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Denver Broncos Have Decisions to Make on 16 Free Agents: Who Will Stay and Who Will Go

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Jan 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Lance Ball (35) against the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

COMMENTARY | The Denver Broncos' 2012 season may have ended way too early but at least it gave the team a 2-month head start on the start of the 2013 free agency period.

Yeah, we're grasping for a positive spin here, but so be it.

In any case, the free-agent free-for-all kicks off at 2 p.m. (MT) March 12. That's when signings commence, but the real prep work will have been done long before then.

The first order of business for any NFL club - and, for all intents and purposes, the most important one in the high-risk game of free agency - is getting their own ducks in a row. That entails making calculated determinations on who to try and lock up and who to let go among their own free agents.

To that end, the Broncos have 16 pending free agents: 10 unrestricted (open season for any team), four restricted (current team has right to match any offer) and two exclusive (may only re-sign with current team).

With exclusive-rights free agents Tony Carter and Mitch Unrein all but certain to return, following is an alphabetical breakdown of the Broncos' 14 unrestricted and restricted free agents and their prospects for donning the orange and blue again in 2013:

Lance Ball (RB)


As a reserve, Ball played in 15 games and racked up 219 yards from scrimmage, scoring a pair of TDs in the process.

2013 prospectus: The Broncos very well could add another back to the stable in the offseason, and if so, it likely will be at the expense of Ball.

Justin Bannan (DT)


Bannan started 15 of Denver's 16 games and was steady with 42 tackles, four passes defensed and a forced fumble.

2013 prospectus: With Bannan turning 34 in April, he's simply looking to wrap up his playing days on a contender. Look for him to be back in more of a reserve role.

Keith Brooking (LB)


Signed early in training camp, Brooking proved to be a shrewd addition, becoming the team's starting middle linebacker two games into the season and wound up with 54 tackles and a sack - all at age 37.

2013 prospectus: Brooking proved to be a good find for John Elway and Co., but linebackers in their late 30s tend to find it hard to keep pace in a young man's game. Brooking could well return - just not as a starter.

David Bruton (S)


Bruton is a four-year reserve safety who had only five tackles and an interception this past season, but he excels on special teams.

2013 prospectus: If Bruton has a shot at starting somewhere else, he should jump on it because it doesn't appear to be in the cards in Denver.

Ryan Clady (OT)


Getting the three-time Pro Bowl selection signed and sealed is the Broncos' No. 1 offseason priority after the sides failed to strike a deal last summer.

2013 prospectus: It will likely take upward of $10 million of salary-cap space do so, but look for Clady to get the long-term extension he deserves.

Chris Clark (T)


Clark was active for all 16 regular-season games in his third season.

2013 prospectus: He showed some value and versatility playing in the team's jumbo packages, and given his youth and potential, he'll be back.

Britton Colquitt (P)


The fourth-year punter had a 46.3 gross average and was third in the league with a 42.1 net average.

2013 prospectus: Colquitt has a distinct leg up on all but a select few of the league's punters and isn't going anywhere.

Chris Gronkowski (FB)


The final numbers say Gronk's big brother saw action in 14 games - chiefly as a special-teamer - but it was easy to forget he was even on the roster.

2013 prospectus: The Broncos used fullback sets early in the season but clearly went away from them as the year went on, and it's hard to see any type of role in Denver for Gronkowski going forward.

Dan Koppen (C)


Koppen proved to be an invaluable signing after the ex-Patriot stepped in for injured starter J.D. Walton and played the final 13 games, including the playoffs.

2013 prospectus: This will be interesting as Koppen proved he still has something left in the tank after 10 pro seasons, but youth is on Walton's side as he comes back from a fractured ankle.

Jim Leonhard (S)


Another key early-season addition, Leonhard played in 16 games as a reserve safety and finished with 16 tackles, two interceptions and three passes defensed.

2013 prospectus: If it comes down to keeping either Leonhard or Bruton, the Broncos should go with the younger and more athletic Bruton.

Tracy Porter (CB)


The corner was limited to six games and four starts due to a midseason, seizure-related medical issue and a late-year concussion.

2013 prospectus: Even after Porter's condition cleared up late in the season, the Broncos decided to stick with young corners Chris Harris and Tony Carter, resulting in some friction between Porter and the team. It most certainly appears Porter will move on.

Brandon Stokley (WR)


The veteran slot receiver was a pleasant surprise as the team's fourth-leading pass catcher (45-544-5 TDs).

2013 prospectus: Stokley's best days are behind him - he'll turn 37 in the offseason - but it's not a stretch to see him signing a cap-friendly, short-term deal to close out his career in the Mile High City.

Kevin Vickerson (DT)


Vickerson was productive as a 14-game starter with 40 tackles - five for losses - and a pair of sacks.

2013 prospectus: He just turned 30 in January but after standing out at a position of need, Vickerson likely earned himself an extension from the Broncos.

Matthew Willis (WR)


The reserve wideout compiled 10 receptions for 90 yards and seven special-teams tackles while playing in 15 games.

2013 prospectus: Willis is a no-frills backup and he'll likely be re-signed as such as he prepares to fight for a roster spot again this summer.

Ken Pomponio has spent the past 25 years as a sports journalist, who has been published extensively in print and online. He has closely followed the fate of the Broncos dating back to the pre-Orange Crush days of the 1970s.

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