provide much in the way of pass rush, but that’s to be expected from a 325-pounder.

David Onyemata, 30 (Saints) — After seven years in New Orleans, Onyemata is hitting the free-agent market for the first time. Onyemata missed six games in 2021 with a PED suspension but bounced back with five sacks in 2022, the second-most of his career. He’s a well-rounded defensive tackle with a strong upper body that helps him disengage when rushing the passer.

Other names to know: Larry Ogujobi (28, Steelers), Sheldon Rankins (28, Jets), A’Shawn Robinson (27, Rams), Poona Ford (27, Seahawks), Matt Ioannidis (29, Panthers).

Outside Linebackers

As of now, Randy Gregory and Baron Browning are penciled into the starting lineup. But Gregory hasn’t been able to stay healthy and the Broncos could look for somebody more proven than Browning, despite his breakout five-sack season. Behind those two, the Broncos have plenty of depth; they may need to trade somebody away even if they don’t add a rusher. Still, improving the pass rush could be a priority this offseason, especially given the veteran rushers on the market.

Marcus Davenport, 26 (Saints) — Davenport is a freak. He’s a 6-foot-6, 265-pound edge rusher who earned a 9.66 RAS score in pre-draft testing. He was a first-round pick and if you turn on his highlights, you’ll see exactly why; the man is a monster at a premium position. But Bleacher Report lists him as one of the NFL’s riskiest free agents. He’s missed at least two games in all five seasons he’s played, including five in 2020 and six in 2021. He still finished with nine sacks in 2021, but only earned 0.5 in 2022 despite playing 15 games, in part because rookies had surpassed him on the depth chart. Despite the lack of sacks, Davenport had the fourth-best pass rush win rate of any free agent in 2022 and his numbers jump to the top in true pass sets. Given Sean Payton’s ties to Davenport, the Broncos might be willing to gamble on the All-Pro-caliber talent. He might be a strange fit, since he’s rarely dropped in coverage but plays on the edge.

Yannick Ngakoue, 27 (Colts) — The former Pro Bowler has posted at least eight sacks in each of his seven seasons but still hasn’t found a long-term home. When his rookie deal expired ahead of the 2020 season, Jacksonville franchise tagged Ngakoue and traded him to the Vikings. Halfway through the season, the Vikings sent him to Baltimore. After the season, he signed a two-year, $26 million contract with the Raiders. He played the 2021 season in Vegas but was traded to Indianapolis last offseason. Now, after playing for five teams in four years, one of the league’s most consistent rushers is on the market again, and he’s tied for the most sacks of any free agent.

Jadeveon Clowney, 30 (Browns) — For the fifth time in five years, Clowney appears poised to land a one-year contract. He’s only posted more than three sacks once in the past four seasons—he had nine in 2021—but his pressure rate has remained healthy through that stretch. Clowney will provide great run defense and decent pass rush, but has missed about five games per season over the past four years.

Charles Omenihu, 25 (49ers) — Where exactly Omenihu would fit in with the Broncos is tough to tell and that’s why he’s unlikely to wind up in Denver. He’s played on the edge 85% of the time since joining the 49ers last season, and that’s where he’s been most productive thanks to his lanky 6-foot-5 frame. But he’s only dropped in coverage 11 times in his career, so he isn’t a fit for the Broncos’ outside linebacker spot. A pure 4-3 defensive end, Omenihu could be in line for a payday as he enters free agency with the best pass rush win rate of any free agent.

Arden Key, 26 (Jaguars) — Fresh off a one-year deal with the Jaguars, Key appears to be ready for a starting role. His 4.5 sacks last season were nothing special, but they came in limited work and he had the fifth-best win rate of any free agent. He also hit the quarterback more than any free agent. Key can line up anywhere in the defensive front and get to the quarterback, but he’d primarily serve as an outside linebacker in Denver.

Other names to know: Samson Ebukam (27, 49ers), Leonard Floyd (30, Rams), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (27, Texans), Justin Houston (34, Ravens), Frank Clark (29, Chiefs).

Inside Linebackers

Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton paired to anchor a top-10 run defense but, with Singleton on the market, the Broncos have decisions to make. High-upside option Jonas Griffith will be back from his injury that stopped his campaign as the opening-day starter in the first month of the season. Bringing back Singleton could give the Broncos a versatile trio, but the market is loaded with options.

Tremaine Edmunds, 24 (Bills) — At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds with a 4.54 40-yard dash, it should come as no surprise that Edmunds is a two-time Pro Bowler on his way to a massive contract. He disengages with blocks as well as anybody, misses few tackles and, for the most part, reads developing run plays well. He’s also PFF’s highest-graded cover linebacker, allowing a sub-70 passer rating when targeted in 2022.

Bobby Wagner, 32 (Rams) — At some point, Wagner’s play will fall off. As of now, he’s a nine-time reigning All-Pro middle linebacker. His 2.9% missed tackle rate was the best of any starting linebacker. He forced a sub-100 passer rating when targeted for the third consecutive season. His pressure percentage was the best of any free agent. He has the third most tackles for loss of any free agent. He can do everything. Wagner may still be the best linebacker in the NFL.

Lavonte David, 33 (Buccaneers) — The three-time All-Pro is probably nearing the end of his career but he’s still playing at a high level and will be a threat for a Pro Bowl appearance regardless of where he lands. If the Broncos want to improve in coverage against tight ends, David might be their answer.

Bobby Okereke, 26 (Colts) — Two years into his starting career, Okereke has been a jack of all trades for the Colts. He’s a solid coverage option and he has a nose for the football, as evidenced by his 151 tackles last season.

Alex Singleton, 29 (Broncos) — Expected to be a special teams player for the Broncos, Singleton was one of Denver’s top defenders in 2022. His 163 tackles are the most of any free agent, and he didn’t start the first five games of the season. He also cut his missed tackle rate in half and held opposing passers under a 100 rating when targeting him for the first time in his career.

Other names to know: TJ Edwards (26, Eagles), David Long (26, Titans), Germaine Pratt (26, Bengals), Azeez Al-Shaair, (25, 49ers), Eric Kendricks, (31, Vikings), Leighton Vander Esch (26, Cowboys), Devin Bush (24, Steelers), Denzel Perryman (30, Raiders), Quincy Williams (26, Jets).


Damarri Mathis performed admirably—especially for a rookie—during his 11 starts after Ronald Darby tore his ACL. Now, the Broncos must decide if they’re ready to roll into the season with Mathis as the starter across from Patrick Surtain II. K’Waun Williams is probably locked into the slot job, but the Broncos could add depth, competition for Mathis or a stud to replace him entirely.

Jamel Dean, 26 (Buccaneers) — At 6-foot-1, over 200 pounds and running a 4.30 40-yard dash, Dean has all of the tools to be one of the league’s best cornerbacks and he’s well on his way. His speed allows him to press in Cover 3 and run the sideline with the league’s fastest receivers. He can also play off coverage and crash quickly to make a tackle. He gives up the second-fewest catches of any free-agent cornerback on a per-snap basis and has the best passer rating in man coverage of any free-agent corner.

James Bradberry, 29 (Eagles) — Bradberry was one of the league’s top cornerbacks in 2022 when he earned his first All-Pro nod. He’s the best cornerback on the market by most metrics. No other free-agent corner allowed less than 50% of his targets to be caught. He has the best passer rating allowed of any free agent. He also spent more time in man coverage than any other free agent, which could make him a particularly good fit in Denver.

Patrick Peterson, 33 (Vikings) — Peterson’s eight-year streak as a Pro Bowler came to an end in 2018, but his 2022 campaign was one of the best of his career. He played more snaps than in any other season and his 77 passer rating allowed was the third-best of his career. His nine pass breakups were his best and his five interceptions were second. Primarily a press-man corner throughout his career, Peterson played in a zone-heavy scheme with the Vikings and was one of the least-targeted corners in the league. Ties to Vance Joseph could help the Broncos if they choose to pursue Peterson.

Cameron Sutton, 28 (Steelers) — Six years into his NFL career, Sutton is coming off a stellar season. His 15 pass breakups were the most in the NFL and he was the second-most avoided cornerback by passers of any free agent. He got better as the season wore on, with nearly 40% of the catches he allowed coming in the first three weeks. He also played the second-most snaps in man coverage of any free agent, which could make him a fit in Denver.

Byron Murphy Jr., 25 (Cardinals) — Of all the notable free-agent cornerbacks, nobody was thrown at more than Murphy in 2023. He also allowed the second-fewest yards per catch, w

Other names to know: Rock Ya-Sin (26, Raiders), Jonathan Jones (29, Patriots), Marcus Peters (30, Ravens), Sean Murphy-Bunting (25, Buccaneers).


Caden Sterns appears set to start opposite Justin Simmons as Kareem Jackson hits free agency after four seasons in Denver. But Sterns missed 12 games last year and only has five career starts, so the Broncos may look outward for a starter. New defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is likely to run a system that uses more single-high looks, which means the two safeties will no longer be interchangeable. Justin Simmons will spend more time playing deep over the middle, so the Broncos may look to pair him with a safety who is better in the box.

Jessie Bates III, 26 (Bengals) — One of the top players on the market this offseason, Bates can do just about anything you ask of him. He’s at his best sitting back deep either as a center fielder or in two-deep coverage, but he’s more than capable of stepping up into the box as well. He had four interceptions and eight pass breakups in 2022, despite being one of the least-targeted safeties in the league.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, 25 (Eagles) — Traded before the season, Gardner-Johnson can excel in just about any role you can think of. He began his career as a slot defender but wanted to move into a true safety role, probably because he knew of the wage gap between the two spots. He can play deep. He can cover from the slot. He can play in the box. He tied for the league lead with six interceptions. And he’s still only 25.

Jordan Poyer, 31 (Bills) — Just one year removed from a unanimous first-team All-Pro performance, Poyer is set to hit the market. The former seventh-round pick is one of the best safeties in the NFL and can fill the free safety or strong safety role. He has forced five turnovers in each of the past two seasons.

Vonn Bell, 28 (Bengals) — Bell played four seasons under Sean Payton in New Orleans and should be a favorite to land in Denver. He’s made his name as one of the league’s top tight end erasers. Of all safeties set to hit free agency, Bell had the best passer rating allowed in man coverage last season. He’s only missed five games in seven seasons.

Jimmie Ward, 31 (49ers) — Ward is a versatile playmaker who moved primarily to a box role in 2022. After splitting his time fairly evenly between playing free and strong safety, Ward only played four snaps deep while leading the NFL in coverage snaps in the slot by a wide margin. The cover numbers are nothing special, but he’s been PFF’s No. 2 safety in run defense in each of the past two years. He hits hard, but his speed and burst carry the load more than his sub-200-pound frame.

Julian Love, 24 (Giants) — The one-year starter is a versatile defensive back who could fit well in Denver. Love was most productive when playing as a strong safety, which allowed him to match up one-on-one with tight ends and occasionally slot receivers. He also played as a deep center fielder, but his 99.5 passer rating when targeted improved significantly to 74.5 when playing man. He also played more man coverage last year than any other free agent safety. Love could fit perfectly in a pairing with Justin Simmons and he is still trending up.

Other names to know: Taylor Rapp (25, Rams), Adrian Amos (29, Packers), Kareem Jackson (35, Broncos).


Henry was born in Columbia Falls, Montana and graduated from Columbia Falls High School in 2015. He earned bachelor's degrees in journalism and economics from the University of Montana in 2019. After graduation, he joined DNVR. He spent three years covering the University of Colorado before moving to the Broncos beat ahead of the 2022 season. Henry joined DNVR as a remote staff writer in 2017, providing support to BSN's Broncos beat reporters. He interned at DNVR headquarters in the summer of 2018 and accepted a full-time position after graduating from UM. Follow Henry on Twitter - @HenryChisholm