Free Agency Thoughts In The 11th Hour

Because I’m going to be busy the next few days, I won’t get a chance to talk much about the free agent frenzy that will kick into high gear starting Wednesday. So here’s a few random thoughts about what I’ve observed thus far.

1. I wish Malik Jackson nothing but the best. It’s hard to blame him wanting to get the most long-term security he can get at this stage of his career. And while I have no doubts the Broncos negotiated in good faith, you simply can’t pay too many players top-tier contracts on one side of the ball.

The Broncos will be doing that with Von Miller and Demaryius Thomas. At one point, they were doing that with Ryan Clady, but we know he’ll have to take less money to stick around. DeMarcus Ware was getting that, too, but is now in the same boat. It’s easy to say Aqib Talib is getting that, but who knows how long that will last with a lot of cornerbacks hitting the open market and teams with cap space to spend. And we thought Derek Wolfe was at that level, but not any longer.

So after the Jaguars were willing to pay Jackson a handsome sum, the best thing the Broncos could do was wish him well. Even cutting Ware and Clady outright wouldn’t have helped the Broncos to accommodate the money Jackson will receive.

2. Given that the Texans are the only team who has reportedly talked to Brock Osweiler, and that you would figure Jimmy Sexton would let it be known that more teams are interested in him, I’m betting he stays put with the Broncos. Getting three other teams to bid on his services would have likely ensured Osweiler would cash in big time, but because it’s just one team, it’s harder to maximize your value.

The Browns were linked by several to Osweiler because Hue Jackson reportedly liked him, but it’s becoming clearer that the Browns woudl rather draft a quarterback for Jackson to develop. And it may very well be true that the 49ers are ready to ride it out with Colin Kaepernick for another year.

With that said, Osweiler won’t come cheap, but when it’s just one other suitor, and a suitor who isn’t known for going “all in” on any one player, the chances of Osweiler jumping ship are reduced.

3. I’m not sure I can figure out the Miami Dolphins. This is a team that needs to step back and reassess where things are going, rather than trying the same things and expecting a different result. I had peaked at their roster and figured they could make enough moves to get under the cap without restructuring Ndamukong Suh’s deal, with enough room to franchise Olivier Vernon and still look for value in free agency. The moves may have even allowed Miami to sign Mario Williams to a short-term deal.

The Dolphins did a few things I would have done (cut Brent Grimes and Greg Jennings) but they have yet to do others (cut Jordan Cameron and Cameron Wake) and did the one thing I never would have done (restructure Suh’s deal). And while getting Kiko Alonso in trade wasn’t a bad thing, I’m not sure I would have taken Byron Maxwell and would have preferred looking for a value signing in free agency. If it’s true Adam Jones was willing to take a low-cost deal, he could have been a suitable replacement for Grimes, but now I worry that if he shows up in Miami, he’s going to get paid more than he’s really worth.

As for Vernon, letting him walk may get you a compensatory pick, but Vernon was the type of player in which it’s smarter to tag him, then promise that if he signs the tag, they won’t tag him again and will either extend him or let him seek his fortunes elsewhere. Doing that poses no risk to the team and Vernon is at least guaranteed a healthy sum of money.

The big issue now is the Dolphins really need to draft well. They’ve already given up a fourth-round pick and have moved down the draft board without picking up an additional pick, and that could be a problem for a team that needs to address its depth.

4. I would suspect a lot of the teams who used the franchise tag on their players are doing exactly what I believe the Dolphins should have done. The one where it makes the most sense is Washington. Sure, the nearly $20M Kirk Cousins will get is a huge sum for a quarterback whose long-term prospects remain a question mark, but at least Washington can allow him to depart after 2016 if things don’t work out. Better to give a QB a huge sum for one year and to prove himself again than to commit too much money over time to a QB who has just one playoff trip on his resume.

The Bears appear to be doing the same with Alshon Jeffery, which makes sense after Jeffery battled injuries and the Bears are still figuring out what they have in Kevin White. It’s possible the Bills are looking at left tackle Cordy Glenn the same way, especially after he was quick to sign his franchise tender. The Bills are a team that really needs to be careful how it manages its long-term cap picture and Glenn, while a quality player, might not be top-five at his position.

5. It’s not that surprising that Louis Vasquez was cut and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Broncos already have somebody lined up to take his place. Remember, just because you don’t hear reports that the Broncos are engaging in initial talks, doesn’t mean those talks aren’t taking place.

From the sounds of things, the Broncos may be thinking their ideal offensive line would look like this: Ryan Clady on a reduced salary, Max Garcia, Matt Paradis, a free-agent guard on a value deal and a competition for right tackle between Ty Sambrailo, Michael Schofield, a 2016 draft pick and perhaps Ryan Harris, with James Ferentz, a 2016 draft pick and perhaps Sam Brenner providing depth for the interior.

While it may not sound like the best scenario, drafting well and getting Sambrailo to properly develop means you could have your two starting tackles by 2017, or if Clady can bounce back, another year to develop whoever among those younger tackles sticks around in 2016 but doesn’t start. The key, though, is to draft well and, thus far, the list of drafted offensive linemen who could safely be called good picks are Garcia and Orlando Franklin (and the latter left the Broncos in free agency last year). So the draft will be key in getting the line back up to speed.

As for the guards who are out there, Brandon Brooks of the Texans is a free agent who is still available as of this writing and he did play for a year under Gary Kubiak. I’d be fine with Geoff Schwartz on a one-year deal, but the Broncos would have to find the right player to groom behind him. If you prefer to move Garcia to right guard, you could look at bringing back Evan Mathis or consider a short-term signing of Alex Boone.

6. Along with offensive line, I can see the Broncos looking for value at defensive end, tight end and running back, with preference toward street free agents. In terms of players available, here’s what I’m looking at.

Defensive end: The key will be to get an interior defender. I still have Jared Crick in mind as somebody worth a deal that Vance Walker got last year. Another possibility is Mike Martin, who played for the Titans and might be a better fit for the Broncos’ defensive scheme. Both players are young and won’t command high salaries. I wouldn’t mind looking at Randy Starks on a one-year deal, similar to what Antonio Smith got. And like Smith, I suspect Starks will be one of those players who agrees to terms much later in the free agency period.

Running back: At this point, Joique Bell may be the safest bet among street free agents. If Arian Foster is healthy and wants to play, I would bring him in, but I suspect any decision regarding Foster won’t happen until after the draft. Among UFAs, it’s the best for the Broncos to wait until the market settles down. I really don’t want Alfred Morris because he’s not a pass catcher and that seems like what Gary Kubiak wants in a running back. With that said, if Matt Forte will take a one-year, low-cost deal, I wouldn’t say no.

Tight end: Garrett Graham seems like he would be a good fit, because he wouldn’t cost much and he knows Gary Kubiak’s offense. Scott Chandler might be worth consideration. I would only take Jared Cook on a one-year “prove it” deal. Among the UFAs, there really aren’t who would take low-cost deals that draw my interest. I suspect Coby Fleener and Lardarius Green are going to get overpaid after the Colts overpaid for Dwayne Allen.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.