Lost in the cacophony of the Broncos’ continuing QB controversy is the fact that the organization has smartly made several low-cost and low-risk free agent signings.
The Broncos’ personnel triumvirate of Executive VP of Football Operations John Elway, General Manager Brian Xanders and Head Coach John Fox – now dubbed “EXF” – did not break the bank in free agency, even with Denver’s litany of needs.
After the NFL opened for business, EXF wasted no time addressing the team’s primary personnel weaknesses – defensive tackle and running back – which they opted to ignore in April’s draft.
Denver signed former Baltimore Ravens RB Willis McGahee to a four-year, $9.5 million dollar deal on Sunday. The 235-pound McGahee will contribute primarily in short-yardage and goal line situations. Signing McGahee, a RB with power to compliment the shiftier Knowshon Moreno, was a priority for Denver.
As Fox said after Sunday’s practice, “Contrary to what people might say, (signing McGahee) is no indictment on Knowshon....I believe you have to have two backs to be a successful run team, just to keep them fresh and energized though 16 games running as much as we want to run."
A four-year contract sounds lengthy for a RB who turns 30 in October and has battled injuries since his time at the University of Miami. Yet McGahee has spent the last two seasons in Baltimore splitting time with All-Pro Ray Rice, tallying only 209 carries in 31 games; there is still some tread left on his tires.
The other comparatively large contract handed out by EXF this week was a 2-.year, $8 million deal to former New England defensive end Ty Warren, who will shift inside and play tackle in Denver’s 4-3.
Signing a New England castoff who has battled injuries the last two seasons gives many Broncos fans pause.
Yet Denver views signing Warren as a low-risk, high-reward personnel move. On the one hand, Denver gets a proven veteran who has played at high level and helps fill the gaping hole in the middle of the Broncos’ defensive line. If Warren can continue to play at the high level he played at for the Patriots, then the Broncos have fortified the team’s major weakness.
If, like so many other former Patriots who landed in Denver over the last few seasons, Warren falls on his face, the Broncos can release him after the season with zero impact on next year’s salary cap. EXF structured Warren’s contract such that his $4 million salary ($1.5 million base salary with a $2.5 million signing bonus) in 2011 is fully guaranteed but not one penny of the remaining $4 million is guaranteed.  There will be no “dead money” in 2012 or beyond should Warren be released after this season.
Denver added more depth to the defensive line by re-signing DTs Marcus Thomas and Ryan McBean and agreeing to terms with DE Derrick Harvey, a former-first round pick who was released by Jacksonville on July 29. The contracts to all three players are for one year at the league minimum salary.
The Broncos also agreed to one-year, veteran minimum contracts with TEs Dante Rosario and Daniel Fells and with WR David Anderson, who played his college ball at Colorado State.
Signing a pair of TEs in Wells and Rosario after drafting a pair of TEs – Julius Thomas and Virgil Green – in April has to make 2009 second-round pick Richard Quinn nervous about his job security. Quinn has failed to live up to his draft status, snagging only one reception in 19 games with Denver.
The Broncos also sent an undisclosed 2013 draft pick to Philadelphia for DT Brodrick Bunkley. Like Harvey, Bunkley is hoping to resurrect his career in Denver after busting for the team that spent a first round pick on him. If he able to rediscover the talent that got him selected  No. 14 overall in 2006, the Broncos just found a big piece for their rebuilding puzzle. If he fails, Denver is only out a late pick two drafts away and the $635,000 Bunkley is scheduled to make this year.
Thanks to these short, inexpensive contracts EXF have assured the Broncos will not be in any kind of financial pickle should any or all of these free agents fail to pan out.  
Unlike Denver’s previous two regimes, who handed out free agent contracts like candy canes at Christmas, EXF are determined to build through the draft and sign veteran free agents only as stop-gaps.
The approach is a welcome change from the recent past.