As we approach the start of the 2017 NFL league year, I figured it would be a good time to go over the Denver Broncos’ needs again, in terms of how to think about how they should be prioritized in each phase of the offseason.
The way the NFL offseason works, you go through three phases of free agency, then the draft, then what is probably best described as the “final business” period, ranging from players who were franchise tagged getting long-term deals to veterans who take low-cost deals for a chance to compete for a roster spot.
The first phase of free agency is what goes down once the “legal tampering” period begins and continues for about the first week. This is when the players who are likely to command the largest deals get signed. There is the occasional street free agent who will explore offers from other teams prior to the official start of free agency (and SFAs may sign deals before the new NFL season officially starts) but most of the focus is on the top UFAs and any players who become SFAs in the final days before the new season. Though not every player signs a large, multi-year deal, the players with the highest demand are usually quick to agree to deals.
The second phase of free agency follows the first week and runs for the rest of March. These players are unlikely to fetch the biggest contracts, though there are rare exceptions such as the Panthers pulling the franchise tag from Josh Norman last season.
The third phase of free agency comes in April and the weeks leading up to the draft. These players are having to settle for short-term, low-cost deals and are more likely viewed as competing for a roster spot.
Then comes the draft, at which time teams have a better idea of their needs and will fill them accordingly. Teams should either focus on needs that don’t get filled in free agency, areas in which they need players to develop or areas in which free agency simply didn’t offer attractive options.
By thinking in these terms, one can get a better grasp of how to go about addressing offseason needs.
So let’s go over each position and how the Broncos should approach them.
Quarterback – Second/third FA phase: The Broncos have two young quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, who they will want to develop, but finding a veteran QB would be ideal to provide competition and mentorship. Of course, we’ve heard all the talk about Tony Romo coming to Denver, but that talk is based in the idea that the Broncos have pursued big name FAs before, so of course they’d do it again. I don’t think the Broncos will go that route this time, though. Instead, they’ll wait until the biggest names are off the board and look for value in a backup QB.
Running back – Draft and possibly third FA phase: CJ Anderson will have a cap hit of just $3M, so there’s little reason to move on from him. Nor is there any reason to give up too quickly on Devontae Booker after one season. Therefore, it’s not necessary to pursue a RB in free agency, though I’m OK with considering options to bring another veteran presence. In the draft, if the opportunity presents itself to get a RB who can boost the offense, that’s fine.
Wide receiver – Draft and second/third FA phase: There is little reason for the Broncos to rush into the first phase of free agency for this position. Their need at this point is a receiver who can play the slot and/or return punts and kicks. That means they need to look for value in free agency. I do think drafting a player who can help in either area is a good idea, too.
Tight end – Draft: Though I would be inclined to suggest free agency, the tight end pickings in FA are mostly aging players or those who are likely to seek big contract. I’m not opposed to signing one to a low-cost deal but the draft is the better area to upgrade the position.
Offensive line – First/second FA phase and draft: The offensive line is the obvious area for the Broncos to focus in the first few days of free agency. Whether it’s a right tackle, a left tackle or a guard with the idea that another lineman can move to tackle, the Broncos need to be active in free agency at this position. Once they’ve found their veteran options, they can look to the draft for players to develop.
Defensive line – Second FA phase and draft: It will be tempting for the Broncos to go after premium players at this position, but it’s pretty clear want the Broncos want to have players who they can rotate on downs, with the exception of Derek Wolfe, who is a quality all-around defensive lineman. Any D-linemen who are like Wolfe are going to command deals that may be out of Denver’s price range, especially with the offensive line taking priority. Therefore, I think it’s best for the Broncos to look for value, keeping in mind they either need a player who excels in run D and can rotate with Jared Crick (a better pass rusher than run defender) or somebody who can line up at either DE or DT depending on the situation. And it can’t stop with free agency… the draft is a good place to find players to develop here.
Linebacker – Draft and third FA phase: The Broncos don’t really need to chase linebackers in free agency but drafting a player to develop is ideal. Again, there’s no harm in looking for players who can help out in the third FA phase, but it’s not a position the Broncos need to chase after early.
Cornerback – Draft: The only FA move the Broncos should concern themselves with is an extension for Kayvon Webster at a deal similar to what David Bruton got back in 2013. Otherwise, it’s better to look at the deep field in the draft to find players to develop.
Safety – No need: The Broncos are pretty well set here, with Darian Stewart extended and Justin Simmons and Will Parks waiting in the wings. An extension for T.J. Ward is a possibility but likely won’t happen until well into the regular season if he shows he’s got plenty left in the tank.
So the way I believe the Broncos need to focus their priorities would be…
First phase: Offensive line.
Second phase: Continued O-line as needed, defensive line, veteran backup quarterback, wide receiver.
Third phase: Continued D-line and WR, QB if still needed, linebacker, possibly running back.
Draft: All positions except quarterback and safety.