DENVER -- The importance of this offseason remains impossible to overstate. The Broncos aim to snap a four-year playoff drought, and three straight losing seasons for the first time since the barren 1963-72 run.
The have $62 million to spend -- and likely more when Joe Flacco's $13.6 million rolls over into the 2020 cap -- and as many as 12 draft picks. With a series of wise decisions, it is easy to see a path back to the postseason. Free agency hits first, and tough choices linger.
The Broncos have five free agents -- cornerback Chris Harris Jr., defensive ends Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris, defensive back Will Park and center Connor McGovern -- with a case to stay. They all they won't return.
Harris Jr. is attracting strong interest from multiple suitors, among them the Cowboys, Raiders, Texans, Jets and Lions, according to league sources. The Broncos met with Harris' agent recently, but have maintained the stance that they are willing to let him test the market. That could change, meaning an offer before March 16, and might have to keep Harris.
He will have a market, and given the early levels of interest, the Broncos could choose not to counter and invest elsewhere. I asked coach Vic Fangio last week if cornerback was a priority in free agency and the draft and he said, "both." If Harris departs, the Broncos could turn their attention to a high-priced item like the Cowboys' Byron Jones, and they had previous interest in Detroit corner Darius Slay, but that would require a trade and a reworked contract.
As for Wolfe, he has made it clear he would prefer to retire with the Broncos. Drafted in 2012, Wolfe has started 108 games, played a pivotal role in the Super Bowl 50 season and posted a career-high seven sacks in 12 games last year. Wolfe's agent met with the Broncos last week and had positive dialogue, per a source. Wolfe said repeatedly last season that while he wants to stay, he knows it is a business, so he's keeping his options open.
Keeping Shelby Harris will not be easy. Harris hasn't ruled out a return, but he is in line for a monster raise from his $3.09 million salary last season after delivering six sacks and nine passes defended. The Colts are among the teams expected to pursue the 28-year-old. Recognizing the unpredictability of free agency, the Broncos are casting a wide net, and have interest in Texans defensive end D.J. Reader, first reported by The Houston Chronicle and confirmed by Denver7.
Parks brought versatility and talent to the Broncos secondary over the past four seasons. He plays with energy and attitude, netting four interceptions and 149 tackles in his career. His value remains easy to see. The fit in Denver is not. The Broncos signed safety Kareem Jackson to a three-year, $33 million deal for $23 million guaranteed last March, and are attempting to secure Justin Simmons to a longterm pact. A Simmons deal could reach $14 million-plus per year -- and will franchise him at $11.6 million if necessary to keep the negotiating window open until July 15. With Parks showing he's ready to start -- as many as 10 teams are showing strong interest, per league sources -- and the Broncos invested heavily in their safeties, it makes a match in Denver unlikely.
Elway has said he would like to bring back McGovern, and "will be talking to him." The reason is simple: the line is in flux with right guard Ron Leary not returning, and questions surrounding right tackle Ja'Wuan James' health, though his injured left knee will not require surgery. McGovern figures to have multiple suitors.