Posted Tue Mar 13th by Jon Heath
The 2012 NFL Year and Free Agency signing period starts this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. (MT), and the Denver Broncos are expected to be right in the thick of things.
The team’s first priority is to re-sign sixth-year defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, who is coming off of his first season in Denver and second-best season of his career, according to sources close to the situation. Beyond Bunkley, it is not known what Denver’s plans are for the rest of the team’s sixteen unrestricted free agents (UFA’s).
The biggest names among Denver’s UFA’s, Bunkley aside, are safety Brian Dawkins, tight end Daniel Fells, defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, linebacker Wesley Woodyard and receiver Eddie Royal. Then there are the “iffy” guys like defensive end Jason Hunter and fullback Spencer Larsen.
With many of the offensive players — such as Royal and Fells — the players’ respective desires to re-sign with the Broncos may greatly depend on whether or not the team lands free agent quarterback Peyton Manning. If the team does sign Manning, Royal and Fells will be begging Denver to take them back.
There may not be room for Denver to re-sign both Royal and Willis however, as the team may pursue several receivers, including former Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne (and perhaps Brandon Stokley). If Denver signs Manning, their next target would presumably be Wayne.
As for free agents that did not play in Denver last season, the Broncos are expected to have one of their most active off-seasons in recent history, according to a source with knowledge of the team’s plans. ESPN Insider Cecil Lammey said on the Vinny and Robo Radio Show on Monday evening that Denver will target running back Mike Tolbert, linebacker Jameel McClain and safety Reggie Nelson in free agency.
Tolbert, a former San Diego Charger who has expressed interest in the Broncos, is likely to be highly sought after in free agency and would come at a high price tag. However, the Broncos have the second-highest amount of cap money to spend in the NFL, and are willing to spend it.
McClain is a fourth-year linebacker who has a situation somewhat similar to that of Woodyard’s in that he is a good linebacker that has been getting more opportunities to play in resent seasons. McClain played outside linebacker in Baltimore but some believe that the Broncos could move him to middle linebacker and replace Joe Mays, who is not expected to be retained by the team.
Nelson, a former first round draft pick, spent the last two seasons in Cincinnati and started in 22 games for the Bengals. Last season, Nelson recorded 85 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 2 interceptions and forced four fumbles. At age twenty-eight, Nelson is a big-time player-maker who would give the Broncos an outstanding duo paired with star defensive back Champ Bailey in Denver’s secondary.
There have also been rumors that the Broncos will pursue defensive end Mario Williams and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe. Both players are high-profile names that are expected to be courted by multiple teams.
Here comes free agency!