Can the Denver Broncos further improve their special teams in 2024?

Henry Chisholm Avatar
February 21, 2024

Welcome to State of the Team, where we’ll look back at the 2023 Denver Broncos and what could be in store in 2024.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll go position-by-position through the Broncos roster.

Next up: special teams.

Let’s dig in.

Key Broncos Special Teamers Under Contract

Tremon Smith, 27 — The Broncos brought in a veteran special teams ace and Smith lived up to the hype. He would have been considered for a Pro Bowl spot for his work as a gunner if not for a couple of penalties.

Delarrin Turner-Yell, 24 — Turner-Yell ranked third on the team in special teams snaps and tied for the team lead in special teams tackles.

Drew Sanders, 23 — The rookie linebacker carved out a consistent role for himself in everything but the field goal game.

Riley Moss, 23 — Until he earns a larger role on defense, Moss is a core special teamer thanks to his open-field speed. In the second half of the season, Moss was one of the AFC’s top gunners.

Riley Dixon, 30 — Dxon’s numbers were a step above his career averages, but they were a tick below his production with the Rams in 2022. PFF rated him 17th out of 32 starting punters.

Mitchell Fraboni, 27 — Fraboni ranked second among NFL longsnappers with six tackles in 2023. He also forced a fumble.

Marvin Mims Jr., 21 — The Broncos’ rookie returner made the Pro Bowl in his first NFL season. Mims would have led the NFL in punt return average if he’d returned three more punts, the minimum number to qualify. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

Key Broncos Free Agent Special Teamers

Justin Strnad, 27 — Strnad led the Broncos in special teams snaps for the second consecutive season. He also tied for the team lead in special teams tackles.

Michael Burton, 32 — Burton was a Pro Bowl alternate at fullback and a crucial piece of the Broncos’ special teams.

Wil Lutz, 29 — The Broncos’ kicker started slowly, missing a field goal and an extra point in Denver’s one-point loss to the Raiders in their season-opener. Lutz bounced back, making 88.2% of his kicks. That’s better than his career average, and he ranked 13th of 33 qualified kickers.

2023 Grade: A

The Broncos invested significant resources into their special teams last offseason—creating a coaching trio of Mike Westhoff, Ben Kotwica and Chris Banjo to lead the way—and they reaped the rewards during the season.

They beat their opponents in nearly every statistic, including field goal percentage, kick return average and punt return average.

Rick Gosselin ranked the Broncos’ special teams unit the seventh-best in the NFL in 2023. The last time they finished in the top 20 was 2016, when they were 19th.

Rookie wide receiver Marvin Mims was the Broncos’ special teams star, earning a Pro Bowl bid as the AFC’s top return specialist.

But Mims wasn’t the Broncos’ only stud.

Tremon Smith and Riley Moss formed one of the league’s better gunner duos. Veterans like Justin Strnad and PJ Locke continued to fill crucial roles.

The Broncos weren’t perfect, though.

Punter Riley Dixon ranked 23rd out of 32 starting punters with an average boot of 46.3 yards. He ranked near the middle of the pack in touchbacks and punts downed inside the 20.

With a little more production in the punting game, the Broncos could compete for the best special teams in the NFL next season.

The Big Question: How much are the Broncos willing to pay Wil Lutz?

With their punter, returner, and long snapper already under contract for 2024, the big question for the Broncos is whether they’ll retain kicker Wil Lutz.

Lutz signed a five-year, $20.5 million contract with the Saints before the 2019 season. New Orleans traded him to Denver before the 2023 season, the final year of the contract.

Lutz’s $4.05 million average salary ranked 11th among NFL kickers last year, but Denver might be able to bring him back at a slight discount this time around.

Lutz had a fine season, maybe one of his best, but of the nine starting kickers whose contracts expired after the season, Lutz ranked sixth in 2023 field goal percentage. Unless some of the older kickers retire, there shouldn’t be a bidding war for Lutz’s services.

Given the Broncos’ salary cap situation, every dollar counts. Lutz will probably cost about $4 million again in 2024. A younger kicker would do the job for a six-figure salary. Bringing Lutz back should be a valuable investment, but if his rate increases, the Broncos could look elsewhere.

Salary Cap Implications

We aren’t talking big bucks here. It’s just special teams.

But the Broncos could cut costs if they wanted.

The biggest savings would come from releasing Tremon Smith, which would save the Broncos $2.5 million. Remember that they would need to spend some of that money to bring in a replacement on the 53-man roster.

The Broncos could save $1.7 million by moving on from Riley Dixon, but they would probably spend that much money or more to replace him.

Potential Additions

We’re focusing on kickers here because that’s the apparent hole in the special teams lineup.

Ka’imi Fairbairn, 30, figures to be the top kicker on the market after hitting 96.4% of his kicks last season.

Despite being 36, Greg Zuerlein hit more than 90% of his kicks for the third time in his 12-year career.

At 39, Nick Folk is even older than Zuerlein, but he led the NFL in field goal percentage in 2023.

Other starters like Brandon McManus, 32, Chase McLaughlin, 27, Joey Slye, 27, and Greg Joseph, 29, are also on the market.

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