Rebuilding The Denver Broncos
Over the course of the last two seasons the Denver Broncos have seen themselves go from Super Bowl 50 champions to one of the worst and most dysfunctional teams in the league. A once great defense has begun to decline and the lack of quality quarterback play has plagued this team from achieving any kind of relative success the last two seasons. 2017 saw the team finish with it’s worse record since 2011. The locker room began to break down due to tension between the defensive backfield and lack of quality quarterback play. Nevertheless, this team still does have talent, specifically on the defensive side of the football. Von Miller is still a top ten player and Chris Harris Jr. is arguably a top five cornerback in the National Football league. 2018 marks a boom or bust season for the Denver. If they continue to struggle for the third season in a row it may in fact be time to blow the whole thing up. This being said this team has the potential to replicate it’s 2015 season if the right moves are made.
Order of Business:
Step 1: Cuts & Futures Contracts
Step 2: Re-signing
Step 3: Scouting (positions of need, potential fits, i.e)
Step 4: Free Agency
Step 5: NFL Draft
Step 6: Depth Chart
The coaching change cycle has already commenced and the Broncos ultimately decided to give Vance Joseph another season at the helm. If Joseph has another poor season he’s likely not returning in 2019. As for cuts it’s likely Aqib Talib is released. Rumors have surfaced that teams will not take his cap figure in a trade when they can realistically acquire him for cheaper on the open market. Assuming he is cut, Denver is left with roughly $37 million dollars in cap space according to overthecap.com. Demaryius Thomas is a question mark with this team. By releasing/trading him, Denver would free up $4 million dollars off their cap total. This being said, freeing $4 million dollars of their cap for in return for losing one of the league's most consistent receivers who will help in the development of a potential young signal caller just seems unjust. Thomas stays on the team for 2018. Menelik Watson was signed last offseason and ended the season on injured reserve. Even in his seven games as a starter he looked lackluster to say the least. Cutting him frees up $4 million dollars. It’s estimated that 5-10 players could be brought back on futures contracts. Assuming 5 are brought back on future type deals, Denver will be left with $39 million.
Denver has a multitude of impending free agents. The first wave of free agents to look at are the restricted free agents. Shaquil Barrett, Matt Paradis, and Bennie Fowler are all restricted free agents and Denver should attempt to bring back Barrett and Pradis. Barrett has proved to be a very nice compliment to Von Miller on the outside and should be paid accordingly. Paradis is restricted and should be offered a deal as well. He’s been the only stable member of the Denver's offensive line for quite some time now. Ideally Denver would like to pay around $7.5 million dollars a year for Barrett and $6 million for Pradis. Denver is then left with $29 million dollars to spend. Todd Davis played at a solid level over the course of last season. Rewarding Davis with a deal would be wise. An estimated deal for Davis would look something like 2 years, 7.5 million (3 guaranteed). Virgil Green could also be brought back for a short term deal but with the potential of Jake Herrmann and the return of Jake Butt, Green is expendable. One more thing to note, Denver should look to move Paxton Lynch. While he has shown little competence over the course of his career there is a team somewhere who will take a chance on his talent. A team like Pittsburgh could take a chance on Lynch. Lynch still has potential and would benefit from learning under Big Ben for hopefully at least one more season. Moving Lynch to Pittsburgh for a fifth rounder and a future 6th makes sense*. As for Trevor Simeone, he has shown the capability to be a starter and could end up being one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league and potential spot starter if needed.
To recap thus far Denver has released Aqib Talib, traded Paxton Lynch and re-signed Shaquil Barrett, Matt Paradis and Todd Davis while maintaining more than $20 million dollars to spend in FA.
Denver has some holes to fill this offseason. To start, the quarterback position is the most glaring weakness on the roster. Trevor Simone has looked like a premier backup not a starting quarterback. Paxton Lynch has obviously not worked out. Denver has top five selection in this years draft and have plenty of options to choose from at the quarterback position. Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Baker Mayfield are all viable and it seems likely both Allen and Darnold will be off the board when Denver picks. Even if assuming Allen is available passing on him would be the wisest thing to do. Paxton Lynch is another quarterback with incredible physical traits but lacking in every other facet of his game. Denver would be smart to not repeat their own mistake. This leaves Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen, both quarterbacks who have received criticism from the media for the off the field “issues”. Mayfield is said to be arrogant, and sometimes childish. He also had a DUI last year which may be an issue for some teams. Rosen on the other hand is described as simply being someone who’s cocky attitude rubs teammates the wrong way. Given the dysfunction in Denver's locker room it’d be in my opinion wiser to take Mayfield if deciding between the two. Bakers a leader, no question about that. While Rosen may be more pro ready, Denver needs a field general, a leader. Baker Mayfield matches those descriptions to a tee. The right tackle and guard positions leave little to be desired as well. Finding a compliment to take the burden off injury plagued CJ Anderson would be a great step in revamping the offense as well. Other offensive positions that can and should be addressed are tight end (finding a receiving threat) and wide receiver (a #¾ guy who can provide depth behind Thomas/Sanders). On the defensive side of the football finding a replacement for Aqib Talib is a need. As is adding depth across the defensive line and finding an inside linebacker. If we are to prioritize these needs it would look as followed:
Defensive line depth
#2 Running back
Heading into free agency Denver should look to bring in a veteran quarterback to help develop Simeone and a potential quarterback in the draft. Ryan Fitzpatrick would be a great option (side note: Kirk Cousins is not worth $30 million dollars a season. Taking a risk on a QB in the upcoming draft gives you a. More financial flexibility and b. More long term potential). Let’s assume Fitz is brought in for one year at $3.5 million dollars. As for the offensive line, Andrew Norwell is an option but given the depth of this years class and the cost of Norwell it would be best to pass. Nate Soldner is a player who I’d personally love to see brought in. With Garrett Bolles continuing to develop on the left side Soldner can kick over to right tackle. He’s had an up and down past few seasons and should be brought in on a one year, “prove it” deal (1 yr. 7 mill; 2.5 mil guaranteed). An interesting thing to note, Soldner is also from Denver. We’ve addressed needs 1 & 2 thus far in free agency. Inside linebacker can be addressed during the draft as we focus our attention to the defensive line. I’d like to see Dwight Freeney, Mitch Urban and Dominique Easley all brought in on one year prove it deals. None of the three are potential starters expect for possible Easley but he has been unable to stay healthy constantly. Their deals could look something like, Dwight Freeney 1 yr $1 million dollars, Mitch Urban 2 yrs $5 million and Dominique Easley 1 yr $2 million. These signings give Denver $12 million dollars left. As for one final FA signing Nevin Lawson could be brought in on a prove it deal. In 2016 Nelson looked fantastic, 2017 proved to be a different tale (1 yr 1.5 mil).
To recap free agency:
Shaquil Barrett, OLB (4 years 28 million)
Matt Paradis, C (4 years 24 million)
Todd Davis, ILB (2 years 7 million)
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB (1 year 4 million)
Nate Solder, TO (1 year 7.5 million)
Dwight Freeney, EDGE (1 year 1 million)
Dominique Easley, DE (1 year 2 million)
Mitch Urine, DE (2 years 5 million)
Nevin Lawson, CB (1 year 1.5 million)
Heading into the NFL draft we’ve solidified the right tackle position and added legitimate depth to the defensive line and secondary. Positions that have yet to be addressed are quarterback, right guard, and inside linebacker. Depth can also be added at the skill positions. Denver holds the fifth overall pick and like I said earlier, should take a quarterback. Kirk Cousins is not worth 30 million dollars and a player such as Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, or even Josh Allen offer more long term upside. Rosen's character concerns scare me out of him here at five, especially with this team. Baker Mayfield makes perfect sense for Denver here at five. Ideally, he’d spend the pre-season as a backup like Mitch Trubisky and Deshaun Watson, then become the starter once the season begins. Heading into the second round it makes sense to find an interior offensive linemen. Either Isaiah Wynn or Will Hernandez should be available. Wynn impressed me more at the Senior Bowl so he gets the nod here. After addressing the offensive the Broncos focus can't shift to the linebacking core. Josey Jewell plays with the grit you want in an inside backer and would help sure up the run defense. Marcell Ateman closes out the third round giving Denver a big bodied possession receiver to help compliment Thomas and Sanders. Josh Sweat is a fantastic athlete with a lot of untapped potential. In the fourth round he could be a potential steal if developed correctly. Quenton Meeks is from Stanford is a long corny with the ability to cover the sidelines. His ball skills and tackling need some refinement but would make for a nice developmental piece in the Denver secondary. Mike McCray is a leader on defense who would help bring a presence to Denver's linebacking core. To close out the fifth round the Broncos take a risk on Miami running back, Mark Walton. Walton suffered a knee injury to end his season and will likely cause his stock to drop. If Walton can come back healthy, him and CJ Anderson could make for a powerful 1-2 punch. To end the draft Denver takes Logan Woodside from Toledo and Richie James to serve as a return man.
To recap the draft:
Round 1- Baker Mayfield QB, Oklahoma
Round 2 - Isaiah Wynn OG, Georgia
Round 3- Josey Jewell LB, Iowa
Round 3 - Marcell Ateman WR, Oklahoma St.
Round 4 - Josh Sweat EDGE, Florida State
Round 4 - Quenton Nelson CB, Stanford
Round 5 - Mike Mccray LB, Michigan
Round 5 - Mark Walton RB, Miami
Round 6 - Logan Woodside QB, Toledo
Round 7 - Richie James WR, Middle Tennessee
Woodside would go straight to the practice squad. Baker Mayfield would begin the season as the starter and Simeon as the backup. If Walton can return to pre-injury form he would then serve as CJ Anderson's compliment. If the Denver coaching staff believes Walton is not 100% signing it’d be time to bring in another back to compete. All in all Denver has the chance to return to the top of the NFL in 2018. An offseason like this would certainly be a great first start in a return back to the throne.