Two weeks ago, defensive end was nowhere near the top of Denver's offseason "position of need" list. After star rusher Elvis Dumervil signed with the Ravens, defensive line quickly became a higher priority for the team.
There are two veteran free agents on the market—John Abraham and Dwight Freeney—who were both brought in for visits to Dove Valley last week. But Denver is yet to sign a replacement for Dumervil, which raises the question: Will they?
The Broncos have spoken to Freeney's agent, Tom Condon, but the Denver Post's Mike Klis says a contract is not imminent. If Freeney is seeking a contract anywhere near the $14 million he was paid in 2012 (or even a deal similar to Dumervil's), he won't find it in Denver.
Freeney is 33 and coming off a five-sack season and the Broncos have other options already on the roster. Abraham is a more productive option (coming off a ten-sack season), but he is 34 years old.
The Broncos have no reason to rush to sign a veteran (several of the free agent rushers are expected to remain un-signed until after the draft), but the fact that the team has not shown a significant push for either Freeney or Abraham may be telling.
As was noted by 850KOA's Andy Lindahl, the Broncos will get second-year defensive end Jeremy Beal back from injured reserve this spring, and the team may be planning on targeting a defensive end in April. The Broncos currently own six selections in the draft, with their first pick coming at 28th overall.
Beal was a seventh round selection in 2011 and was primed to upset a starter last summer before a knee injury sent him to the injured reserve list. In his first (and final) preseason game of 2012, Beal notched two sacks. If he returns with a fully recovered knee, he will be a dark horse to watch at training camp.
Additional defensive end options already on the roster include second-year defensive end Derek Wolfe and also Robert Ayers, who has yet to live up to the hype surrounding his selection in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
As a rookie in 2012, Wolfe rotated around on Denver's defensive line, lining up as a defensive end on a majority of his snaps. Wolfe recorded six sacks in his first season, a half-sack more than Houston's J.J. Watt recorded in his first year (just in case you were wondering).
In Denver's final regular season game of 2012, Ayers was in on just 32% of the defensive snaps (compare to Wolfe's 76% and Dumervil's 80%), making few impressions throughout the season. Since 2009, Ayers had recorded just 6.5 sacks. With Dumervil gone, Ayers may see more playing time, which could lead to more production.
Whether Denver's defensive end plans include signing a veteran, drafting a rookie (or both), Dumervil's absence should open the door for increased playing time for some of the young linemen already on the roster.
Don't overlook any of the ends already with the team—Dumervil himself came seemingly out of nowhere to record 8.5 sacks in his rookie season. There's nothing stopping Ayers, Wolfe, Beal, or someone else from doing the same in 2013.