Denver Broncos: Should Elway Upgrade Receiving Corps in Free Agency?
Should John Elway upgrade the Denver Broncos wide receiver group via free agency? Taking a look at some players who could be potential fits…
Of the Denver Broncos’ nine 2017 unrestricted free agents who will hit the open market when the new league year begins on March 9, wide receiver/punt returner Jordan Norwood figures to be one of the more expendable. Norwood, 30, played the worst football of his professional life late in 2016 when he muffed and lost two punts in crushing late-season home losses against Kansas City and New England.
That first critical miscue famously triggered a hostile shove from cornerback Aqib Talib as Norwood jogged to the sideline. A week later, the Broncos promoted rookie receiver Kalif Raymond from the practice squad to return punts in Norwood’s place. The seven-year veteran resurfaced in Week 15 against the Patriots and went on to fumble twice as Denver’s season continued to nosedive in an anemic 16-3 showing at Sports Authority Field.
Norwood was a modest $880,000 cap hit in 2016, but his stat line as a receiver of 21 receptions (third-highest among wideouts) and 1 touchdown are unlikely to atone for his special teams woes in the mind of GM John Elway. And while Raymond’s serviceable play in the final month of the season may help entrench him as Denver’s punt return specialist in 2017, the Broncos would be wise to sift through free-agency to acquire a more potent third-option at wide receiver.
Whether the Broncos stand-pat at quarterback and stage an “open competition” between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, or pull off a splash in free agency with a pricier veteran, the team’s most pressing need going forward is to retool the offense in order to make life easier for the man under center (whoever that may be in the year ahead). The bulk of that work must certainly fixate on upgrading last season’s disappointing offensive line, but there’s also a pressing and as-of-yet overshadowed need for a capable reserve receiver to give the passing game added versatility.
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A tantalizing, though improbable, short-term solution would be gritty Lions’ receiver Anquan Boldin. The 36-year-old, tough-as-nails, future Hall of Famer played well in the slot in his first campaign with Detroit, amassing 67 catches and 8 touchdowns as a sidekick to Golden Tate. Boldin is reportedly mulling retirement after 14 rough-and-tumble seasons as a premiere wideout, but perhaps Denver may contemplate making a push for him at a bargain price by selling their “Super Bowl or Bust” mentality. The Broncos have no appreciable veteran leadership on offense, and a force of nature like Boldin could very well pay numerous intangible dividends under a new and raw coaching regime.
As for those enjoying or heading into the prime of their careers, there’s an intriguing and affordable young crop of unrestricted free agents the Broncos and their $40 million in cap space should entertain come March.
Markus Wheaton (Pittsburgh): 26-years-old, 5’11, 189 pounds; four-year NFL veteran (all with Pittsburgh); Only played in three games in 2016 due to a shoulder injury; 44 receptions and five touchdowns for Pittsburgh in 2015. Earned $1.8 million in 2016.
Brian Quick (Los Angeles Rams): 27-years-old, 6’4, 209 pounds; five-year NFL veteran (all with St. Louis/Los Angeles); career-high 41 receptions in 2016: 3 touchdowns, 13.8 yards per reception, 2.6 receptions per game, no fumbles in NFL career. Earned $1.7 million in 2016.
Kenny Stills (Miami): 24-years-old, 6’0, 194 pounds; four-year NFL veteran with New Orleans and Miami; 42 receptions in 2016 with Miami: nine touchdowns, 17.3 yards per reception, 2.6 receptions per game, no fumbles. Earned $1.6 million in 2016.
Robert Woods (Buffalo): 24-years-old, 6’1, 201 pounds; four-year NFL veteran (all with Buffalo); lead Buffalo receivers in receptions in 2016 with 51: one touchdown, 12 yards per reception, 3.9 receptions per game, no fumbles. Earned $1.5 million in 2016.
Quinton Patton (San Francisco): 26-years-old, 6’0, 204 pounds; four-year NFL veteran (all with San Francisco); 37 receptions in 2016: no touchdowns, 11 yards per reception, 2.6 receptions per game, one fumble. Earned $772,875 in 2016.
Jeremy Kerley (San Francisco): 28-years-old, 5’9, 188 pounds; six-year NFL veteran with New York Jets and San Francisco; lead 49ers in receptions in 2016 with 64: three touchdowns, 10.4 yards per reception, four receptions per game, four fumbles. Earned $760,000 in 2016.
Brice Butler (Dallas): 26-years-old, 6’3, 215 pounds; four-year NFL veteran with Oakland and Dallas; 16 receptions in 2016 with Dallas: three touchdowns, 13.7 yards per reception, and one reception per game. Earned $675,000 in 2016.