As free agency lurks, we’re already seeing some big names linked to the Broncos. There will be more, but here are a few somewhat lesser names that have stood out for me:
The player who I like best so far in free agency is 26-year-old offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, formerly of the Panthers and Vikings. I’ll be talking more about him in a two-part series on the middle of the Denver roster, but he has a history with John Fox in Carolina and has played both right guard and right tackle successfully.
He’s likely to be more of a cap-friendly acquisition and potentially fills a need that’s literally bigger than safety, wideout, or situational pass rusher. He’s a mauler who uses his 6-6, 334-lb body to his best advantage. I’d love to see him after another year or two under line coach Dave Magazu. He may not an be elite talent, but he’s very good. I see him as a potential upgrade over Manny Ramirez or Chris Kuper who would allow Denver to leave Orlando Franklin at right tackle.
PFF has suggested former LOLJet Brandon Moore as a stop-gap player, but I’d rather see someone under 32.
Defensive lineman Henry Melton, formerly of the Bears, isn’t a bad option, if he’s going to want to move and isn’t asking the moon to do so. At 26 years old, 6-3 and 280 lb., he’s very tough for his size and would best serve to compete with Jason Hunter (if Hunter himself is re-signed), to push Robert Ayers, and hopefully Ben Garland.
DE/DT Derek Wolfe’s going to play ‘wherever he wants’, as Jack Del Rio put it last season, but is likely to stay at his essential and multi-faceted role. Jeremy Beal has had the benefit of two years of player development.
If Melton can come in and upgrade the DE group, that’s great; competition is always good. But Melton won't come cheaply, given the +15.8 grade he earned from PFF in 616 snaps last season, and the real possibility that the Bears use their franchise tag on him. That’s the downside - finances are limited, and he’s likely coming into his most productive and expensive years.
I’m seeing Rey Maualuga’s name coming up as a possible middle linebacker for the Broncos; Cincinnati may let him walk. But if a team passes on bringing back a 26-year-old guy who gave them 122 tackles and four passes defensed last season, they have to have a good reason. What I’ve heard and seen is that he’s got problems with alcohol and attitude, as well as being prone to mental errors. He isn’t showing a potential for leadership, either. I want to give Vontaze Burfict a lot of credit for changing his life and beating Rey out, straight up. Hopefully Rey does the same at some point in the future.
Rey’s a powerful tackler who gave them 1,110 snaps in 2012, but 18 missed tackles greatly marred his work. He’s not good in coverage, and although he can handle some zone, he’s mistake prone in the passing game. PFF had him ranked dead last among the 35 starting MLBs in 2012. What’s tough is that he does have the potential - he just seems incapable of showing or developing it.
I’m seeing a player who’s had as many errors as productive plays. If he straightens out his life and his head, he could be a good bet again, but while I’m rooting for him personally, I’m not taking that bet for the Broncos. I do wish the man well - we all have our demons.
But a solid upgrade at right guard would help the Broncos to lose one of theirs. Schwartz might prove to be that guy.