John Elway has been widely (and rightfully) praised for his success in courting top-line free agents like Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, all major contributors in Denver’s Super Bowl 50 championship. But Elway has also been astute in the draft, selecting cornerstone players on the title-winning defense, including the Super Bowl MVP. The good news for Elway? Those players peaked at the right time and brought home a Super Bowl title. The bad news? Many of them are becoming unrestricted free agents right at the time the Broncos are hoping to keep the NFL’s best defense together and make a run at a second title.

In a recent article by Gregg Rosenthal of, four of the top-20 unrestricted free agents heading into the 2016 NFL year are Denver Broncos. That means John Elway will have some big decisions to make, and some big checks to potentially scratch if he wants to keep those players around.

Here’s a quick rundown of each player on Rosenthal’s list, and what he has to say about them, plus my take on what’s likely to happen with that player.

1. Von Miller, Denver Broncos linebacker: Miller has been one of the best overall defensive players in the league since he was drafted. He’s as strong stopping the run as he is coming off the edge. There’s no way the Broncos will let him hit the market.

My take: Rosenthal is absolutely right. Miller should remain in a Broncos uniform not just this year with the franchise tag, but on a long-term deal. Miller said on The Late Show with James Corden that he wants to stay in Denver for the rest of his career. The only thing that could jeopardize that would be if Elway were to mishandle the contract situation with his mentor, DeMarcus Ware. Ware is owed $11.66 million in 2016. A restructure might be in order to keep guys like Miller; cutting Ware would only cost Denver $1.6 million against the cap.

8. Malik Jackson, Broncos defensive tackle: Like Norman, he’s having a career year in a contract season. It’s hard to find interior pass rushers like Jackson just entering his prime.

My take: Jackson was seemingly an unsung hero through much of the regular season, but finally started to get his due right around the time Elway signed his draft-mate, Derek Wolfe, to a contract extension. Jackson, a regular guest on Sports Stampede on Mile High Sports AM 1340 said he felt positive about remaining in Denver, but with the Super Bowl bump, there’s a good chance he could see some monster offers come his way. Denver has Vance Walker, who was solid in part-time roles this year, behind him (along with Kenny Anunike who spent much of the year on IR). Jackson is a great guy and was a vital part to this team, but there is solid young talent behind him. Don’t be surprised if Elway saves some dollars here and lets Jackson walk.

18. Danny Trevathan, Broncos linebacker: Trevathan is a three-down linebacker entering his prime that can hold up in pass coverage. We’re big fans of his skill set and he’s just the type of above-average starter that gets paid like a superstar in free agency.

My take: Trevathan was a monster this year, finishing second to Brandon Marshall in tackles, and shined his brightest in the Super Bowl where he led the team in tackles and recovered two fumbles. Consider him gone. His partner in crime, Marshall, is a restricted free agent, so expect Denver to play its hand there and look for Todd Davis to get the first shot at filling Trevathan’s shoes next year. (Don’t be surprised if Elway targets a MLB in the draft, either). Evidence of how Denver views linebackers of Trevathan’s mold is blatant. Put Trevathan among guys like Joe Mays and Wesley Woodyard – valuable, but not indispensable.

20. Brock Osweiler, Broncos quarterback: It’s hard to imagine John Elway letting his promising young starter hit the market, although this will be a tricky contract to pull off.

My take: The best and worst thing to happen to the Broncos this season was the Osweiler-Manning situation, which saw the backup deliver some gritty and surprising performances while the future Hall of Famer was sidelined with injury. Osweiler’s value skyrocketed in his seven starts, giving him much leverage on his former roommate’s dad. And with Manning’s retirement hanging in the balance (he still has one year left on his contract), Elway is in a very precarious situation. Elway has proven he can win a Super Bowl as a player. He’s proven he can win one by building a great defense. Next on his list? Prove he can win one with a quarterback he drafted. As we saw with Manning in 2015, it doesn’t take much to win a Super Bowl with this defense, so Osweiler in 2016 might be Elway’s best chance in the very near future. How much will it cost? Elway has to hope it won’t be so much that he has to say goodbye to other valuable free agents like Jackson, Omar Bolden and David Bruton. Osweiler may only be No. 20 on Rosenthal’s list, but he could be target No. 1 for teams desperate for a semi-competent quarterback.