AURORA, Colo. — Safety David Bruton Jr., one of several Denver Broncos defenders set to become a free agent, wishes the NFL was more like the NBA.

“Teams such as Golden State, they get to keep everybody and try to set records, and I feel if we had the cap space we could do it,” Bruton said after launching a reading program at Kenton Elementary School on Wednesday.

The defense that brought home Denver’s third Lombardi Trophy with a 24-10 destruction of the Carolina Panthers could find itself coming apart in a few weeks.

Von Miller, the MVP of Super Bowl 50, is certain to get the franchise tag if the sides don’t first agree to a deal somewhere in the $115 million range that would make the star pass rusher the highest-paid defender in the NFL.

Miller said he expects negotiations to be “peaceful.” The Broncos do, too.

The last three times they used the franchise tag, on kicker Matt Prater, left tackle Ryan Clady and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, they signed a long-term deal by the time training camp opened.

Several other key members of the league’s best defense stand to get big bucks either from the Broncos or teams trying to unseat the champs.

They include leading tackler Danny Trevathan and defensive end Malik Jackson, both of whom had huge Super Bowl performances, and Bruton, a team captain and eighth-year pro coming off his best season, although he ended it on injured reserve with a broken right leg.

“We’d much rather have the tough decisions than the easy decisions because if you have the tough decisions, you have a lot of great players,” GM John Elway said. “To try and keep this puzzle together is the challenge. It’s going to be hard, but we look forward to it and think we can do it.”

A big decision also looms at quarterback, where Peyton Manning is mulling retirement and Brock Osweiler can become a free agent March 9.

Bruton said Denver’s defense provided Manning the perfect exit to a magnificent career, allowing him to ride off into that orange sunset a champion just like Elway did 17 years ago.

“I feel like that’s the way to go out for sure. Super Bowl champion, you got two, now you tied your brother,” said Bruton, adding the team will be fine no matter who’s under center next season.

PATRIOTS: New England released defensive back Leonard Johnson.

Johnson, 25, was signed on Dec. 9 after being released by Tampa Bay. He appeared in four regular-season games with three starts for the Patriots and made seven tackles with three passes defensed. Johnson was active but did not play in either postseason game.

STEELERS: Linebacker James Harrison said he wants to return for one more season if his body cooperates through a six-week training cycle.

“That’s the guarantee I want,” Harrison told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’m going to start the process of making sure that I can get back to where I need to be so I’m able to give 100 percent.”

Harrison, who has one year left on his contract, will be 38 in May. But he missed only one game because of injury last season and played more than 60 percent of the defensive snaps.


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