ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Free agency doesn't officially open until Wednesday, and the Denver Broncos made one of the first moves of the open negotiating period when they came to an agreement on terms with quarterback Case Keenum.
But even though the team's offseason conversation has been dominated by questions at quarterback, the Broncos still have much to do before they can call the free-agency period a success.
They need to find some help at wide receiver, at offensive tackle and perhaps at linebacker in the days ahead.
The Broncos did -- as president of football operations/general manager John Elway had promised -- pick up wide receiver Demaryius Thomas' $4 million option Tuesday, so that keeps the last two years of Thomas’ deal in place (2018 and 2019). But a large swath of the free-agent class at wide receiver was cut out during the first day of the open negotiating period.
Sammy Watkins (Kansas City), Allen Robinson (Chicago), Paul Richardson (Washington), Danny Amendola (Miami) and Albert Wilson (Miami) are set to formally sign new deals Thursday. That leaves the Broncos looking at a lot less impact on the list of available players that still includes Eric Decker and Mike Wallace.
Elway has consistently said his goal in free agency is to “find what makes sense for us cap-wise and from a personnel standpoint. We’re always looking for guys who fit what we want to do." But that's certainly more difficult now at wide receiver with how things fell leaguewide during the negotiating period.
Overall, Keenum's two-year deal will be worth roughly $50 million less than the three-year deal Kirk Cousins is expected to get from the Vikings. They can use the salary-cap room they would have had to use in the Cousins sweepstakes to work on the holes in their depth chart.
Despite the growing pains Garett Bolles had in his rookie year with a team-leading 15 penalties, including 10 for holding, the Broncos are committed to him at left tackle. So they'll target right tackles or swing tackles in free agency.
Elway said at the scouting combine that Menelik Watson, who missed nine games last season with injuries, would be the right tackle for now. Watson has never played more than 12 games or started nine games in any season.
With Corey Nelson’s departure to the Philadelphia Eagles -- he’ll officially sign a one-year deal after free agency opens -- and Todd Davis' status as an unrestricted free agent, inside linebacker is another spot where the Broncos could write a check or two. The Broncos also face a decision on linebacker Brandon Marshall, whose $5 million base salary becomes guaranteed if he's on the roster on Sunday.
The Broncos could potentially soon be without both starters at inside linebacker (Marshall and Davis) as well as the top backup (Nelson).
Kevin Minter is a possibility in the market and has played in 16 games in three of the past four seasons, including two 80-tackle seasons in Cincinnati. He missed seven games last season with an elbow injury and often played at the middle linebacker spot in the Bengals’ scheme.
In free agency, Elway has preferred players heading into their second contracts in the league. But if the Broncos want to take a chance on the 30-something crowd at the position, players such as Derrick Johnson (35 years old), Koa Misi (31) and Jerrell Freeman (31) are available.
In the end, the Broncos may do some of that work after the initial surge of big-money signings between Wednesday and Friday. Elway has called it "that next wave" in Week 2 and beyond of free agency. But it’s clear the Broncos have to do more beyond Keenum's deal.