Part 7 of 9
Position Breakdown and Off-Season Analysis: Defensive Tackles
Justin Bannan, 2013 base salary: Free agent:
The soon to be 34 year old veteran was a key part of the Broncos run defense last year which allowed 37 year old middle linebacker Keith Brooking to flow freely to the ball carrier. According to Pro Football Focus Bannan graded out as the sixth best defensive tackle against the run last season. He played in 49% of the defense's snaps where he totaled 41 tackles and no sacks. In 270 pass rushing snaps he only recorded four QB pressures and graded out as one of the worst pass rushing defensive tackles int he NFL.
While the Broncos could use an upgrade that offers more rushing the passer, John Elway and company will be looking to fine tune the defense which will most likely mean that Bannan might lose his starting job. He arguably had his most effective season of his career in 2012 which makes him worth keeping around as a rotational lineman in 2013. On a cheap one year deal worth $1 million, he can be retained for veteran leadership and early down effectiveness.
Future: The price to bring him back is very cheap, so the team might as well give him a one year deal deal where he can come into camp and compete with the younger guys. He still has great value against the run. He should return in 2013.
Kevin Vickerson, 2013 base salary: Free Agent:
Vickerson had a renaissance of a season in a contract year, and it should pay dividends for him in the open market.
The six foot five 290 pounder formed an effective tandem with Bannan against the run and was really the only front four player that was doubled teamed in the run game, which freed up others to make the play. He was the Broncos' best interior pass rusher, which isn't saying much as he only racked up eight QB hurries, four QB hits, and two sacks.
Because of Vickerson's size and run stuffing ability another team desperate to improve its run defense might over pay to land him. The Broncos can afford to go in another direction with a better rounded tackle.
Future: Will sign elsewhere in free agency.
Mitch Unrein, 2013 base salary: Exclusive rights free agent:
Unrein was an under the radar player who chipped in effectively when he played. The Broncos will almost certainly bring him back by exercising a third year option for under $500,000. Unrein is a bit undersized, but that also makes him valuable as he can play defensive end if asked too. He is a decent pass rusher who would occasionally line up inside on obvious passing downs.
Additionally, he lined up on offense as the fullback in goal line situations, including catching a one yard touchdown pass. He only partook in 39% of snaps where he had 20 tackles, nine QB hurries, and three QB hits. As a rotational guy Unrein is a contributor who can rush the passer more effectively than most others on the roster. He should return for at least one more season.
Future: Retained to be a rotational player.
Malik Jackson, 2013 base salary: $480,000:
The fifth round pick out of Tennessee displayed great flexibility to play end and tackle in the preseason, but ultimately Jack Del Rio wanted to use him primarily inside. He is long and rangy which allows him to cover a larger area than most defensive tackles. He had a great preseason and used 2012 as a developmental year more than an one where he had a role. The Broncos like what they see in Jackson and hope to use him more in 2013. While he might not possess Pro Bowl talent, he should do better than the five tackles, two QB hurries, and one QB hit that he put up last year. Future: Will get expanded playing time as a rotational lineman.
Sealver Siliga, 2013 base salary: $480,000:
Siliga was on the practice squad in 2011 before being activated at the beginning of last year. He was impressive in training camp, earning high praise from the coaching staff. He was a healthy inactive for 15 games, while only playing in four snaps all season. The 330 pound native of Utah has good strength and run stuffing ability. However, he didn't flash starting ability and his roster spot isn't close to guaranteed in 2013. Future: Will return to compete for a rotational spot.
Ben Garland, 2013 base salary: $405,000:
The former Air Force Falcon has earned praise by coaches and teammates for his hustle and determination. His career has earned a lot of publicity even though he has yet to be on the active roster. Garland spent the entire 2012 season on the practice squad and was never seriously considered to be promoted. He is strong at the point of attack which compensates for his smaller stature. This will be his third offseason with the Broncos and will most likely be his last if he can't turn the corner. Future: Will compete for a roster spot. Chances are less than 25% of him making it barring a string of injuries to the front four.
Ty Warren, 2013 base salary: Free agent:
Warren has turned out to be one of the worst free agent signings for the franchise as Denver gave him a two year $8 million deal before the 2011 season, he ultimately played five snaps over those two seasons. He was injured in 2011 and earned the starting job during the preseason last year before tearing his triceps on the fifth play in the opener against Pittsburgh. His size and style mirrors the type of lineman John Fox likes but he couldn't come to fruition due to injuries. He won't return to Denver and it is probable he is done with his NFL career. Future: Career over.
It is well known the Broncos want to upgrade their interior line with younger, more well rounded defensive tackles. It might be one of the few positions Denver pours money into during free agency. Bannan is old and limited, Vickerson will get a big payday from another team who needs run defenders, and the others are no more than rotational guys. Derek Wolfe, who played right end most of the year, should kick back inside to his natural position, filling one of the starting spots.
Reports have already surfaced that Denver will target former Jack Del Rio draft pick Terrence Knighton, massive Seattle Seahawk Alan Branch, and Randy Starks, a veteran from Miami. All three of those guys are big and can easily help the run defense from day one.What Knighton and Starks bring is pass rushing ability, which would just open up things for the Doom and Gloom show on the edges.
Bringing in a guy like Knighton would most likely command a three year deal around $3-$4 million a season. He is young enough that he still has room to develop, which he can do alongside Derek Wolfe. Knighton has shown big potential at times over his three seasons in Jacksonville. Branch could be a rotational guy (at 340 pounds) that could be a cheap signing in comparison to many others. Starks might be overpaid by another team.
The draft is another option that Denver will almost certainly utilize to add depth and youth. If the Broncos can have better interior line play in 2013, the defense will be better than the 2012 unit.