DENVER (CBS4) – When running back C.J. Anderson joined 10 teammates on the Pro Bowl roster Monday, the Broncos set a franchise record with 11 players earning all-star honors, eclipsing the 10-player mark from the 1998 Super Bowl season.
Those 11 Broncos comprise half the team’s starting lineup. (For the record, the other 10 Pro Bowlers are Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas, Ryan Clady, DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and T.J. Ward.)
But what about the other 11, and are they worthy of post-season accolades? Perhaps more importantly, how will they impact the 2015 Broncos?
A lot will depend newly hired coach Gary Kubiak’s vision for the team and what happens to the Broncos’ 17 free agents. Still, here’s a look at how the other half plays and how instrumental they’ll be to next season’s team — if they’re still around in September.
Offensive Linemen Orlando Franklin, Will Montgomery, Manny Ramirez and Louis Vasquez
The Broncos played musical offensive line in 2014. And while the line’s season that started on a sour note finished with a happier tune, the Broncos will most certainly reshuffle it again in 2015.
Chris Clark and Paul Cornick started games for the Broncos at various points during the season, but they didn’t end as starters. At center, Montgomery replaced Ramirez, who moved to right guard. Vasquez was sent to right tackle. Clady played all 17 games at left tackle. Franklin played left guard in 2014 after three seasons at right tackle.
A poor rushing attack — the Broncos were 27th in the NFL through 10 games — precipitated the shuffling and drew considerable criticism.
“I can’t even explain how bad it is. It’s horrible,” former Broncos guard Mark Schlereth said in one of the most withering critiques.
The Broncos rebounded significantly with an aggressive rushing attack later in the season, but it’s likely there will be more changes. It shouldn’t be shocking if they sign a free agent to meet immediate needs or invest through the draft.
Franklin and Montgomery are unrestricted free agents. Clady, Vasquez and Ramirez are under contract.
Wide Receiver Wes Welker
Outside of the offensive line, Welker is the only Broncos offensive starter not to make the Pro Bowl. But he’s certainly compiled a Pro Bowl-caliber — and Hall of Fame-worthy — career. He’s caught nearly 9,900 yards to accompany 50 touchdowns in his 10-year career.
Welker, however, suffered through a down year in 2014, after missing the start of the season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He also missed time because of multiple concussions during his two-year tenure with the Broncos.
At 33, Welker acknowledges questions are swirling about his health. His production has decreased, too: While he caught a career-high 10 touchdowns from Manning in 2013, he hauled in just 464 yards this season — the lowest since his rookie year.
With his health a key consideration, it wouldn’t be surprising if Welker retired.
“I don’t know. There’s a lot of things I need to figure out,” he told The Denver Post after the Broncos season-ending loss.
If he returns to the Broncos, it could be in a diminished capacity.
Defensive Linemen Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams and Terrance Knighton
The biggest question mark is Knighton. As a free agent, he would need to re-sign with the team to continue his career as a Bronco, and it’s possible former defensive coordinator and current Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio will court the nose tackle. Because the Broncos will try to resign the Thomases, Knighton could be a casualty of money.
If that happens, Williams or backup Marvin Austin might fill Knighton’s role.
Williams and Wolfe, who bring moderately high salary cap numbers, are signed through the 2016 and 2015 seasons, respectively.
Linebackers Brandon Marshall and Steven Johnson
It’s very possible both these linebackers won’t start in 2015. Neither is under contract for next season, and they’re both restricted free agents.
Marshall and Johnson were thrust into starting roles in 2014 when the Broncos wore thin at the linebacker position.
Marshall, who led the team with 113 tackles at the mike linebacker spot, shined. Johnson played very well down the stretch, so it’ll be interesting to see how either will fit into the team’s defensive plans once Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving return from injuries.
Free Safety Rahim Moore
Moore is not under contract for 2015, but there’s certainly a chance he could return as a Bronco next season. That’s because he likely isn’t on the radar screen of teams trying to find a high-profile safety to add to their defense.
When Broncos fans think of Moore, they probably still think of Jacoby Jones’ 70 yard touchdown catch in the AFC Divisional round two seasons ago. It was ugly. And while he took the blame for the devastating loss and hasn’t made any major noticeable blunders on the field since then, his six interceptions and 93 tackles in the past two seasons haven’t really been enough to erase that one lingering memory.
Losing Moore to another team who is willing to pay him more probably wouldn’t draw a big outcry.
– Written by Tim Skillern for CBSDenver.com. … with contribution by Jesse Sarles.