Today's question about the Broncos comes from Mike J.:
Q: Can you let me know who the Broncos' free agents are for this season?
A: Mike, there are three types of free agents — players with expiring contracts — for every team, including the Broncos.
There are unrestricted free agents who have at least four seasons worth of experience. They can sign with any team they wish at any point after free agency officially opens on March 12.
Teams can negotiate with potential free agents beginning on March 9 this time around, but the deals can't be closed and signed until the 12th.
There are restricted free agents, players with three seasons worth of experience. Restricted free agents can receive offer sheets from other teams, but the Broncos would have to option to match any offer these players receive.
Restricted free agents are also usually tendered one-year offers from their current team. The level of those tender offers determine the compensation the Broncos would receive in return if the player signed an offer sheet with another team and the Broncos did not match.
And there are exclusive rights free agents. These players have expiring contracts, but can only negotiate with the Broncos as long as the Broncos haven't released them and still hold their rights.
Overall, the Broncos have two exclusive rights free agents — cornerback Tony Carter and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein. Both were starters at times this past season and would be expected back on the training camp roster.
The Broncos have three restricted free agents — punter Britton Colquitt, tackle Chris Clark and running back Lance Ball. Of the three Colquitt would draw the most interest from other teams if the Broncos aren't careful when they offer him his one-year tender.
As an undrafted player, if the Broncos offered him the lowest tender — a one-year, $1.323 million deal — the Broncos would receive no compensation in return because Colquitt originally was an undrafted player. In talking informally to some folks around the league, it's pretty clear Colquitt would draw some action from teams if there was no compensation needed if he signed an offer sheet from somebody else.
Colquitt made $540,000 this past season so he's looking at a raise and the Broncos will be looking to keep him.
The Broncos have 12 unrestricted free agents after they put the franchise tag on left tackle Ryan Clady. Of those 12 players, defensive tackle Justin Bannan, linebacker Keith Brooking, defensive end Jason Hunter, center Dan Koppen, safety Jim Leonhard, cornerback Tracy Porter, wide receiver Matt Willis and wide receiver Brandon Stokley were all signed to one-year deals during last offseason.
Bannan, Brooking, Hunter, Koppen, Willis and Stokley were all signed with no signing bonuses this past season. Leonhard got a $65,000 signing bonus.
That means the Broncos did much of their work in free agency long after the initial wave of mega-deals — where they also led the way with the signing of Peyton Manning.
The other unrestricted free agents are defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, who took a pay cut in the final year of a two-year deal in '12, fullback Chris Gronkowski, who came over in a trade with the Colts with one year left on his contract, defensive tackle Ty Warren and safety David Bruton.
Warren originally signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Broncos in 2011, but that was re-worked last offseason when they wanted him to take a pay cut — the new deal was for the '13 season and featured a $250,000 signing bonus, to go with a $1.25 million base salary.
In all Warren has played just five plays — all in the 2012 opener against the Steelers — in his time with the Broncos and spent the rest of the time on injured reserve with triceps injuries.
Also worth noting: of the 12 unrestricted free agents, only Bruton was originally a Broncos draft pick, a total that shows a gaping hole in their roster construction that falls late into Mike Shanahan's tenure and Josh McDaniels' tenure.
The Broncos would like Bruton back and will take a look at all 12, but many of them won't be back — they would need to fall into the "right price" categories for the Broncos do re-sign them. The Broncos may wait to see how much interest the players draw from elsewhere before getting too deep into any negotiations with them.