I know it’s tough that the Broncos weren’t able to get a deal done for Joe Thomas, but I’m going to go over the reasons why the Broncos couldn’t do the deal if the price was too high.
I did go over in another thread that the Broncos only had a few picks they could trade from 2016: Their first, second, third and seventh rounders, a fifth-round pick from the Ravens and a seventh-round pick from the Niners. Their own fourth, fifth and sixth rounders have been traded and they can’t trade any compensatory pick they might get (and, at this point, it’s not final where those picks will fall).
If you are going to “win now and in the future,” you need to keep at least two of your first three picks in every season. This is because those are the rounds that you draft and develop players that you want to be starters for at least a couple of seasons. Compensatory picks are good for depth but you can’t always count on players taken in the fourth round or later to become starters for multiple seasons. Always remember that stories like Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson are wonderful, but they are the exception, not the rule, when it comes to Day Three picks.
And before you warm up the band on how somebody like Joe Thomas would address the present and the future, that’s only at one position. Consider the following needs the Broncos must consider for 2016 (and remember that cap space is a consideration when extending players or signing free agents, particularly with Von Miller set for the franchise tag and subsequent extension and Brock Osweiler a priority to re-sign).
* Offensive guard: There is no guarantee the Broncos will retain Evan Mathis and Louis Vasquez will enter the final year of his current deal. You have Max Garcia being developed but you need to get another offensive guard. That’s likely coming in the draft.
* Defensive end: Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson and Antonio Smith are all free agents. Smith is likely gone next season as the Broncos may want a younger veteran for the rotation. And while it’s possible the Broncos will re-sign either Wolfe or Jackson, they aren’t likely to re-sign both. Once again, you’ll have a need in which the Broncos likely look to the draft. Lose both Wolfe and Jackson and you definitely need to draft a defensive end early.
* Inside linebacker: Danny Trevathan is an unrestricted free agent and Brandon M. Marshall is a restricted free agent. Again, the Broncos will likely have to make a decision on whether to extend Trevathan or save cap space down the road to accommodate an extension for Marshall. Bear in mind, too, that Marshall is likely getting a first-round tender, because why would you tender him at the second-round level and watch as, for example, the Oakland Raiders sign him to an offer sheet the Broncos wouldn’t be able to match? In fact, John Elway may decide it’s best to extend Marshall outright so he won’t risk losing him at all. Regardless, I suspect Trevathan may not be a Bronco next year. Thus, you need to find another inside linebacker for the rotation, and the draft may be the place the Broncos want to go.
If you give up two picks in the first three rounds for Thomas, you can only address one of those three needs. You thus limit what you can address at other areas in 2016, and possibly beyond if you have to take a chance on somebody in day three. Again, you can’t count on all those picks turning out like Trevathan and Jackson.
Don’t forget the Broncos will need those day three picks to address depth in other areas. Let’s look at the depth the Broncos will need to address.
* Safety: David Bruton and Omar Bolden will be free agents. They may re-sign one of them but not both. Plus T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart will both enter the final years of their current deals. So they’ll need to take at least one safety, possibly two. If Bruton and Bolden both depart, they’ll definitely need to draft two.
* Running back: Ronnie Hillman is a free agent. And after Montee Ball failed to improve, the Broncos want to be prepared with somebody who can provide depth behind C.J. Anderson, Juwan Thompson and possibly Kapri Bibbs, in case they don’t re-sign Hillman and one of those they are counting on to keep improving doesn’t pan out.
* Wide receiver: Andre Caldwell and Jordan Norwood will be free agents and it’s not likely they’ll return. They’ll need depth, particularly because Emmanuel Sanders enters the final year of his contract and Cody Latimer has struggled to find his niche. They might look to free agency for a veteran, but they’ll at least need to consider drafting one WR to develop.
* Tight end: It’s not a given the Broncos will extend Vernon Davis and they may want to draft a tight end on day three to ensure they have somebody who can push Owen Daniels (who is aging) and Jeff Heuerman (who will be coming off an ACL injury and it remains to be seen if he’ll get to a level where he can contribute greatly). Even if Heuerman makes a full recovery, you still want somebody who can push Daniels.
* Quarterback: It’s more likely the Broncos will sign a veteran in free agency if Peyton Manning retires and Brock Osweiler is extended. But if they can’t find a veteran they like, they may want a day three pick to provide competition for Trevor Siemian for the backup position.
* Offensive tackle: I’ll add this as well, because the Broncos will need to consider drafting a tackle for depth. Had they acquired Thomas, of course it wouldn’t have been necessary.
Simply put, the Broncos have plenty of needs to address and giving up too many picks sacrifices the future. If we were to look at what the Broncos have now, plus projected compensatory picks, here is a hypothetical of what the Broncos could do in the 2016 draft.
1st round: Defensive end
2nd round: Offensive guard
3rd round: Inside linebacker
4th round (compensatory): Wide receiver
5th round (from Ravens): Running back
5th round (compensatory): Safety
6th round (compensatory): Tight end
7th round (from Niners): Offensive tackle
7th round: Defensive end
Now, if you had traded the first- and third-round picks for Joe Thomas, you have to gamble that you can address two of your three biggest needs with day three picks and you miss out on the chance to improve depth at other positions. You wouldn’t have to draft an offensive tackle for depth, but you’d miss out on the chance to improve depth elsewhere. Sure, you can look to free agency, but you don’t want to rely too much on that, especially in years where there isn’t much talent or the players available may be overvalued.
Had the Browns been willing to take the Broncos’ second-round picks in 2016 and 2017 for Thomas, I would have made the deal because the Broncos would have two picks in the first three rounds each year to address needs. Then they could perhaps trade down in the first round each of those years, picking up an early second rounder and a day three pick in the process. They only look at using a day three pick on one of their biggest needs and can figure out the best way to do it.
But giving up two picks from the first two days in the same year for one player is a very risky move, unless you are getting a franchise quarterback or a player who can truly transform a team’s fortunes. Joe Thomas is a top offensive tackle, but top offensive tackles don’t truly transform a team. Thomas falls into the same category as wide receiver Brandon Marshall when the Broncos put him on the trading block back in 2010. He’s a top player at his position, but not somebody you break the bank for.
And if the Browns were insisting on a 2016 first-round pick and either a young, promising player or a 2016 day two pick, and will not consider a 2017 pick unless it’s a first rounder, you don’t make the trade. It’s too steep a price. I seriously doubt the Browns would consider the fifth rounder the Broncos got from the Ravens and another day three pick in 2017, either. It seems clear to me that the Browns were intent on loading up in the 2016 draft for multiple picks, so if they won’t consider a 2017 pick as part of the deal other than a first rounder, you have to say no.
Always remember that “win now and in the future” requires you look at the big picture at every position, not just the position you want to upgrade. And while Thomas would settle things at left tackle, giving up too much for him would mean bigger questions about what to do at other positions down the road. And there’s no guarantee you can swap other players you drafted or signed to get high picks back.
At the very least, John Elway deserves credit for exploring the trade possibility. And the deal he made for Vernon Davis shows he’s willing to make such a trade, as long as he doesn’t pay too high of a price. And while the Broncos certainly want a Super Bowl win, you don’t want pay so high a price for it this year that you miss out on the chance to get another one in the future.
(UPDATE 6:38 p.m. Central Time: I forgot to include the seventh-round pick that the Broncos acquired from the Houston Texans in the picks the Broncos have available. To anyone who has corrected me, thank you for doing so.)