Over the next month or so, we'll be devoting plenty of space to discussing in detail the cap realities Denver faces, and their options for dealing with them.
The 2014 League Year and free agency begin at 4pm ET on March 11, which is just five weeks from today.
Let's take a look at the team's pending free agents, and share some thoughts on what the Broncos might do.
Over the Cap estimates that with 51 players currently under contract (although several of them on cheap future contracts), Denver enters the offseason with about $12.9M to work with.
However, that's with several important players scheduled to hit unrestricted free ageny and potentially large pay days.
John Elway & Co. will undoubtedly be forced to make several difficult decisions, and that will mean saying goodbye to a key player or three.
Let's look at Denver's pending free agents, plus a few players who figure to be cut or have their deals reworked (cap figures via Over the Cap and Spotrac):
Unrestricted Free Agents
UFAs are free to sign anywhere, under no restrictions, unless the Broncos opt to use their franchise tag to inhibit one player's departure, as with Ryan Clady last offseason. Teams may designate a franchise or transition player starting on February 17, but we'd be stunned to see Denver do so.
Eric Decker - The Broncos have already put out word they're expecting to lose Decker, but hope he'll come back to them with a chance to match any offers. Mike Klis says Decker is expected to get between $7M-9M per year with a new deal, but it's unclear whether that's a number floated by the Broncos, Decker's agent, or a guesstimate by Klis.
It's been written elsewhere that Decker should figure upon a deal similar to that signed by Victor Cruz (five years, $43M, $14.129M guaranteed). If so, those aren't particularly daunting figures. (2013 cap number: $1.506M)
Wesley Woodyard - A few months ago, Woodyard seemed like an indispensable part of Denver's defense, perhaps even worthy of their highest priority to be re-signed. Now, durability issues are again hanging over him. If the Broncos think he can return to form and stay healthy, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Woody back next year. (2013 cap number: $3.25M)
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie - DRC made the most of his one-year, $5M show-me contract, and figures to make a big splash in free agency. If the Broncos move on from or demote Champ Bailey, can they also afford to let DRC go? (2013 cap number: $2.9M)
Knowshon Moreno - Moreno will turn 27 this summer, and that's ancient for an NFL back. As valuable as he was for Denver this year, he'll probably have trouble finding a big payday out on the market. Although he figures to head elsewhere, especially with Montee Ball a younger and cheaper option, don't count out a team-friendly deal later in free agency. FWIW, NFL.com suggests Knowshon may seek $3.5M-4M per year in a new deal, which would surely price him out of a return to Denver. (2013 cap number: $3.287M)
Shaun Phillips - Ian Rapoport says the Broncos "fully expect" to re-sign Phillips, who was a bargain at $1.8M in 2013 ($1M salary plus two earned $400K incentives). That's a strange telegraphing of intentions, as Phillips is likely due a fairly hefty raise. (2013 cap number: $1.4M)
Zane Beadles - Four of Denver's five starting linemen graded out at +14.9 or better, according to PFF. Beadles, meanwhile, checked in at -5.7 - among offensive players, only Joel Dreessen fared worse. But most of that negative grade owed to one game - at Kansas City. Given how much money Denver has already sunk into its line with Ryan Clady and Louis Vasquez, it's not clear the Broncos can afford to also re-sign Beadles. (2013 cap number: $1.06M)
Robert Ayers - Like Moreno, Ayers was largely perceived as a first-round bust before turning in a fine season in 2013. (2013 cap number: $2.241M)
Mike Adams - Although Adams entered the season as a backup, the injury to Rahim Moore resulted in the reliable veteran starting 10 games, including playoffs. (2013 cap number: $2M)
Jeremy Mincey, Marquice Cole - According to the DP, these two late-season pickups are also set to hit unrestricted free agency. Contract information for them is not available, but Mincey graded out at +0.9 in 109 snaps over six games with the Broncos, while Cole saw no action.
Quentin Jammer - Must be on his way to retirement, right? (2013 cap number: $1.5M)
Andre Caldwell - Tough to see him getting much money on the open market, or a chance to start anywhere. If he comes back, there should be no guarantees. (2013 cap number: $1M)
Paris Lenon, Stewart Bradley, Winston Justice, Michael Huff, Steve Vallos - Each veteran signed a one-year deal for 2013; it wouldn't surprise us to see Vallos return on a minimum salary as Manny Ramirez's backup.
Dan Koppen - Koppen was only re-signed because of J.D. Walton's poor recovery, and after his own injury, Koppen announced his retirement.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
Basically, these players will only become free agents if the Broncos choose not to tender them at predetermined (read: low) one-year salaries. These decisions must be made by 4pm ET on March 11.
Duke Ihenacho - As a 2012 college free agent, Duke will remain under Denver's control through 2015, and at a low cost. Even though he faltered as the season went on, it would be foolish to get rid of a young player under cheap control. It's not happening.
Tony Carter - Carter's had a rollercoaster year or two, but again, there's no risk in an ERFA contract.
Brandon Marshall - He only played 15 defensive snaps (in Week 17 against Oakland), but there's no reason not to tender him.
Restricted Free Agents
RFAs may be tendered at a first-round, second-round, or right-of-first-refusal level. The league-wide figures for those have not yet been announced, but expect them to be about $3M, $2.1M, and $1.4M, respectively. As with ERFAs, the deadline is 4pm ET on March 11.
Chris Harris - Given how important Harris is, especially with the potential departures of Champ Bailey and DRC, he would figure to draw a first-round tender. However, his torn ACL should factor into that decision somehow, and should prevent the team from giving him a long-term extension until he's on his way to a full recovery.
Mitch Unrein - Although Unrein is a local boy and something of a cult hero, especially for his fellow Wyoming alumni, we can't see him drawing more than an ROFR tender.
Trindon Holliday - As recently as September, Holliday was one of the league's most electrifying ST threats. Now, he's a fumble-prone head case who made a pair of terrible KR decisions in the Super Bowl. We're guessing he also gets an ROFR tender. (Note: Over the Cap has Holliday as an RFA, while Spotrac says he's an ERFA)
These veterans figure to either be cut or forced to restructure their deals:
Champ Bailey - Champ is due a $9M salary and $1M roster bonus; as great as he's been for Denver, he's no longer worthy of eating up 8.8% of the team's cap. Even if he shifts over to safety, he's likely going to have to accept a pay cut to remain. Cutting him would save the full $10M and leave no dead money.
Chris Kuper - The only reason Denver let Kuper stick around is he accepted a massive pay cut down to $1.05M (from $4.5M); he's due an unwieldy $5M in 2014; cutting him would save $4,084,830 in room, leaving behind $1,830,336 in dead money.
Jacob Tamme - $3M in salary is just too much to pay a backup tight end, no matter how familar Tamme is with Peyton Manning. ($3M savings, $500K dead money)
Joel Dreessen - He's the blocking version of Tamme, and at a salary of $2.5M, he's a more expensive and less talented version of Virgil Green. ($2.5M savings, $666,668 dead money)
Candidates for Raises
The list of players with contracts expiring after the 2014 season is even more daunting than this year's, and has to figure into the near-term decisions.
Scheduled unrestricted free agents include Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton, Julius Thomas, Orlando Franklin, Rahim Moore, Champ Bailey, and Kevin Vickerson.
Any big deal given this offseason would impact the team's ability to extend or re-sign any of these players, so keep that in mind before declaring that Denver has to have Eric Decker back.
Salary Info, FA Statuses via Over the Cap
Update 2/4/14 5:04pm ET: Added Mincey and Cole to list of UFAs (h/t AldenBrown)