Denver Broncos get a steal in James Casey

The Denver Broncos unsurprisingly lost expensive tight end Julius Thomas this offseason, but they have stocked up on depth at the position by signing Owen Daniels and James Casey, both of whom have worked for Gary Kubiak before as members of the Houston Texans, after re-signing Virgil Green.

Armed with a deep, three-man committee of TEs that can catch passes and block, the Broncos have made cheap, smart moves at the position. If their decision to sign Casey is any indication, the Broncos might be heading to a more balanced offense with even more carries for the likes of C.J. Anderson, who should prove to be a true star in this league.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Casey officially signed a one-year deal with the Broncos yesterday, ending his long run on the free agent market that should have ended sooner. He already visited the Broncos back in late February before taking visits with the Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins, and Cincinnati Bengals. There were no shortage of options for Casey, but he circled back to Kubiak and the most prestigious team to show interest in him.

It’s unclear where Casey falls in the Broncos pecking order at tight end, and that’s mostly because he isn’t just a tight end. Casey is one of the league’s most versatile players and can just as easily line up in the backfield as an excellent lead blocker. He’s one of the most effective and versatile non-OLs at blocking, and he can make an impact in the passing game as either a receiver or a blocker. His career high for receptions is just 34, but that shows he can chip in reasonably well.

The Philadelphia Eagles barely used him in the past two seasons, as they didn’t take advantage of a player who ran a 4.66 forty out of college (though he is 30 now) and combines his underrated athleticism with effective blocking week-in and week-out. That sort of dependability in both the passing and running game will be welcome to the Broncos, who seem interested in using a lead-blocker. Casey allows the Broncos to fill a depth TE need and a lead-blocker need with just one roster spot.

Not only does signing Casey allow the Broncos to be more stingy with their roster spots so that they can keep another one of their talented backups around, but he also allows them to be stingy with their money. Every great team needs to look for bargain buys, and it looks like Casey fits the bill. Financial details haven’t been disclosed at this time, but it’s hard to see a 30-year-old TE with just six receptions in his past two seasons garnering anything notable; he’ll likely be vastly underpaid for his work in the 2015 season.

Casey’s ability to line up as a traditional tight end, an H-back, or a pass-catcher out of the slot makes him an interesting swiss-army knife in the Denver Broncos offense. Peyton Manning most likely won’t send too many passes in his general direction, but Casey can make the most out of them, especially with one of the most accurate QBs in the league feeding him the ball in an offense filled with talented players.

Maybe he gets only 20 or 30 targets, but based on his high catch rates in 2011 and 2012 with the Texans, he can easily make good on over 70% of them in third-down or red-zone situations, especially since he’s 6’3″, 240 pounds.

Oct 26, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles tight end James Casey (85) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Eagles 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I think the Broncos got a bit of a steal here, because they theoretically aren’t paying Casey anything notable and are snagging someone who can play anywhere in a pinch.

He can pave the way for Anderson, who could use an extra wiggle room after fighting for most of his yardage, give Manning some extra time in the pocket to find Demaryius Thomas downfield, or he can haul in that three-yard TD in the flat on his lone target in a game.

James Casey is the sort of overlooked, veteran jack-of-all-trades type, and it’s fair to wonder if he’s been criminally underused in his career. I mean, back in 2012, he caught over 80% of everything thrown at him, per PFF, with three TDs on just 41 targets after averaging 14.4 yards per reception with a 78.3% catch rate on 23 targets in the previous season.

His calling card is his versatility, and, unlike a few players touted for their ability to play at multiple spots, he’s actually at least competent wherever he plays. I don’t expect much out of him, but when he does see the field, Kubiak will know how to use him.

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