Within an hour after selecting Western Kentucky defensive end Quanterus "Q" Smith in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft in April, the Denver Broncos went out and signed former San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips to a one-year deal.
The signing showed that (a) the team has bought into the belief that you can never have too many pass-rushers and (b) are counting on more than one player to step up and fill the performance void that was created by Elvis Dumervil's departure earlier in the year.
But the team was attracted to Phillips because of his versatility, and part of his duties will include playing outside linebacker. So is the team done addressing the defensive end position?
"We never stop looking," said Broncos Executive V.P. of Football Operations John Elway in a post-draft press conference. "But I'd say we are pretty happy with where we are. We never say never—we're pretty satisfied with the pass-rushers we have—but we never shut the door."
Elway makes it sound as if defensive end is not a high priority to target, but the possibility of bringing another one in hasn't been ruled out.
According to ESPN.com, the Broncos currently have $8.4 million in cap space. It is unclear if that number includes the one-year, $1 million deal that Phillips signed last month, which probably lowered the team's cap number to $7.4 million.
Assuming that $7.4 is the correct number and factoring in the approximate $4 million the team will use to sign their drafted rookies, the team has around $3.4 million available to spend, which would put Freeney just out of their range—but Freeney would likely negotiate, accepting less than his asking price.
And the Broncos will create more cap room this summer by the way of veteran cuts. Players including middle linebacker Joe Mays, offensive guard Chris Kuper and one (or both) of running backs Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee are all expected to hit the open market before or during training camp this summer.
After a few expected offseason cuts are made, expect the Broncos to again have $8-10 million (or more) in available cap space. That would put Freeney well within their range if they decide to still target the veteran pass-rusher.
Defensive ends Robert Ayers and Derek Wolfe are returning and are currently the starting right and left ends, respectively, with rookie Smith and newly-signed Phillips expected to see rotational roles. Adding a veteran rotational rusher like Freeney to the mix would give the team more depth at the position.
As of now, defensive end is not a "need" position for the team. But as Elway said, the door is still open.
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