When the NFL free agency kicks off on March 18, the Broncos figure to be very active. For one, they have a lot of holes to fill, so there are plenty of reasons for John Elway to go shopping. But in addition, Denver’s general manager will have a lot of money to spend.
Currently, the Broncos are $58 million under the 2020 salary cap, but that number could grow to as high as $76 million once Ron Leary and Joe Flacco come off the books as expected. And if Elway really wants to get crazy, he can free up nearly $9 million in additional cap space by parting ways with Todd Davis and Jeff Heuerman.
How should the Broncos put all of those dollars to use? In the weeks leading up to the start of free agency, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the best players projected to be on the open market, as well as analysis of who would be a realistic fit in Denver.
It continues today with a position where the Broncos have an established starter, but could use some reserves – tight end. As a rookie, Noah Fant showed that he can be a playmaker. Yes, he still has a lot of room for improvement, but Denver is more than happy with their young tight end. Behind him on the depth chart, however, things are a bit dicey. Due to constant injuries, it’s hard to rely on the likes of Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli. Thus, the Broncos could be in the market for some tight end help.
Top Five Available
1. Austin Hooper – After back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons in Atlanta, Hooper couldn’t have better timing when it comes to hitting free agency. Coming off of his most-productive season yet, in which he caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns, teams will be lining up to offer him $8 to $10 million per season, most likely for four or five years. While perhaps not as flashy as some of the other names available, he’s more consistent and has shown the ability to stay healthy, which can’t be understated.
2. Hunter Henry – He’ll be a bit of a gamble due to his injury history, but Henry’s ability to cause match-up problems from the tight end position will make him a hot commodity. When healthy, Henry has Travis Kelce-like ability, providing a valuable weapon in any passing attack. After missing all of the 2018 season, the 25-year-old tight end returned this season to catch 55 passes for 652 yards and five touchdowns, in just 12 games. If he can ever put together a whole season, his production would be through the roof.
3. Eric Ebron – The 10th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Ebron never lived up to the hype during his four seasons in Detroit. A fresh start in Indianapolis seemed to help, however, as he caught 66 passes for 750 yards and a whopping 13 touchdowns in 2018, earning his only career Pro Bowl nod. This year, his numbers dipped due to injuries and Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement, but as a player since well short of 30 years old, he’ll be in high demand. Ebron should fetch around $8 million per year on the open market.
4. Tyler Eifert – While the Bengals were struggling through a disastrous 2019 season, Eifert’s ability to be on the field for 16 games was a huge bright spot. After playing in just 14 contests across the previous three seasons due to various injuries, seeing the tight end suit up every Sunday was extremely encouraging. Not surprisingly, he had a solid season, hauling in 43 passes for 436 yards and three touchdowns. His injury history is going to scare teams off, as well as drive down his price tag, but Eifert has all sorts of ability.
5. Greg Olsen – After 13 years in the NFL, there’s some question about whether or not Olsen wants to keep playing. He has a blossoming career in broadcasts, as he’s most recently been calling XFL games, and various other interests. That said, he hasn’t officially retired, making the veteran an intriguing option. Yes, he’ll be 35 when the season starts, but he caught 52 passes for 597 yards last season in a Carolina offense that wasn’t exactly prolific in the passing game without Cam Newton.
Realistic Options for the Broncos
1. Darren Fells – He’ll be 34 when the season starts, so he’s certainly not a long-term answer. That said, the veteran could be a good mentor for Fant, as he’s picked up some tricks of the trade during his four previous stops in the NFL. At 6-foot-7, 270 pounds, Fells is a beast to deal with when he’s blocking, while also providing a big target in the passing game. Not super fleet afoot, he knows how to get open, evidenced by his career-high 34 receptions and seven touchdowns in 2019.
2. Ricky Seals-Jones – After a promising two years in Arizona, Seals-Jones landed in Cleveland last season and regressed a bit, only catching 14 passes for the Browns. He did, however, find the end zone four times, showing that he’s a solid red-zone option, which is always a good thing for an offense to possess. Two years ago with the Cardinals, he caught 34 passes, providing an indication of what he can do when involved more with the offense. At just 25 years old, there is still plenty of room and time for growth in his game.
3. Jacob Hollister – After catching just eight passes during the first two years of his career, both spent in New England, this former Wyoming product found a home in Seattle last season. He caught 41 passes for 349 yards and three touchdowns, becoming a bit of a security blanket for Russell Wilson. That said, Hollister doesn’t possess the skillset that will draw major attention in free agency. He’s not fast, so he doesn’t stretch defenses. But he gets open and catches the ball, talents that are important but often overlooked.