ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Andre Caldwell was more valuable to the Broncos than he would have likely been anywhere else. And Caldwell can probably do more for his own long-term value as a Bronco than he could with any other team.
It doesn't always work out like that. But Caldwell's experience in the Broncos' offense -- and most importantly, with Peyton Manning -- enhances his value. And nowhere else would he have the opportunity that could now lurk for him: a chance to play a majority of the snaps in an offense blessed with weapons.
How much Caldwell plays will also depend on what transpires in free agency. But with Eric Decker set to test the market and Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway being mindful of future outlays that could be coming to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas after their rookie deals expire in 2015, Caldwell is in line for a massive bump in prominence within the Broncos' offense.
The first evidence that this may be in Caldwell's short-term plans: a trip to Duke University to take part in extra work with Peyton Manning and other Broncos receivers before the team gathers for offseason workouts on April 21.
"I already got my invite to go down there to Duke, so it'll be great to go out there and get some work and build that chemistry early on even before Denver," Caldwell said.
Caldwell wasn't in on the sessions at Duke last year that saw Manning work with Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Decker last year, and Caldwell said he took it personally. But at the time, Manning said it wasn't a slight.
"We were invited by Coach [David] Cutcliffe, who agreed he would host me and Eli [Manning] and some receivers. (Cutfliffe) said, 'About three guys is probably the most we could handle here.' So, I brought my three starting receivers," Manning said last April.
If that is the case again, it shows where Caldwell stands.
His work in December when he filled in for Wes Welker offered evidence that the seventh-year veteran is ready for the spotlight -- even though it wasn't a straight one-for-one replacement, since Caldwell and Welker don't have the same strengths and skill set. Nevertheless, Caldwell had 11 receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns in Welker's absence, and could be more productive with an offseason on the first team and the improved timing with Manning that yields.
Further, the 6-foot, 200-pound Caldwell is better suited to one of the outside spots than the slot that Welker handled. Caldwell's first touchdown of 2013, against Baltimore, came when he followed a stutter step with a sprint up the left sideline, working from the outside. If Decker moves on in free agency, you can expect Caldwell to have more opportunities like that -- and perhaps more big plays than he's ever experienced before.
The Broncos might bring in another veteran receiver at some point, but whether Caldwell is the final answer or part of a competition, he provides value, depth, the ability to handle all wide receiver spots and knowledge of the system -- something no one of comparable experience on the market has.
The Broncos might bring in another veteran receiver at some point. The draft is also rich in wide receivers, so the Broncos could bolster their depth there -- perhaps with a first- or second-day pick. But whether Caldwell is the final answer or part of a competition, he provides value, depth, the ability to handle all wide receiver spots and knowledge of the system -- something no one of comparable experience on the market has.