Denver spent most of last season atop the AFC West. Even though it was one of the worst divisions in football, they managed to let the San Diego Chargers beat them in the final game of the season and slip into the playoffs. The Broncos were sent home to watch the playoffs from their couches and head coach Mike Shanahan was relieved of his coaching duties. The Broncos only took a few weeks to hire Josh McDaniels, the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. McDaniels moved quickly to fill in the coaching staff and now awaits the start of free agency and then the draft, where they hope to fill in some of the holes.
Broncos Free Agents
The Broncos have 9 free agents this year. Backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey finished the year on the IR. The Broncos may opt to bring him back, but they also have options in free agency. New coach Josh McDaniels is known for his quarterback development (like Matt Cassel), so they might opt for drafting a young man and grooming him to be Jay Cutler’s backup for years to come. Running Back Michael Pittman will probably not be back and may opt to retire after his neck injury. Two wide receivers, Keary Colbert and Darrell Jackson, will be leaving the team after lackluster seasons where younger players showed them up and eventually pushed them down the depth chart. Center Tom Nalen will probably retire after his 15th season with younger guys ready to take over there.
On defense, the Broncos will try to resign Ebenezer Ekuban, the 9th year defensive end and local favorite. Marlon McCree, who was brought in to bolster the secondary, will leave the team along with corner back Karl Paymah. Neither of them had quite the effect that was expected. Finally middle line backer Nate Webster may return, but will likely test the market before accepting the Broncos offer.
A Look at the Broncos
Taking a look around the offense, you see an up and coming unit. Quarterback Jay Cutler just completed his third year, passing for over 4,000 yards and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. The team had 7 running backs go on the IR this year and still managed to average over 100 yards rushing. With at least six of them who should be returning, there are more than enough to fill in both the running back position (Ryan Torain, Andre Hall, and Selvin Young) and the full back position (Peyton Hillis). Of the four guys named, all are either first, second, or third year players. The starting receivers are Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal with Brandon Stokely serving as a third option. The tight end position contains great blocker and serviceable receiver Daniel Graham as well as great receiver and serviceable blocker Tony Scheffler. The offensive line is a mixture of veterans and young guys who will be perennial pro bowlers. The tackles are in their first and third year and are very solid, especially rookie Ryan Clady, Denver’s first round choice last year. Ryan Harris knows the system now and is very good as well. Guard Ben Hamilton just completed his 8th season and will be 32 by opening day of next year, but most offensive linemen play well into their 30s. Chris Kuper, the other guard, just completed his 3rd year and will be around for years as well. Center is the biggest question mark for this offense being the position with the biggest potential for change. Tom Nalen, who has been a Bronco since 1994, spent this season on the IR and will be a free agent. He will probably retire, so the Broncos will move on from him. Casey Wiegmann came over from the Chiefs and started all 16 games for the Broncos this year. Should he stay, he is a decent center. However, should he leave, last year’s 4th round selection, Kory Lichtensteiger will take over. While he may not be at the same level Nalen was at his peak, he will do the job for years to come.
On the defensive side, holes are more evident. Defensive ends Elvis Dumervil and Ebenezer Ekuban made up half of a defensive line that just couldn’t stop the run. Ekuban will be a free agent and many Broncos fans love him, so he may be brought back, unless Mike Nolan, the new defensive coordinator for the Broncos, decides he doesn’t fit the defensive scheme they will be installing. Rumor has it that they will run a 3-4 next year if they can get the personnel in place, so many of the defensive front 7 may be changing in the next few months. Defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson had a disappointing season after being acquired from the Jets. Marcus Thomas, the other defensive tackle, has been getting better, but is still not to the level they were hoping he would reach. Of all the starters on this line, Dumervil is probably the most likely to be successful next year. The linebackers have been the targets of much criticism, in most part due to a weak line in front of them. DJ Williams is probably the best member of the unit and will get even better if the coaching staff just decides on a position for him to play and leaves him there. Nate Webster may be let go in free agency and Williams shifted to the inside with Boss Bailey returning from injury and Wesley Woodyard showing huge potential in his rookie season. Jamie Winborn had a good season, so along with Williams, Bailey, and Woodyard, a 3-4 might not require too many personnel changes. The Broncos defensive backfield is not too bad. Champ Bailey and Dre Bly form one of the league’s best tandem of cornerbacks. However, both are on the bad side of 30 and so a look at the future might be in order. The safety positions are where the Broncos defensive backfield falls to pieces. Josh Barrett showed improvement at free safety, but he was far from elite. Marquand Manuel was far from great and was often beat by offensive players. Marlon McCree was brought in to help out, but never amounted to anything. These two positions represent the other big holes on defense.
The Broncos special teams were a pleasant surprise for the most part. Many feared that kicker Matt Prater would not be able to replace the legendary Jason Elam who bolted for Atlanta last off season. He started the season out to prove them wrong, but toward the end of the year, his early success crumbled. Brett Kern, the rookie punter, showed a lot of promise and should be a solid option in upcoming years. Rookie return man Eddie Royal was the best return man Denver has seen in years. The burning question is whether they want to risk their number two receiver on kick/punt returns.
The Broncos head into the off season with around $34 million in cap room. They will need to fill in some gaps and try to build a more solid team. The biggest positions of need are Defensive Ends, Defensive Tackles, Free Safety, Strong Safety, Kicker, Offensive line depth, a backup quarterback, and possibly a line backer or two. With free agency and the draft coming up, the Broncos hope to shore up these needs.
For Defensive Ends, the market is strong. Guys like Terrell Suggs or Julius Peppers would instantly make huge improvements and Chris Canty or Antonio Smith would be great additions as well as lesser-knowns like Chauncey Davis or Igor Olshansky. All of those are young guys who could help out immediately. The other option is to look for the draft, where they can hope that the likes of Everette Brown, Brian Orakpo, Tyson Jackson, or Aaron Maybin fall to the number 12 pick. The problem with a draft pick is that they sometimes take a few years to develop, especially on the defensive line. The final option is finding a trade partner who has a defensive end they want to trade for a reasonable offer, but as of this writing there are no big name defensive ends being shopped openly. Suggs will probably return to the Ravens and Peppers will most likely be franchised by the Panthers and then traded. Chauncey Davis is worth chasing as well as Igor, but any other free agents probably wouldn’t fill in as well.
Defensive tackle is another position with some potential. Albert Haynesworth is the top of this market, but he will most likely remain in Tennessee if the Titans make a decent offer. Rocky Bernard and Jovan Haye are two solid options and if they aren’t willing to make the trip to Denver, Shaun Cody, John Thornton, Tank Johnson, Grady Jackson, or Darwin Walker could provide upgrades. If they wait until the draft, BJ Raji and Peria Jerry are both intriguing options. If they don’t get one in the first round, guys like Fili Moala, Evander Hood, Ron Brace, Jarron Gilber, Ricky Jean-Francois, and Sen’Derrick Marks should be around when they pick in the second or third rounds.
The safety position does have a few options this year with Jermaine Phillips, Oshiomogho Atogwe, and Brian Dawkins are all available. If Phillips leaves Tampa, he would definitely be worth chasing. Atogwe may be worth a run as well. Dawkins is getting older, but he is still one of the best safeties to play the game. Other guys who could fill in for a year or two while a younger guy is brought up to speed include Mike Brown, Rodney Harrison, Darren Sharper, and Lawyer Milloy, all of whom are good enough to start immediately, but will be in their 10th year or more. Looking to the draft, William Moore out of Missouri is the best option by far, but there are a good number of options available in the second or third round and even a few that won’t go until the second day. Denver may go for a guy like Rashad Johnson, Patrick Chung, Louis Delmas, Derek Pegues, Nic Harris, and Mike Hamlin late on the first day or early on the second to shore up the safety position.
Kicker is not as big of a need as the positions above, and will probably not be addressed in free agency or the draft. Should Denver try to make a bold move, Rob Bironas, Shayne Graham, and Mike Nugent are all currently scheduled to be available on February 27th. There aren’t any standout players in the draft, but the Broncos may bring on an undrafted free agent to compete with Prater.
Offensive line depth is a need for the Broncos as they never make it very far without at least one lineman going down for the season. They have two very good young tackles, but the draft is loaded with promising tackles along with a few that are free agents that they might consider for backup roles. There are four guards that might warrant a pick in the top half of the draft. These are Duke Robinson, Herman Johnson, Andy Levitre, and Trevor Canfield. Centers Alex Mack, Max Unger, Eric Wood, Jonathan Luigs, and Antoine Caldwell could be good selections for the Broncos, especially if Nalen retires and Wiegmann doesn’t return. They could also consider a free agent like Jason Brown or Matt Birk. Center is their biggest need, and they could afford to boost their guards.
Backup quarterbacks are a position that isn’t important until your starter goes down. The Broncos may try to re-sign Patrick Ramsey since he has been with the team for a while, but with a new offense coming, they might consider bringing in new blood. Picking up a guy like Graham Harrell, Nate Davis, or Rhett Bomar in the draft and letting McDaniels form him might lead to a very solid backup for the next four years. The Broncos could go after a free agent, but many of them want to be a starter, so they may have trouble finding a guy content to come in as a backup. Some to look at might include Chris Simms, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Charlie Frye, or Brooks Bollinger. One of these guys could come in and serve as a capable backup should Jay Cutler go down to injury.
The final position that will be looked at is the linebackers. Bringing in a guy like Karlos Dansby, Ray Lewis, or Bart Scott could have huge impact on what was one of the leagues worst defenses. Even the addition of Keith Brooking, Leroy Hill, Michael Boley, Jonathan Vilma, Channing Crowder, or Mike Peterson would help. If they can sign one of these guys it could help the defense that could stop the run. There is also the option to look at the draft. Guys like Ray Maualuga, James Laurinaitis, Aaron Curry, Brian Cushing, and Larry English will all go high in the draft, but picking up Clay Matthews in the second round is still an option.
For those who have played the Madden NFL game, you know that as long as cap room permits, you can sign almost any free agent. Also, trades are based on overall ranking more than potential. So give those factors, the ideal Madden off-season for the Broncos would go something like this: Offer Haynesworth a contract of $9 million which snags him. Trade Dewayne Robertson for a third saving $4 million. Current balance: $29. Then trade Dre Bly for a late first or possibly second round pick saving about $10 million. Offer $12 million to Asomugha (currently making $9.765). Current balance: $27 million. Sign Dansby for $8 million. This leaves $19. Sign Jermaine Phillips for $5. Trade the two draft picks acquired to get a top 20 pick. Select Maualuga with your first pick if he lasts and then Brian Orakpo with the other. Each of these will sign for about $5 million each leaving you with $4 million to fill out your roster. Drafting a guy like Graham Harrell in the third and Max Unger in the second will help you to fill out those other weak spots solidifying your team. This is all just Madden Fantasy and should not be considered as actual options.
The Broncos will have to make some moves this off season. The new coaching staff is going to try to bolster a defense that was terrible for the last few years. Adding a few free agents and having a decent draft could lead to the Broncos going to the playoffs. Josh McDaniels will do his best to find the right guys and the right scheme to put together a team that will win the AFC West this coming season.