Here we are, the final preseason game is upon us. Most roster position battles are finished and all that’s left is to determine who gets the final spots.
Truth be told, most position battles are already decided before training camp even begins. There are the obvious situations (did anyone think for one minute Von Miller or Chris Harris would lose his starting job?) and those in which roles were likely known but a change would have been surprising (Owen Daniels was signed to start at tight end and Shane Ray was drafted to rotate at outside linebacker).
At this point, the question becomes who sticks around as a depth or special teams player. “Special teams” is the important part, because that is where a player can best ensure his chances of making the roster. For example, if a team plans to keep five cornerbacks, four have locked up their spots, you have three remaining CBs who are about even in that department, but one is superior on special teams, that’s the player who makes the final cut.
We know that John Elway is willing to talk trade with teams who are interested in veterans and younger players. The only question is whether or not teams are convinced the only way to acquire that player is through a trade. Teams with high waiver priority usually prefer to wait and see what young players become available. A team in need of a veteran will trade for somebody if it believes that player is a better option than anyone else who they could sign. Finally, keep in mind it’s not likely you’ll see any team swing more than one trade during final roster cuts, because so many players become available.
Also, remember that many players are not just auditioning for the Broncos, but other teams. Veterans on the bubble want to demonstrate that they could help other teams should the Broncos part ways with them. Younger players who must go through waivers will want their chance to prove that, if they don’t make the Broncos’ 53-man roster, they should be on another team’s roster rather than a practice squad. So it’s likely most of the players on the bubble will want to step up their games.
I’ll keep the focus on the final position battles, what I expect it will come down to and who might be a trade candidate.
Quarterback: All I’m going to say is I seriously doubt the Broncos will try to slip Trevor Siemian onto the practice squad, given how well he has played. So bet on the Broncos keeping three quarterbacks.
Running back: Juwan Thompson might get some touches against Arizona, but I seriously doubt his job is on the line. That leaves Montee Ball and Kapri Bibbs. While Ball hasn’t impressed, one would think that if Bibbs had impressed coaches in practice, he would get more touches in preseason games. For Bibbs to make it, he must impress against Arizona or show he’s the superior option on special teams. It would also help if he shows he can pass protect well. If none of that happens, I can’t see the Broncos keeping him over Ball, unless Ball looks downright awful.
Wide receiver: There are a lot of ways this could go. Andre Caldwell and Jordan Norwood appear to be the two battling to be the veteran depth option who can play special teams, but Bennie Fowler is challenging both. Others are trying to catch on as a punt and kickoff returner. Nobody has stood out in the return game, but I imagine the Broncos will give Corbin Louks a closer look. This could be his chance to make the final roster. Jordan Taylor is a likely practice squad candidate.
Offensive line: Gary Kubiak has said he prefers to keep eight offensive linemen and have seven active each game day. He could change his mind, though, if somebody impresses him enough to stick around. Every indication is that, along with the starting five, Michael Schofield and Max Garcia stay as depth players. Assuming the Broncos want to keep eight linemen, I believe the final spot is coming down to Gino Gradkowski and Dillon Day, because they can play either center or guard. They have an advantage over Ben Garland and Shelley Smith. It’s possible the Broncos could put Smith on the trading block, because his low salary makes him an attractive option and a team could safely get out of his contract after this season with no cap hit (the dead money would only apply to the Broncos). If the Broncos keep nine O-linemen, I suspect it’s more likely they keep one of the tackles (Kyle Roberts or Charles Sweedon) than Garland or Smith.
Defensive line: The biggest issue will be to figure out who is the player who can join the 53-man roster once Derek Wolfe is placed on the reserve/suspended list, which won’t happen until a day or so after final cuts. I don’t think the Broncos can slip Kenny Anunike through waivers, so I’m betting he makes the final roster. The likely option to temporarily fill Wolfe’s spot is Sione Fua, as he would be a veteran cut and the Broncos could tell him to stay by the phone until they can re-sign him. They can’t do that with anyone who goes through waivers.
Outside linebacker: Shaquil Barrett is a safe bet to make the final cut and the Broncos appear to like Gerald Rivers. That means Lerentee McCray is in trouble. He’ll have to impress against Arizona if he wants to make the final roster.
Inside linebacker: The final position battles come down to what happens on special teams. This is why I expect Steven Johnson makes the final cut. I can see the Broncos keeping five ILBs, so Lamin Barrow, Corey Nelson and Zaire Anderson are all in the running. Whoever does better on special teams most likely gets the nod.
Cornerback: Tony Carter might be the best trade option the Broncos have. He’s an experienced player who can play special teams. The Dallas Cowboys put Orlando Scandrick on injured reserve and their CB depth took a hit. Because the Cowboys are a playoff contender and Carter is playing under a one-year, low-cost deal, he makes sense for them. I can see the Cowboys willing to give up a seventh-round pick for him. If the Broncos can trade Carter, it opens the door for Lorenzo Doss or Taurean Nixon to make the roster. Both will have to impress on special teams to improve their chances, though.
Safety: It’s hard to see the Broncos parting ways with either David Bruton or Omar Bolden, so Josh Bush and Josh Furman are out to prove they are a must for special teams. Furman is eligible for the practice squad.