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Offseason Forecast: Denver Broncos

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With the offseason officially underway, Around The NFL will examine what's next for all 32 teams. The series continues with the Denver Broncos.

What's changing?


With the offseason underway, Around The NFL explores what's next for all 32 teams.

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The Broncos opted to part ways with coach John Fox, who compiled an impressive 46-18 record over four years in Denver. General manager John Elway turned to his former backup quarterback and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who tapped zone-blocking adherent Rick Dennison to run his offense and Wade Phillips to oversee his defense.

Phillips excelled under Kubiak with the Texans a few years ago. He will bring his trademark "one-gap" 3-4 defense, which will suit the talents of edge rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Phillips has been one of the NFL's best defensive operatives over the past three decades.

Kubiak is likely to be running his boot-action offense with Peyton Manning, who recently assured the Broncos' brass that he plans to return for an 18th NFL season.

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will remain a Bronco for 2015. The team announced its decision to franchise tag Thomas on Monday. The second-team All-Pro wideout was considered one of the premier impending free agents

Biggest free agents

» TE Julius Thomas: Of the playmaking Thomas duo, Julius is more likely to be retained via a long-term deal in advance of the March 10 onset of free agency. Reaching an agreement will be tricky, though, as the tight end wants to be compensated as one of the best at his position. It's a reasonable request for the first tight end in history with at least 12 touchdowns in back-to-back years.

» DT Terrance Knighton: Already Denver's most valuable run defender, Knighton takes on added importance as a natural nose tackle in Phillips' 3-4 scheme. If "Pot Roast" makes it to the open market, the Raiders are expected to pursue him with vigor. Knighton has played under new Raiders coach Jack Del Rio every season of his career.

» WR Wes Welker: The 33-year-old is reportedly contemplating retirement after a disappointing 2014 season. Even if Welker opts to keep playing, the Broncos are better off turning to 2014 second-round pick Cody Latimer as the No. 3 receiver, with Emmanuel Sanders seeing increased snaps in the slot.

Other key free agents: Orlando Franklin, Rahim Moore, Nate Irving, Jacob Tamme, Virgil Green, Quinton Carter

On the way out?


» QB Peyton Manning: The interest is mutual in Manning's return, but the quarterback is going to have to pass a physical by March 9 to do so. Scouts and executives have expressed concern to NFL Media's Albert Breer that Manning's body might finally be failing him after a prolonged late-season slump. However, both sides are working to tweak the signal-caller's contract.

» OT Ryan Clady: Manning's blindside protector has a cap hit of $10.6 million this season. He's more likely to restructure than to accept an outright pay cut.

What they need


The most pressing need is for Manning to stay healthy for 16 games, channeling the MVP form he showed through October of last season. It will be interesting to see if Kubiak and Dennison tinker with the offensive line, moving from a power scheme to a lighter, quicker unit more suited to the zone-blocking scheme. If Julius Thomas leaves, tight end could be a priority in free agency.

Nose tackle will be high on the list of needs if Knighton defects to Oakland. Similarly, the Broncos will need a free safety to pair with T.J. Ward if Rahim Moore isn't re-signed. Other than that, this roster has the pieces in place to run Phillips' defense.

Offseason crystal ball


Manning will return to do battle with Father Time for another year. Demaryius Thomas will draw the franchise tag, and Elway will find a way to pay Julius Thomas, thus appeasing his quarterback. Those moves leave little in the kitty for Knighton and Orlando Franklin, who will be replaced by cheaper options. The Broncos can still afford to go with a "best player available" approach to the draft.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast previews this week's NFL Scouting Combine with Bucky Brooks. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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