COMMENTARY | Don't look now, but the 2013 NFL free-agency period is upon us.
Teams can start negotiating with potential signees on Saturday, March 9, and signings officially become official as of 4 p.m. (EDT) March 12.
And with the NFL Scouting Combine in the rear-view mirror, D-Day -- a.k.a. the draft -- is only 6 short weeks down the road.
So what offseason moves do the Denver Broncos have planned?
Let us take a run through the Broncos' depth chart and try to shake out what's in store for the Orange-and-Blue Crew. In the process, we'll apply the following scale of need at each position:
- 1 - No additions necessary; position is stocked
- 2 - Slight need but there are definitely other areas to address
- 3 - Another piece couldn't hurt, but this position could make do otherwise
- 4 - Deserves some definite attention
- 5 - Upgrade(s) needed ASAP
Need level: 1
Overview: Even a year older at 37, Peyton Manning figures to be even better with a season under his belt in Denver and another year removed from his neck surgeries, while 2012 second-rounder Brock Osweiler will continue taking copious notes as the heir apparent.
Need level: 4
Overview: 2012 No. 1 back Willis McGahee will be 32 this October and is coming off leg surgery, Knowshon Moreno hasn't played in 20 of the Broncos' past 48 regular-season contests, 2012 third-round pick Ronnie Hillman shows some promise but remains largely unproven while free-agent Lance Ball is, well, just a guy.
Best avenue: Free agency. The Broncos just used a relatively high pick on Hillman and will likely target a dependable veteran back who can grind out yards between the tackles.
Wide receiver/tight end
Need level: 3
Overview: Starting wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, both just entering their primes, are among the league's best starting duos and are coming off a combined 179 catches for 2,498 yards and 23 TDs in 2012, while the tight end combo of Jacob Tamme and Joe Dreessen teamed up for 93 receptions, 911 yards and seven scores. However, slot receiver Brandon Stokley is a free agent who will turn 37 in June, while backups Andre Caldwell and Matthew Willis largely were invisible this past season.
Best avenue: Draft. Play-making prospects abound, and this would be the best route for the Broncos unless they plan to make a run at a top-level free agent like a Wes Welker or Danny Amendola.
Need level: 4
Overview: It's a M.A.S.H. unit with four of the five starters -- center J.D. Walton, guard Chris Kuper and tackles Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin -- coming off some sort of surgery. In addition, the right side has been a trouble spot at times with Kuper battling to stay healthy and Franklin struggling with pass-blocking consistency.
Best avenue: Draft. OT and OG ranks among the deepest positions in the draft, and Denver should be able to nab a quality starting-caliber player or two - even in the middle rounds.
Need level: 5
Overview: With starting defensive tackles Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan both unrestricted free agents and the return of Elvis Dumervil suddenly in question with the team seeking to trim some salary fat from the defensive end's 6-year, $61.5 million deal, this shapes up as offseason priority No. 1 for the Broncos.
Best avenue: Draft. Like the O-line, there is plenty of quality and quantity among the defensive-line prospects. If Dumervil departs, though, look for the Broncos to make a run at Indy-castoff Dwight Freeney.
Need level: 2
Overview: The Broncos are set for outside starters with Pro Bowler Von Miller and leading tackler Wesley Woodyard, while Keith Brooking (aging free agent) and D.J. Williams (likely cap casualty) aren't expected back. Absent of any additions, that would leave unproven Nate Irving and Steven Johnson - neither of whom has a career start - to vie for the starting middle 'backer spot.
Best avenue: Free agency. With the inexperience inside, finding a bargain veteran might not be a bad idea.
Need level: 5
Overview: Champ Bailey and Chris Harris are keepers at corner, while Omar Bolden is being counted on to take a sizable step forward in his second season. With free-agent Tracy Porter not expected back and the Broncos souring on Tony Carter down the 2012 stretch, another body or two would help here. Same thing goes at safety, where Mike Adams and the embattled Rahim Moore are the returning starters, while special-teams ace David Bruton (expected to be retained) and Jim Leonhard (not expected back) are free agents. Also don't forget about Quinton Carter, a favorite of the coaches who missed all but three games last season with a knee injury.
Best avenue: Free agency. Veteran smarts, savvy and play-making are needed here.
Need level: 1
Overview: Pro Bowl-caliber punter Britton Colquitt is a restricted free agent, but he has been tendered by the team and isn't going anywhere. Kicker Matt Prater will is being counted on to bounce back from a sub-par 2012, while return-specialist Trindon Holliday cemented his status with his record-setting postseason performance.
Ken Pomponio has spent the past 25 years as a sports journalist who has been published extensively in print and online. He's been an avid follower of the Denver Broncos and the NFL since early childhood, and can be found on Twitter @kenpomp.
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