Midweek Musings: Thanksgiving Edition

Happy Thanksgiving, Bronco fans! I haven’t had as much time to do Midweek Musings because of several work-related projects and other activities, the latter which I’ll get to toward the ending of this writing. But before that, I wanted to go over a few topics I’ve been meaning to touch upon. I’ll do my best to sum things up with each.

1. I think the Broncos were fortunate to have a bye week that came later in the season, given the number of players who missed time with injuries. It allowed the Broncos to get everybody healed up in time for the home stretch, in which they will have four crucial games (two against Kansas City and home against Oakland and New England) that will determine their playoff fate, plus two other games that, on the surface, come against weaker teams (Jacksonville and Tennessee) but can’t be taken for granted.

I stand by my belief that the best thing for all NFL teams, to help them get rested up in the latter half of the season, is to have two bye weeks for every team. Doing so would allow the NFL to add another week to the regular season without having to expand the total number of games per team. If planned properly, the NFL might even be able to schedule Thursday games (except the usual Thanksgiving games that Dallas and Detroit host each year) following a team’s bye week.

Getting back to the Broncos, the fact they get some key players back, or get key players healthy, will help a lot with the team’s chances in the upcoming games. We’ve seen a couple of games this season in which the Broncos did well in all aspects of the games and those were the ones in which they had a mostly healthy lineup. But those took place earlier in the season, and since then, there’s been at least one key player out of the lineup and that has made things more difficult. Here’s hoping that the Broncos can put it together now that they need to make the final playoff push.

2. I keep seeing speculation that the Broncos are a candidate to trade for Tony Romo, but that comes from people who just want to spend their time having fun with transactions. Trading for Romo is not something I would consider doing, not because Romo is destined to be a bad player from this point forward, but because it doesn’t make sense for the Broncos to do so given their current makeup.

First, while the Broncos would have the cap space to accommodate Romo’s $14M salary, it means they have less cap space to devote to other areas. It may mean they have to pass on extending some of their pending free agents or that they have less money available to address other needs in free agency. I believe that this upcoming offseason is one in which John Elway may explore free agency in more depth because he has the cap space available and less potential for compensatory picks. Bear in mind that the Broncos will be looking for a tight end, a right tackle and a defensive end, and could consider veteran options at outside linebacker and safety to at least provide depth. They must also consider a possible extension for T.J. Ward and will want to keep some of their pending FAs at the right price. Trading for Romo means less cap space to do those things and I seriously doubt Elway would want to convert any of Romo’s money into a signing bonus just to free up space for that.

Second, I suspect that the Cowboys will set the asking price for Romo at no less than a second-round pick, meaning a team will likely have to give up a third-round pick as part of any trade package. I imagine Elway will prefer to keep as many picks as he can so he can do what he has done in recent drafts: Move up in the first round to get a player he likes, especially if that player unexpectedly falls down the draft board. That’s where those third-round picks will be useful. Why give up a pick to acquire Romo when that pick could be used on an offensive tackle or a defensive end who falls down the board in the first round and could help the Broncos at a position of need? Or why not keep the pick and use it toward a position of need, even if it means that player takes a year or two to develop?

Third, we must remember that Romo isn’t like Peyton Manning and that the current offensive line isn’t like the one Manning played behind. We’ve talked about how Manning tends to make offensive lines look better than they might be, but much of that goes back to Manning’s ability to read defenses and make quick, decisive throws. Romo is a talented QB, but he’s not of the same mold as Manning. His play style means he needs an offensive line to give him a little more time to find an open teammate. That’s one of the reasons the Cowboys have spent time building their offensive line — it allowed them to maximize Romo’s talents.

On that same point, the Broncos were fortunate to have certain linemen who played the best seasons of their careers in the time they were with the Broncos. Go back to the 2014 season — the bulk of the season saw Chris Clark, Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin start. Franklin and Vasquez have been good linemen when they were healthy, but the other three are average at best. Yet those three happened to have the best seasons of their careers in 2014, then never reached those heights again.

The truth is, if the Broncos were to acquire Romo, they’d have to double up efforts to build the offensive line and there’s no guarantee the players to help out immediately will be available, especially after using up cap space and draft capital to acquire Romo. Thus, it’s better for the Broncos to not put resources toward Romo and use them toward other priorities.

3. Because everyone is thinking about positions of need, now is as good a time as any to look at a few of those positions and who might be available. I use Walter Football as a starting point because, while their analysis isn’t that good, they do an excellent job compiling scouting reports about future draft prospects and getting you familiar with the players who may be available. So here are the positions I imagine many of you are thinking about in the upcoming draft.

Offensive tackle: You’ll notice that there are two OTs considered first-round prospects and one of them, junior Mike McGlinchey, is hinting that he’ll return for his senior year. That means the Broncos might not be spending a first-round pick on a tackle and will have to look at the later rounds to acquire one. One possibility could be for the Broncos to trade out of the first round to an early second-round pick in hopes of selecting Conor McDermott, though he might be worth a late first-round pick. Otherwise, I wouldn’t expect the Broncos to pick an OT until the third round, given that this isn’t a top-heavy draft class at the position.

Tight end: There are a couple of players who have first-round potential. O.J. Howard looks to be the best bet, given that he is a quality blocker who has pass-catching talent but hasn’t been utilized in that role. Evan Engram is the better pass catcher, but blocking is where he struggles. We know that Gary Kubiak wants tight end who are good blockers, so Howard would be the better fit for the Broncos if you think they need to use a first-round pick at tight end. After that come multiple players worth consideration on Day Two. I think what the Broncos do here depends on who is available when they make a selection and that they will prefer a player who is a good blocker that may need development as a pass catcher, rather than a good pass catcher who struggles with blocking.

3-4 Defensive end: The Broncos might be thinking about using a pick here, given that there are some good prospects this year. I doubt they’ll get Jonathan Allen unless he tumbles down the draft board. After that, there’s Malik McDowell, but he’s a junior and it remains to be seen if he’ll enter the draft. Then comes a host of players who are worth consideration on Day Two. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Broncos use a Day Two pick on a defensive end.

Nose tackle: Caleb Brantley is listed at the top, though Walter Football thinks he’s a better fit in a 4-3 scheme. After that comes a few players who would be worth a Day Two selection. What the Broncos do here depends on whether or not they get Sylvester Williams extended or if they address the position with another free agent.

Cornerback: I would expect the Broncos to examine draft prospects here, given that it remains to be seen if they will extend Bradley Roby and, even if they do, they need to think about a young player to groom behind Aqib Talib. Cornerback is a deep position in this year’s draft, so it’s a good time to find one who could help out in the near future. It wouldn’t surprise me if John Elway decides to draft a cornerback in the first round, especially if there isn’t anybody at other positions of need worth taking at that point. And if he drafts for another position in the first, I can see him using a second-round pick on a CB.

4. Free agency is another avenue in which Elway will likely address positions, though if he does, it will be to find players who can help sooner than later. So that means I wouldn’t expect him to pursue cornerbacks here, but he might explore the safety market, depending on what happens with Darian Stewart. Here is the link to Over the Cap’s free agent list — you can click on the tabs at the top to narrow the list by position.

Offensive tackle: The top two left tackles are Andrew Whitworth, who is aging, and Matt Kalil, who is coming off an injury. I doubt the Broncos pursue either player with the idea of kicking them to the right side. Most of the other left tackles are depth players, though one could be added to compete for the job at swing tackle. On the right side, keep in mind that Ryan Schrader has already been extended, so scratch him from your list. There’s Sebastian Vollmer, but he’s an aging player coming off injuries, though he might be OK on a one-year “prove it” deal. I doubt people will be enthused by the likes of Marcus Cannon, Mike Remmers and Gosder Cherlius. One intriguing player is Riley Reiff, but the question will be how much money he and his agent seek, given he’s collecting $8M under the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. It’s also worth asking if the Lions try to extend him — they have $31M in cap space for 2017, so they are in a position to retain him.

Tight end: Martellus Bennett is the most notable player on the list, but I imagine several teams will be pursuing him, assuming he doesn’t re-sign with the Patriots, who have $63M in projected cap space for 2017. After that, the quality of available players drops. Keep in mind that Kubiak will want tight ends who can block well, so the Broncos won’t pursue any tight end who struggles with that. And be wary of going after any player who is coming off a better-than-expected season but hasn’t had a consistent track record, yet might demand more money than he’s really worth.

3-4 defensive end: Most of the players here will have to take short-term deals, but there might be somebody who could help out. It’s not a position at which I would spend a ton of money, though.

Nose tackle: Dontari Poe is the most notable name and he’s arguably worth the franchise tag, which means that’s exactly what you should expect the Chiefs to do. The rest of the potential free agent crop doesn’t feature top drawer talent, but when you consider the going rate for most 3-4 defensive tackles, that means the Broncos wouldn’t have to spend a lot of money to acquire a veteran player. Ideally, they get Sylvester Williams extended, but that depends on whether or not he thinks he can get more playing in a 4-3 scheme.

Safety: If Darian Stewart departs, there are a lot of players available at this position who could help out and come at a reasonable price. You’ll see a few names that should be familiar, like old friends Mike Adams and Duke Ihenacho. I wouldn’t expect the Broncos to chase Eric Berry, who is likely to want a big payday. But given that Justin Simmons and Will Parks show promise, the Broncos could go the same route they went when they signed Stewart: Find a veteran who comes at a low cost but would fit the scheme well.

5. It doesn’t hurt to keep tabs on what your division rivals may have to do in the coming offseason. If you examine the cap and roster situations for each of the AFC West rivals, you can see each team is faced with a different predicament.

Oakland is in the best situation with a projected $42.3M in cap space and with not a lot of free agents who are likely to get big contracts. Nate Allen and Latavius Murray are two players the Raiders may want to keep, though neither is worth breaking the bank to do so. I would expect the Raiders to be active in free agency again, though not to the extent they were this past offseason. That’s because they also need to think about an extension for a player you’ve probably heard about: Derek Carr. After that, they need to consider extending guard Gabe Jackson. They have the fifth-round option they can exercise to keep Khalil Mack around for another year, but he’ll be due an extension next. It’s going to be interesting to see how Reggie McKenzie manages the roster and how well he drafts this offseason.

San Diego has $22.2M in projected cap space but has more key pending free agents. The most notable one is Melvin Ingram, who is having the best season of his career, but looks more like a secondary pass rusher alongside a top talent, rather than the primary guy. But if he seeks a payday in line with top pass rushers, the Chargers may have no choice but to let him walk and find somebody else. The franchise tag is an option, but that commits the Chargers to paying Ingram at the level of a premier pass rusher. They also have to consider if it’s worth extending Danny Woodhead, who fits their scheme well but has missed the bulk of two seasons with injuries, and Manti Te’o, who has been a solid performer at inside linebacker but might not be kept if the Chargers extend Ingram. The Chargers will have to be careful with their offseason moves, because while they have a chance to improve their position, the wrong move could constrain their position in the coming seasons.

Kansas City is in the toughest cap position. The Chiefs are expected to be about $800,000 above the cap. They can get under the cap by cutting Jamaal Charles, which I think everyone expects will happen. But the Chiefs have other issues, too. As mentioned, Dontari Poe and Eric Berry are free agents. The franchise tag is worth using in Poe, but that means they can’t extend Berry. There is no chance they’ll tag Berry, even if Poe is extended, because Berry’s cap number will increase to the point it’s not worth tagging him. Ideally, they would get both Poe and Berry extended without having to use the tag, but it doesn’t appear likely they’ll get both extended. I expect Berry to seek his fortunes elsewhere. The Chiefs won’t be done there, though — they have to figure out their quarterback situation, in which they must part ways with either Alex Smith or Nick Foles. Cutting or trading Smith frees $9.7M in cap space with $7.2M in dead money, while cutting or trading Foles clears $10.4M in space with no dead money. I doubt the Chiefs will be able to trade Foles, but there’s an outside chance they could trade Smith. Whatever they decide to do, though, it’s clear that the Chiefs need to draft a quarterback in 2017. But even after making the quarterback move, they still need to find more wiggle room. It means the Chiefs need to be careful not to fall into the same trap the Saints fell into, in which they keep trying to squeeze players under the cap and keep punting hits down the road, for which the end result is a team with some talent, but not enough overall to keep them a playoff contender.

6. Finally, I am happy to announce that I will be having a novel published in the near future. I’ll just leave a link here to my personal blog at which you can get some of the details, the post that discusses the basics of what the book is about and to my Facebook author page. The book is currently in the editing phase with my publisher and there hasn’t been a release date set yet, but you can check those links I’ve provided to keep updated on that. I’m excited about my future prospects with novel writing, but even as that may keep me occupied, I plan to continue contributing here.

And that wraps it up for this week. Go Broncos!

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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.