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Mason's Mailbag: Talking free agency, and reflecting on Von Miller's 2014

As always, you can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase, use the submission form or scroll to the bottom of this page.

Von Miller almost looked invisible this season, especially compared to his first two seasons with the Broncos. I was really excited for the Ware-Miller pass rush tandem and the boasting that was going on prior to the regular season. What is going on there; would you say it's a lack of utilization or a regression on Von Miller's part? -- Matthew Choi

I'm not sure what team and player you were watching.

Maybe I just took more notice of his 14 sacks than you did.  ProFootballFocus.com' metrics graded him as the second-best linebacker against the run last year, behind Oakland's Khalil Mack. PFF also rated Miller scond-best in the pass rush, behind Kansas City's Justin Houston, who had more pass-rushing opportunities working as a 3-4 edge rusher, -- as Miller will be in 2015 -- instead of splitting between 4-3 strong-side linebacker and pass-rushing defensive end.

That's a damn good season for any player, let alone one coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament. And his career sack total of 49 is more through four seasons than all but four players all-time -- Reggie White, Derrick Thomas, J.J. Watt and Dwight Freeney.

Together, Miller and Ware achieved their goal of outpacing at least one team with their combined sack total of 24, which was more than the Falcons, Raiders or Bengals amassed. Only four teams had duos with more sacks than Ware and Miller.

The perception of a sub-par pass-rushing game (the playoff loss to Indianapolis with no sacks and eight blitzes) has a way of overshadowing the larger sample size. One quiet game does not mean that Miller "almost looked invisible this season."

That being said, I expect him to be more active in Wade Phillips' defense -- and for the entire pass rush to be less predictable, allowing Miller to attack from multiple angles. He will likely be utilized in some new ways. But it doesn't mean he vanished last year.

If a player has less than three accrued seasons and has an expiring contract, he becomes an "exclusive-rights free agent," meaning that if his team tenders him at the designated rate, his only option is to sign the deal and return. If a team does not offer an ERFA tender, he is free to sign with any club.

When a player has three accrued seasons -- but not four -- he is a restricted free agent, and the team can match any offer (and, depending on the original contract tender, can receive draft-pick compensation if it chooses not to match). After four seasons, you can be an unrestricted free agent, free to negotiate with any team.

Do you think we have any chance at getting Ndamukong Suh and would he even fit well in a 3-4 defense? -- Josh Roth

A player at Suh's level is scheme-independent. He can flourish anywhere.

But the Broncos have a better chance of successfully cultivating coconut palm trees outside the front entrance of the Broncos Fieldhouse than of landing him.

Not one bit. Teams have entire staffs of personnel people. It's not like they can't walk down the street and chew gum at the same time. They can multi-task.

Given the recent trade Philly made with Buffalo, sending LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso, I find myself wondering if we (the Broncos) have looked into upgrading the inside linebacker position at all? A guy like Alonso could have been a pretty nifty upgrade, as well as giving us a little depth (with Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan our only middle options currently). Considering the stable of young RBs we have, trading one (probably Anderson) might have been a small price to pay. -- Sean Mahanna

The price for Kiko Alonso would have been more than just C.J. Anderson -- more than any individual member of the Broncos' running back corps, to be honest. Trading for Alonso might have involved a running back, plus one of the two inside linebackers you mentioned.

And to say that Marshall and Trevathan are the only inside options is incorrect. Assuming restricted free agent Steven Johnson returns, you have one backup who proved he can be an effective two-down starting linebacker, since he was on the first team for half a season after Nate Irving's injury.

Three players who were rookies last year will be in the backup mix, and if this team is going to be serious about its draft-and-develop mindset, then showing faith in Lamin Barrow, Corey Nelson and Todd Davis (not a draftee, but a rookie waiver claim) is a prudent call.

Realistically, you can't have many proven starters as depth. That doesn't work under the salary cap, because when their contracts expire, they're going to want a starting opportunity -- and a starter's salary -- elsewhere The Broncos have the luxury of having two young starters as reserves (Davis and Johnson, if Johnson is back) because injuries forced them into the lineup -- and forced them to grow. This team has more ILB depth than people realize.

On a per-possession basis, the offense was more efficient at scoring after Julius Thomas injured his ankle against St. Louis than before, so it didn't exactly struggle in a big-picture sense. The blocking in the run game improved as the Broncos played to the strengths of the players they had available, particularly with Virgil Green seeing more snaps at tight end.

But the Broncos clearly missed Thomas in the red zone. Any contingency plan for life without Thomas must include finding a way to restore that down-the-seam production from the tight end inside the 20.

Which current Broncos player should be on the next season of Dancing With the Stars?
-- Jordan Brantley

Terrance Knighton. Until the start of the league year, all pending free agents remain "current Broncos players." Besides, defensive coordinator and current Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio always said he was a "dancing bear."

**

Should the Broncos look into getting C.J. Spiller in free agency? I believe he would be a good fit.**
-- Donald Grosshans

Spiller is a luxury item given the looming needs to be created by free-agency departures, the finite limit on cash and cap space and the fact that the Broncos already have a Pro Bowl starting running back, two backups who have started and still have upside and another reserve (Juwan Thompson) who is an effective short-yardage back with some nimbleness in space.

Further, this is one of the best draft classes at the position in recent memory. Spiller is electric and if he can stay healthy, could flourish, but there are too many other areas of greater need.

Is the transition tag an option for the Broncos as far as Julius Thomas is concerned? This would get the Broncos a draft pick at least.
-- Rod Fullenwider

You can only use the transition tag if you do not have a franchise-tagged player. Once Demaryius Thomas received the franchise tag, that possibility for Julius Thomas vanished.

What is your guess on what the Broncos do at safety if they lose Rahim Moore?
-- Donnie Campbell

Find a quiet corner of an empty closet, curl into the fetal position and sob?

Seriously, they could look elsewhere on the market, but the Broncos already have a significant investment in the secondary, with Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and T.J. Ward all receiving large contracts in the last 12 months. Speedy veteran David Bruton, who did particularly well at diagnosing screen passes when he saw sub-package work last year, could be an option.

"I'm looking forward to that opportunity: not just to be out there on special teams, but also, to take advantage of my opportunity to play defense," Bruton told me Tuesday.

**

Like the Patriots and Rams etc. do, will the Broncos ever wear their pre-1996 orange uniforms once or twice a year? Fans love that old 'D' helmet and orange jersey look!**
-- Micah Pexa

It's not a viable option at the present time -- for the same reason why the Patriots had to end the annual cameos for the 'Pat Patriot' logo and uniforms.

New England, Atlanta and Tampa Bay all had to ditch their throwbacks once the NFL mandated that teams wear the same helmet throughout the season. The Rams and Bills are able to continue wearing proper throwbacks from head to toe because each team's helmet color -- navy and white, respectively -- is the same as it was in the era their throwbacks commemorate. That wasn't the case for the other teams.

And that is why the Broncos can't bring back the old orange uniforms -- at least, not in the proper fashion. The current helmet is navy blue; the previous one was light blue (although it was a darker shade, closer to royal blue, in the early 1970s). If you're going to do a throwback, do it right; you don't want to take a shortcut like the 1994 New York Jets. They wore 1960s throwbacks but kept their green helmets of the 1990s and slapped the old logo and stripes on them, which looked lazy.

If a team can ever figure out how to utilize a smartphone- or tablet-style "skin" to stick on their current helmets to replicate the old design, then you could see the throwbacks, but until that point, it's out of the question given the NFL's current helmet mandate.

I have not seen this addressed but I believe part of the strategy for Elway is with an eye to addressing free agency with the ability to gain compensatory picks in the future. Baltimore (and some others) have done this and have a bunch of additional picks over the years. This should work in the Broncos' favor this year and I'm betting with the amount of free agents they will lose, they get a whole bunch of high compensatory picks in 2016. What do you think?
-- RT Phillips

It's not a bad side benefit, and one reason why DeMarcus Ware was attractive last year -- as a cut of the Cowboys, his arrival did not factor into the compensatory-pick calculation.

But sustaining a successful operation requires converting as many of those compensatory picks into contributing players as possible, because if the Broncos continue to develop elite players -- three who were rookies in 2011 have combined for six Pro Bowls (Miller, Harris and Julius Thomas), but only two are under contract for 2015 -- they're not going to be able to keep everyone. That's a conundrum as the Broncos plan their long-term cap strategy; the '11 draft delivered two premium players as measured by both analytics and eye test: Miller and Harris. That led to tough choices that will be in evidence in the next few days.


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The analysis, opinion and speculation in this story represents that of the author, gathered through research and reporting, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Denver Broncos organization.

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