Four Downs: AFC West
The interior rotation of Justin Bannan, Kevin Vickerson, Mitch Unrein, and Derek Wolfe was sensational at holding ground and drawing double-teams in 2012. But the 34-year-old Bannan is set to become a free agent. So is the more explosive (and wildly underrated) 30-year-old Vickerson. The losses of those players would impact whoever is at middle linebacker.
Elway could re-sign all three interior defensive starters and still have a little money left over. Or, he could trust his existing linebacker depth to fill Brooking’s void, lowball Vickerson, say goodbye to Bannan, and try to upgrade by luring a second-tier free agent defensive tackle -– say a Randy Starks, Terrance Knighton, or Alan Branch-type –- to Mile High.
FWIW, Starks just turned 29 in December, graded out at +3.5 over 826 snaps for Miami according to PFF, and drew $3.85M in compensation last season. Knighton saw 666 snaps with the Jaguars, graded out at +4.2, made $1.26M in the final year of his rookie deal, and will turn 27 on Independence Day. Branch recently turned 28, netted a +1.8 grade over 645 snaps with Seattle, and was paid $4.3M.
All three were second- or third-round picks and figure to draw heftier deals than either Bannan or Vickerson.