Free agency, rebuilding on the clock
By Mike Klis
The Denver Post Posted: 02/26/2009 12:30:00 AM MST
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Phillip Buchanon is one of the Broncos' free-agent targets to improve the struggling defense, but the cost of getting the veteran likely will not be cheap. Denver has more than $30 million in cap room this offseason. (Getty photo )
Minute by minute, the digital clocks in Broncoland will flip.
At 10 p.m., the TV anchors will begin reporting what is likely the most incendiary event of the day.
At the darkened headquarters of Dove Valley, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Brian Xanders probably won't be watching.
Flip. At 10:01 MST tonight, McDaniels and Xanders can begin rebuilding the disaster that was the 2008 Broncos' defense.
They can switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 or bring back the 46, for all it really matters. Football arithmetic is the one subject in which numbers by themselves never add up. Not without players they don't.
If the Broncos are going to end their three-year playoff drought, they're going to need players. And not
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just defensive players.
"There's a big focus on the defense, but to me, every player that we bring in is going to help us in some capacity," McDaniels said Friday in Indianapolis. "Our offense needs to improve. Our defense needs to improve. Our special teams need to improve, and we need to improve significantly in all three areas. We didn't make the playoffs, and there is always a reason for that. It's not all the players' fault, but we're going to try to mold the roster and make it the most competitive we can at every spot."
One offensive player the Broncos might pursue is Tampa Bay receiver Michael Clayton. The 15th draft pick in 2004, Clayton had a splendid rookie season, but he has been a disappointment since. Then again, if Clayton were coming off a Pro Bowl season, he probably would command a contract outside the Broncos' price range.
The Broncos have more than $30 million in cap room, but they also need up to eight free agents. It's why they may not be players for St. Louis cornerback Ron Bartell. Should Bartell hit the free market tonight, it may take a five-year, $40 million contract with an $18 million guarantee to get him.
This has caused the Broncos to lower their sights, possibly to Tampa Bay's Phillip Buchanon, providing he doesn't re-sign with the Buccaneers before the free-agent deadline. Not that Buchanon would come cheap.
"The goal isn't to have everybody be at a smaller salary," McDaniels said. "It's making sure to get the players there that are going to fit the system, that you've placed a solid value on them and that they perform at that level."
As the events Wednesday reminded, free agency is a fluid process. Clayton may have interested the Broncos last week, but the team may have taken another look Wednesday after such proven receivers as Drew Bennett, Joey Galloway and Laveranues Coles were released to the market.
With McDaniels bringing his spread offense from New England to the Rocky Mountains, the Broncos can no longer be caught with Glenn Martinez as one of their two healthy receivers, as was the case late in the Jacksonville game last season.
Adding a receiver could allow Eddie Royal to move to the slot position where New England's Wes Welker hauled in a combined 223 passes the past two years. That may be a too rigorous workload for Broncos' veteran slot man Brandon Stokley, who instead could utilize his versatility as a No. 4 receiver.
The Broncos also could seek a running back and backup quarterback in free agency. On defense, the Broncos must find at least one starting safety and inside linebacker. Gibril Wilson, Brian Dawkins, James Sanders, Jermaine Phillips, Mike Brown and Sean Jones are part of a strong safety class. Monty Beisel, Andra Davis and Mike Peterson are among the veteran inside linebackers.
There are many players to choose from. The recent past suggests the Broncos need their share.
Mike Klis: 303-954-1055 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Time to buy
The Broncos can begin signing free agents tonight when the NFL market opens at 10:01 p.m. MST. NFL reporter Mike Klis analyzes six free agents who could help the Broncos fill needs without blowing their budget:
Michael Clayton: WR, Buccaneers
Rookie year: 80 catches, 1,193 yards. Average of next 4 years: 31 catches, 378 yards.
Maurice Morris: RB, Seahawks
Primarily a third-down back who averaged 602 yards rushing the past three seasons.
Bryant McFadden: CB, Steelers
A starting cornerback may be the first to come off the Broncos' free-agent board.
Phillip Buchanon: CB, Buccaneers
Another option if McFadden doesn't pan out. Started 16 games last season; had two interceptions and a TD.
Mike Wright: NT, Patriots
A part-timer and overachiever would be valued as a student-teacher of 3-4 techniques.
Clark Haggans: DE-OLB, Cardinals
Former Colorado State and Steelers pass-rushing force was a desert disappointment last season.