Denver’s free-agent possibilities endless

The best part of the National Football League season — unless, of course, your team is up 30 points in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl — starts today with the opening of free agency.

It’s the Fourth of July, Christmas and opening day of big-game hunting season rolled into one.

The possibilities are endless, especially this year when the NFL salary cap borders on infinity for most teams, the Denver Broncos included.

Denver General Manager John Elway has a blank check.


Denver will have roughly $30 million in spare change to bring in talent from all parts of the globe.

Problem is some teams will have more than double that, and the impact was apparent immediately when the Indianapolis Colts, holding more than $50 million in their hands, signed the most coveted middle linebacker in D’Qwell Jackson last week.  Jackson, recently released by the Cleveland Browns, was coveted by Denver.

Players released from contracts, by the way, did not have to wait for their contracts to expire today, hence the early signing of Jackson.

But today, NFL contracts, if not stretching more years, are toast. And free agents stand grazing in the grass, looking for greener pastures.

Now what?

Only time, as the season can stretch far into summer, will tell.

But rumors are endless, and the resulting thinking (perhaps too far out of the box) is intriguing.

Think about this one:

Denver trades young backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, theoretically Peyton Manning’s replacement in another year or two, for a veteran defensive player or something resembling a first- or second-round draft choice.

What if Elway and head coach John Fox aren’t truly in love with Osweiler after his two seasons of development? What if, as has been rumored, the Houston Texans aren’t enamored enough with any of the college quarterbacks to select one with the first pick in the draft? They were reportedly interested in Matt Cassel of Minnesota, but he re-signed with the Vikings last week.

Might they be interested in Osweiler? Might the Broncos consider a trade because Osweiler may become a free agent before he is able to play regularly?

There are also other NFL squads badly in need of QB upgrades. Tampa Bay and Jacksonville come to mind.

While we’re talking offense, how about bringing in a third-down pass-receiving specialist to give Mr. Manning another option?

Darren Sproles, a noted Bronco killer in his days with the San Diego Chargers before moving on to New Orleans, was released last week by the Saints. Think he might draw a little attention when he comes onto the field?

Or, Denver might go whole hog, wait until the dust has settled in Tennessee and start negotiating with the fastest running back in the league, Chris Johnson. Less play-action passing on early downs, more hand-offs.

Want to pony up to keep wide receiver Eric Decker? Want to keep slot receiver Wes Welker at $8 million for another year?  Want to keep starting guard Zane Beadles or move center Manny Ramirez or starting tackle Orlando Franklin to his spot and go find another center and/or another tackle?

Yes, questions — and answers — galore. And that’s just on the offensive side.

Think about the defensive possibilities.

The Broncos have been going so far as to bring in middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who hasn’t played in three seasons. If nothing else, somebody on the Bronco staff is paying attention to what is out there.

How about re-signing free agent corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a necessity with Champ Bailey being released, then trading for the best corner in the game, Darrelle Revis (there might be the Tampa Bay-Osweiler connection)?

Free-agent corners are abundant. Denver could hurt Indy by signing Vontae Davis or make a big pitch for a superb cover corner in Alterraun Verner.

They could also make a big splash by signing maybe the best free agent available: Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd. But the Broncos likely will have to outbid AFC West rival San Diego, where Byrd’s father, Gill, stood out.

Rumors won’t go away about the Broncos wanting pass rushers, and they shouldn’t.

Among those available are Lamarr Houston of the Oakland Raiders, a superb defensive end who grew up in Colorado, Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings, aging but still capable of creating havoc, and the biggest prize of all, Michael Bennett of Seattle, who perhaps priced himself out of the Seahawk budget with his incredible play last season.

The season is open. The hunters are on the alert, as are the targets.

Let the bagging begin.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.


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