The potential mass exodus of starters from the AFC West juggernauts in the Denver Broncos just got far more real on Tuesday afternoon as two of their most important players in the trenches will reportedly be walking away from the team in 2015 NFL Free Agency after John Elway has failed to make significant progress in contract negotiations heading into March. That lack of interest apparently being enough for an offensive and defensive line pair to walk from a team that has had one of the best records in the league since Peyton Manning came to Denver.
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According to reports, Oakland Raiders free agency target and nose tackle Terrance Knighton will be leaving the Broncos after very publicly expressing his displeasure with the way negotiations went down with Elway’s front office. Knighton recently came out saying how he wanted to stay in Denver, trying to get a deal done during and before the 2014 season, but since the offseason negotiations had stalled with him along with other frustrated Broncos players who weren’t being pursued for new deals.
Knighton’s comments about other players getting frustrated with their negotiations must have been a correct one as Orlando Franklin also has told the Broncos he will be leaving the team, weakening the offensive line that is tasked with protecting the aging Manning and giving Denver more spaces to fill. Both players reportedly telling Denver they are walking according to local radio host and insider Brandon Spano.
It is possible that the Broncos aren’t interested in retaining either player as both are looking at raises in their next contracts after helping Denver remain a contender with Manning at quarterback. Denver’s front office may feel that both players are role players on the team and not worthy of an increased payday, something that would definitely lead to both sides walking away from the negotiating table.
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Knighton will be the biggest impact departure on the Broncos defense should he leave as the rest of the Denver unit appear to be returning to the team, and one hole that could be filled through the draft to cut salary, potentially to lock up their top wideout in Demaryius Thomas with a new deal or the franchise tag. While Pot Roast is a space eater in the middle of the trenches who can make a big play from time to time, the veteran defensive tackle could be seen as not much of a need for a Broncos defense that has one of the best edge rushers in the league in Von Miller.
Franklin was less of a star for the Broncos compared to Knighton, and he also may be replaced in the draft to safe cap, but the loss of a veteran on the offensive line that can contribute likely won’t please Manning who needs all of the protection he can get in front of him as his body continues to age. If he walks the Broncos will need to explore options early in the draft on the offensive front in addition to pursuing some deals in free agency where they can cut some cap space while replacing the lineman.
At the end of the day Knighton and Franklin leaving won’t hurt Denver’s chances of contending in 2015 as this is a team that will be going as far as Peyton Manning takes them until he retires, but it does put two players on the market for the Broncos AFC West rivals that will have plenty of motivation to stick it to the team that let them go. That makes general managers like Reggie McKenzie extremely interested in adding such players to his list of targets, especially Knighton who has a relationship with Del Rio and a reason to go to Oakland. Playing the Broncos twice a year, don’t be surprised if either Knighton or Franklin remain in the AFC West when all is said and done.