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Published on 02/25/2011 at Fri Feb 25 12:19.
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Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh #90 of the Detroit Lions battles the blocking of offensive tackle Ryan Harris #74 of the Denver Broncos during preseason NFL action at INVESCO Field at Mile High on August 21, 2010 in Denver, Colorado.  (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Harris during the 2010 preseason. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Now that Champ Bailey is under the fold for another four years, the Broncos can begin looking at their other players set to hit the free agent market.

The remaining crop of would-be market-hitters are only a handful deep, and none are of the “can’t live without them” variety, but it’s still worth examining each player’s case. So that’s what we’ll do: we’ll take a look at their status, their expected contributions should they remain a Bronco in 2011, and finish up each with our verdict on what the Broncos should do.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Ronald Fields

Ronald Fields
Pos: Defensive Tackle
Age: 29
Years with Broncos: 2
2010 Status: Backup NT

Ronald Fields was originally signed to be the guy in the middle of the Broncos’ reorganized 3-4 defensive formation. His ascension to starter, driven by then-D.C. Mike Nolan, was short-lived after Nolan left and the Broncos brought in Jamal Williams last offseason. Fields and Williams largely split reps, and there wasn’t a great difference in production between the two (neither were very good). Both he and DT Marcus Thomas are set to hit free agency, but Thomas has the edge in the age department, and the Broncos are surely looking to add defensive line talent in the draft.

The Verdict: Let him hit the market.

Conditionally-Restricted Free Agents

This group of free agents consists of players who will be Restricted Free Agents as the CBA negotiations stand now. If a deal between the owners and union is reached, they would become Unrestricted Free Agents.

Ryan Harris

Ryan Harris
Pos: Offensive Tackle
Age: 25
Years with Broncos: 4
2010 Status: Part-time starter

The biggest name of the bunch, Ryan Harris is a bit of an enigma. Harris had a very promising 2008 campaign — his first real action in the NFL — but has struggled since. Part of his struggles are purely injury-related, but part of them could be tied to the change in scheme under Josh McDaniels (which may be why McDaniels reportedly tried to trade him last offseason). With the Broncos returning to more zone-blocking looks under John Fox, would a healthy Harris return to form?

The Verdict: Harris is worth keeping for at least another year. Add depth for competition, but keep the young player who had a near-Pro Bowl start to his career.

Marcus Thomas

Marcus Thomas
Pos: Defensive Tackle
Age: 26
Years with Broncos: 4
2010 Status: Backup

Marcus Thomas may be the best cheap option the Broncos have when it comes to maintaining some semblance of depth and continuity on the defensive line, especially if Jamal Williams is released before his hefty contract hits the books. The backflipping crowd-pleaser has had an up-and-down career in Denver, on and off the field, but is still a viable backup.

The Verdict: Keep Thomas, especially if Williams is released.

Laurence Maroney

Laurence Maroney
Pos: Running back
Age: 26
Years with Broncos: 1
2010 Status: Backup

The trade for Laurence Maroney might carry the most stench of any of Josh McDaniels reeking personnel moves. Early in the 2010 season, with injuries mounting, the Broncos traded a fourth round draft pick for Maroney’s services only to use him in all of four games. He underwhelmed, severely. His recent weapons charges in St. Louis all but guarantee his tenure in Denver will be short-lived, especially with DeAngelo Williams on the market.

The Verdict: Adios, senor.

Kevin Vickerson

Kevin Vickerson
Pos: Defensive End
Age: 28
Years with Broncos: 1
2010 Status: Part-time starter

Kevin Vickerson has made a career of living on the NFL bubble. After five years of practice squads and injured reserve lists and gameday inactive lists with the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans, Vickerson made his first real breakthrough into live game action with the Broncos in 2010. By the end of the year, he was starting at DE, which should tell you something about the state of the Broncos’ defensive personnel in 2010.

The Verdict: Vickerson is worth keeping around at an affordable contract, but it’s difficult to objectively glean his value when his only starting experience came while with the worst defensive unit in the NFL. He’s a bubble player, so it depends on how impressed the new regimes was with him.

Kyle Eckel

Kyle Eckel
Pos: Fullback
Age: 29
Years with Broncos: 0
2010 Status: Injured Reserve

Who? It’s ok, we had to look him up as well. Kyle Eckel was signed by the Denver Broncos on June 4, 2010. He was placed on Waived/Injured two weeks later and subsequently placed on Injured Reserve.

The Verdict: Let him hit the market.

Restricted Free Agents

The Broncos can match any contract offer a team makes to these players. Their status is not affected by the CBA.

Matt Prater

Matt Prater
Pos: Kicker
Age: 26
Years with Broncos: 3
2010 Status: Starter

I’m a paranoid guy. Poison pills worry me. I fear some team will fall in love with Prater, offer him a reasonable-yet-back-loaded contract, but include some ridiculous clause about kicking in snow or high altitude that will prevent the Broncos from matching the offer. These “poison pill contracts” had their heyday around 2006 and 2007, but they were never resolved, and it’s still something that lingers in the back of my mind — especially since Matt Prater has been underrated, even fantastic.

The Verdict: Top priority at this point. Get Prater locked up, even to a long-term deal.

Wesley Woodyard

Wesley Woodyard
Pos: Inside Linebacker
Age: 24
Years with Broncos: 3
2010 Status: Part-time starter; Special Teams captain

Last but certainly not least, Wesley Woodyard. Fan favorite, team leader, dynamic player who fills multiple roles, and a special teams captain one year from entering the league undrafted. Woodyard’s a good-guy in the community too, winning the Denver media’s nod for Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2010. But, physically, he doesn’t “fit” really well anywhere defensively for the Broncos (the main reason he went undrafted): he’s slated at 222 lbs., right between the 200-lbs. range you’d like to see in a safety and the 250-lbs. range you’d like from a linebacker.

The Verdict: Depends on a lot of things, but Woodyard is the Broncos’ best special teams player. We’d like to see him stay in Denver.

Agree? Disagree? Find any corrections on any of these players? Your thoughts on our free agents list in the comments.

  • http://www.broncotalk.net Josh Temple

    Vickerson impressed the hell out of me for a guy that came in after the season was under way being a “bubble guy”. I think he is better suited to a 3-4 but if he can be had cheap he's more than worth keeping around. He could at least add depth to our DT unit or play DE on run down and crucial short yardage situations.

  • http://nation.theorangepage.com/blog Ian Henson

    I really like Vickerson as well. Didn't Josina Anderson have a Vickerson quote saying that the Broncos were talking contract with him?

  • http://nation.theorangepage.com/blog Ian Henson

    Disagree that Woodyard is the best special teams player think that if I had to choose between him and Cassius Vaughn, I'd go with Vaughn.

    I like Woodyard, really like his story, but there's just something missing… He's good as a backup, but almost a liability when playing defense.

    Maroney is gone, I highly doubt the Broncos even take calls from his agent at this point.

    I'd re-sign Ryan Harris with the quickness, he fits perfectly and although he is an injury concern he's no more of an injury concern than a Champ Bailey or Andre Goodman. His upside is far too high.

    Ronald Fields is also a bit of a headache, but we're better with him than without him (unless there's just something that I don't know about). When he was playing the Broncos were a better front seven in 2009.

  • 5280

    i agree ian. except id rather take macus thomas over vickerson. id like to see him in a 4-3 again. i think keeping ryan harris is just obvious.. to much up side to let go of him. maroney can bite it! hes worthless. to much side to side dancing. i never saw anything worth keeping in woodyard. pratter has a good leg, but with him, i think it comes down to whos more of a priority. a kicker, a DL, or a OL.

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  • Paradisimo

    Aren't the Broncos planning on slapping a 2nd round tender on Prater? No way any other team is going to give up a 2nd round pick for a kicker. Of all the free agents I would put my money on Prater being back next year and for years to come.

  • CJ

    http://espn.go.com/blog/afcwes

    Hope we sign Atogwe

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/KPP33MCCNMXVZNP2ON4S2QFEGA Brian

    vickerson is a horrible player. i never seen him make a nice play and theirs a reason he was always on the nfl bubble. cause hes not a playmaker. i saw countless penality flags thrown on the behalf of the pea brain. please send him packing. keep woodyard hes smart, makes plays and can play any linebacker postion. keep prater and ryan and let the rest go!

  • http://www.broncotalk.net Josh Temple

    Vickerson impressed the hell out of me for a guy that came in after the season was under way being a “bubble guy”. I think he is better suited to a 3-4 but if he can be had cheap he's more than worth keeping around. He could at least add depth to our DT unit or play DE on run down and crucial short yardage situations.

  • http://nation.theorangepage.com/blog Ian Henson

    I really like Vickerson as well. Didn't Josina Anderson have a Vickerson quote saying that the Broncos were talking contract with him?

  • http://nation.theorangepage.com/blog Ian Henson

    Disagree that Woodyard is the best special teams player think that if I had to choose between him and Cassius Vaughn, I'd go with Vaughn.

    I like Woodyard, really like his story, but there's just something missing… He's good as a backup, but almost a liability when playing defense.

    Maroney is gone, I highly doubt the Broncos even take calls from his agent at this point.

    I'd re-sign Ryan Harris with the quickness, he fits perfectly and although he is an injury concern he's no more of an injury concern than a Champ Bailey or Andre Goodman. His upside is far too high.

    Ronald Fields is also a bit of a headache, but we're better with him than without him (unless there's just something that I don't know about). When he was playing the Broncos were a better front seven in 2009.

    With Thomas, I don't really know… Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice… Let him test the open market and see that the Broncos are going to actually play football (if in fact they are). It's not like he's a veteran in the system or anything.

  • 5280

    i agree ian. except id rather take macus thomas over vickerson. id like to see him in a 4-3 again. i think keeping ryan harris is just obvious.. to much up side to let go of him. maroney can bite it! hes worthless. to much side to side dancing. i never saw anything worth keeping in woodyard. pratter has a good leg, but with him, i think it comes down to whos more of a priority. a kicker, a DL, or a OL.

  • Paradisimo

    Aren't the Broncos planning on slapping a 2nd round tender on Prater? No way any other team is going to give up a 2nd round pick for a kicker. Of all the free agents I would put my money on Prater being back next year and for years to come.

  • CJ

    http://espn.go.com/blog/afcwes

    Hope we sign Atogwe

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/KPP33MCCNMXVZNP2ON4S2QFEGA Brian

    vickerson is a horrible player. i never seen him make a nice play and theirs a reason he was always on the nfl bubble. cause hes not a playmaker. i saw countless penality flags thrown on the behalf of the pea brain. please send him packing. keep woodyard hes smart, makes plays and can play any linebacker postion. keep prater and ryan and let the rest go!