Broncos WR Wes Welker 2013
Wes Welker (Denver Post file)

Today's question about the Broncos comes from Adam in Seattle. To submit a question for consideration, send an e-mail to The Denver Post's Jeff Legwold.

Q: Don't you think they should also keep Brandon Stokley? He isn't that expensive and could be the fourth wide receiver in a four-wide formation and provide backup for the other three wide receivers.

A: Adam, the Broncos were fortunate this past season Stokley had been one of the players who ran routes for Peyton Manning during Manning's workouts at Duke University last offseason.

Stokley showed enough in those practices — and Manning ran them like full-blown practices — that Duke coach David Cutcliffe, a long-time Manning friend and his former offensive coordinator at Tennessee, told Stokley he should give the NFL another go.

To that point Stokley has said many times he believed his career was over.

Manning told the Broncos shortly after he signed last March, they should give Stokley a look as well. The Broncos eventually signed him to a one-year, $925,000 deal that didn't include a signing bonus.


And at age 36, Stokley went on to become a rather key piece of the Broncos offense with 45 receptions primarily as a slot receiver. This offseason, the Broncos went into free agency believing that slot receiver was a key part of their offensive plan, given how teams had defended them this past season, pushing the help in coverage to the outside, usually on Demaryius Thomas.

So, they pursued Wes Welker. And if you had asked personnel people in the league in recent seasons to rank the slot receivers, most would have said Welker and Stokley were the top two.

Broncos WR Brandon Stokley 2012
Brandon Stokley (Denver Post file)

But Welker is five years younger with 672 receptions over the last six seasons — the league's highest total over that span — including five years with at least 111 catches. In the five full seasons that Tom Brady and Welker played together — Brady missed almost all of the 2008 season with a knee injury — Brady targeted Welker on a whopping 27 percent of his pass attempts.

Welker's signing also shows the Broncos are, as they did as the 2012 season wore on, going to use a three-wide set more and more. Down the stretch, the Broncos had just five offensive snaps against the Browns in December when they didn't have at least three wide receivers in the formation. And in the playoff loss to the Ravens, the Broncos were in a three-wide set for all but seven snaps.

Overall, the Broncos used three wide receivers on 64 percent of their offensive snaps — excluding penalty plays.

Stokley's representatives have had some contact with the Broncos this offseason. Stokley and Manning have played golf together, etc., but there is nothing in the works there in terms of a potential deal.

When asked Tuesday at the NFL meetings in Phoenix if he had spoken to Manning about the Welker signing, Broncos coach John Fox said:

"Yeah. Oh yeah, he's excited. It's tough for him a little bit because he's good buddies with 'Stoke' (Stokley), and Stoke did a real good job for us. It's back to those relationships — players build them, too. They've got good buddies. A lot of time moving in this league can be tough. That was the downside. But I think everybody is pretty excited."

That doesn't sound like a team ready to bring Stokley back.

The Broncos will eye the wide receivers in the draft as well. They are looking for more depth at the position. The issue for Stokley and their roster at the moment is he doesn't play special teams.

And any receiver who isn't among the team's top three is going to have some kind of special teams duties, whether it is as a returner or in coverage in the kicking game.

Matt Willis, for example, hasn't made the roster in the last two years because of what he can do in the offense, but rather because he's been a regular on special teams who could fill in on offense if needed. But if the Broncos get past the draft, including signing whatever undrafted rookies they want, and still believe they need some additional help, they could revisit things with Stokley.

But at the moment that doesn't look very likely.

Jeff Legwold: or