December 29, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) congratulates wide receiver Eric Decker (87) on a touchdown during the first quarter against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

AFC West Surveillance: Denver Broncos to let Eric Decker, Others Test Free Agency

Eric Decker is going to be allowed to test free agency, according to Mike Kils of the Denver Post. The report cites John Elway as saying all of the team’s perspective free agents would be allowed to test the market once free agency begins on March 11. The idea of signing anyone to a deal before free agency appears unlikely.

Pre-emptive deals with star players such as wide receiver Decker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and running back Knowshon Moreno are unlikely. This way, the player and the club will have a better understanding of the player’s market value.

The 6-3, 210-pound Decker has been the team’s second best receiver for the last three years, and should be a huge commodity in free agency. Kils estimates Decker will command a multi-year deal worth somewhere between $7 and $9 million annually. That number could go up if other projected free agent wide receivers are signed to extensions or franchised by their current teams.

Eric Decker has been one of the most productive wide receivers in the NFL the last two seasons.

Eric Decker has been one of the most productive wide receivers in the NFL the last two seasons.

It appears Denver is unlikely to be able to retain most of their top-end free agents, which means they are going to have difficult time finding affordable replacements for them next season. Also, their unwillingness to sign those free agents likely reflects their anticipation of Peyton Manning returning for the 2014 season. Over the Cap has Manning’s cap number listed as $17.5 million for 2014. If that cap number were to be cleared then it is likely Denver would have to money to spend to keep Decker, Moreno, and others.

The situation gets worse for the Broncos. Denver’s list of free agents is filled with starters and key contributors. Aside from Decker, Rodgers-Cromartie, and Moreno, starters Zane Beadles, Shaun Phillips, Mike Adams, and Paris Lenon are free agents. Non-starters, but key contributors, include linebacker Wesley Woodyard, defensive ends Robert Ayers and Jeremy Mincey, wide receiver Andre Caldwell, cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Marquice Cole, safety Michael Huff, offensive lineman Steve Vallos, and tackle Winston Justice.

While Denver should be able to retain some of these players, bringing them all back is out of the question. Denver is going to have one hick of a time keeping their current standard of play, let alone get better, if they are going to lose their biggest contributors. And, as the Super Bowl would indicate, they definitely need to get better.

Denver has seven picks in May’s draft and will select 31st overall in the first round.

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