It’s safe to say yesterday was simply the calm before the storm. Because after a relatively quiet first day of free agency, a 24-hour period that saw the Broncos sign an offensive guard (Louis Vasquez) and re-sign one of their own defensive tackles (Kevin Vickerson), Denver jumped feet first into the deep end of the NFL’s offseason spending spree.
Denver made news on four fronts:
1. Stewart Bradley – After a stellar career at Nebraska, Bradley enjoyed success during his first four season in the NFL, posting good years with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2007-10, including a career high 108 tackles in 2008. Those seasons landed the 6-foot-4, 259-pound middle linebacker a five-year, $30 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals prior to the 2011 season. But things never worked out in the Valley of the Sun, in part because Bradley was asked to play in a 3-4 defensive scheme, as opposed to the 4-3 in which he is more comfortable. He won’t have that problem in Denver. Jack Del Rio will throw him into the middle of the Broncos defense, where he’s expected to compete with two younger players – third-year man Nate Irving and second-year pro Steven Johnson – for the starting job. John Elway announced the signing via Twitter, where he said: “Agreed to terms on a 1-yr deal with LB Stewart Bradley. Solid addition who adds competition to our linebacker unit.”
2. Wes Welker – Before the news of Bradley’s signing had barely made news, rumblings began surfacing that the Broncos were in contention for the best slot receiver in the NFL, Wes Welker. During his six seasons in New England, the wide out posted monster numbers. With 672 receptions during than span, he averaged a whopping 112 grabs per year. That’s by far the most in the league since 2007. During that time, Welker also became the first player in NFL history with five 110-catch seasons. The Broncos now have three players on their roster – Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker – who posted 1,000-yard seasons in 2012, giving Peyton Manning an embarrassment of riches when it comes to passing options. “You try to surround your quarterback with weapons,” Broncos head coach John Fox said after the news of Welker’s signing broke. “I think we took a big step in signing Wes Welker.”
3. Terrance Knighton – Jack Del Rio loves big, bulky defensive tackles. He know has two of them in Denver. A day after re-signing 330-pound Kevin Vickerson, the Broncos added another 330-pound behemoth in Knighton. But size isn’t the only thing Denver’s defensive coordinator liked about Knighton; he also liked his game, something he saw firsthand when he was his head coach in Jacksonville for all of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, as well as part of 2011. The 26-year-old defensive tackled started 50 games in Jacksonville, recording 150 solo tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, one interception, nine passes defensed and three forced fumbles during his time with the Jaguars. He inked a two-year deal with Denver and figures to see plenty of action in the middle of the Broncos defensive line, where Del Rio saw great success with John Henderson and Marcus Stroud – to other wide bodies – paired at defensive tackle.
4. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – The Broncos capped their day by inking a cornerback, a position they were rumored to be targeting all along. Earlier in the day, word surfaced that Denver was interested in former Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Apparently, the sources just had the wrong Philadelphia DB, as Denver with with Rodgers-Cromartie instead. The Broncos inked the 26-year-old former first-round pick to a one-year contract, bringing him in to play opposite Champ Bailey. The move will allow Denver to keep Chris Harris as their cover man in the slot, something they desperately wanted to do. Rodgers-Cromartie spent his first three NFL seasons in Arizona (2008-10), where he helped the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in 2008 and earned a Pro Bowl invitation in 2009. He was sent to Philadelphia as part of the Kevin Kolb trade, where he never quite found his comfort zone. Of his 16 career interceptions, 13 were recorded during his time in Arizona.
The signings weren’t the only Broncos-related news on the free agency front. Headlines around the rest of the league also impacted Denver.
Running Back – Several media outlets have been reporting that Denver is in the market for someone new to put in the backfield behind Peyton Manning. But on Wednesday, two of the leading candidates signed elsewhere. Shonn Greene inked a deal with the Tennessee Titans, while Rashard Mendenhall signed a contract with the Arizona Cardinals. That leaves former St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson as the only rumored possibility still on the market. Given that Jackson voided the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $7 million in 2013, to become a free agent, he’s likely to expensive for Denver. The Broncos figure to stick with Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman.
Defensive End – The four players the Broncos were rumored to have in mind if Elvis Dumervil didn’t accept a pay cut remain on the market. Neither Dwight Freeney (formerly of the Colts), Michael Bennett (Buccaneers), Matt Shaughnessy (Raiders) or Osi Umenyiora (Giants) signed on Wednesday. That means Denver is still in a strong negotiating position with Dumervil. The Broncos have until 2:00 p.m. (MT) to decide whether to cut the defensive end or guarantee his $12 million for 2013, and they apparently intend to use every minute their allowed in order to make the decision.
Day one is in the books, but day three (and beyond) of free agency is right around the corner. Who knows what will happen next.
So stay tuned…
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