Posted Wed Feb 1st by Jon Heath
Entering the 2012 off-season, the Denver Broncos will have a lot of decisions to make. Among those decisions will be which unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) to re-sign with new contracts.
A UFA is a player whose current contract has expired, freeing up that player to sign with any team he chooses. The Broncos have nineteen UFA’s on their roster, and free agency signings begin on March 13th (less than six weeks from today).
UPDATE: This post originally listed 19 UFA’s — corrections have been noted where appropriate below.
- Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (28, 6-2, 306 lbs.) signed a one-year deal last off-season with Denver. The addition turned out to be a brilliant one for the Broncos as Bunkley had a stellar season clogging up the middle of Denver’s defensive line. The Broncos should make re-signing Bunkley a high priority.
- Veteran safety Brian Dawkins (38, 6-0, 210 lbs.) may have played his final game in the NFL. If he returns for one final season in 2012, he may opt to end his career in Philadelphia over Denver, but it’s impossible to predict. If he is healthy, the Broncos could benefit from Dawkins’ presence and leadership next season, if not his playing ability as well.
- Another experienced player, tight end Daniel Fells (28, 6-4, 252 pounds) is coming off a solid first year in Denver. A key blocker on rushing downs and reliable target in passing plays, Fells will likely be brought back by the Broncos.
- Rotational linebacker/defensive end Mario Haggan (31, 6-3, 274 lbs.) was a key part of Denver’s special teams last season and replaced rookie linebacker Von Miller on passing downs in several games. A versatile player, Haggan will land with a team quickly if the Broncos decide not to retain him.
- Defensive end Derrick Harvey (25, 6-5, 268 lbs.) is a player that had his chances of returning in 2012 increased with the signing of new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Last season, Harvey saw the field in only five games and recorded four tackles. During his first three years in the league, under Del Rio in Jacksonville, Harvey recorded 92 tackles and eight sacks as a rotational defensive lineman. If Del Rio thinks that Harvey can contribute, Denver will bring him back.
- When offensive guard Chris Kuper went down with a knee injury last season, Russ Hochstein (34, 6-4, 300 lbs.) replaced him and played well. Hochstein would provide veteran depth to the offensive line if retained.
- Defensive end Jason Hunter (28, 6-4, 271 lbs.) is a player with a lot of potential who has performed well when given opportunities in the league. Over the past two seasons in Denver, Hunter recorded 82 tackles, 4.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, defended three passes and intercepted a pass. It seems safe to assume that Hunter could find a role in Del Rio’s 4-3 defense.
- Fullback Spencer Larsen (27, 6-2, 243 lbs.) helped the Broncos lead the NFL in rushing yards last season and has been a reliable fullback for the team since the 2008 season. Expect Larsen to return in 2012.
- Linebacker Joe Mays started at middle linebacker for the Broncos last year. The Broncos may let the former Eagle test free agency and force themselves find a replacement at the position in free agency or the draft, or they may keep him as the presumed starter while looking to upgrade. Draft pick Nate Irving is also waiting in the wings.
- Kicker Matt Prater (27, 5-10, 195) will be re-signed by the team.
- There is a big question mark by quarterback Brady Quinn‘s (27, 6-3, 235 lbs.) name on the roster. Nothing would surprise us.
- Manny Ramirez (28, 6-3, 313 lbs.) may come out of retirement and play another season in the MLB, but that’s not the Ramirez to which we refer. The NFL Manny Ramirez is a back-up offensive guard and honestly, your guess on his return next season is as good as mine.
- Another tight end that signed a one-year contract last off-season is Dante Rosario (27, 6-4, 250 lbs.). Last season, Rosario played on special teams, was used on running downs and came up with some big catches. It wouldn’t be surprising if Denver brought him back.
- Before the trade deadline last season, receiver Eddie Royal (25, 5-10, 185 lbs.) reportedly asked for a trade. The Broncos kept Royal, but Denver’s offense hasn’t found a way to use the explosive receiver as effectively as Mike Shanahan did in 2008. The Broncos may decide to move on with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and perhaps a draftee. If Royal is the odd-man out in Denver’s receiving corps, expect the Redskins to give his agent a call.
- Defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (26, 6-3, 316 lbs.), like Bunkley, has a high probability of being re-signed by the club.
- Defensive back Jonathan Wilhite (27, 5-11, 185 lbs.) recorded 28 tackles, two sacks and an interception last season, and will probably get a chance to compete in training camp.
- Wide receiver Matthew Willis (27, 6-0, 190 lbs.) has the potential to become the next Miles Austin. We’ll find out if the Broncos agree. Edit: Willis is a restricted free agent in 2012
- Linebacker Wesley Woodyard (25, 6-0, 229 lbs.) is the nineteenth and final unrestricted free agent and should be a high priority on Denver’s To-Do list. A rotational linebacker and special team’s captain, Woodyard has proven to be a starting-caliber linebacker in the NFL. Expect the Broncos to re-sign Woodyard in the off-season.