At the conclusion of each Broncos season, I pave out a road map as to what my suggestions are to improve the roster. At this time of year, most relevant roster decisions have been made, making it time to evaluate my road map as compared to what the Broncos actually did.
1. Improve the quarterback position.
a) Do not cut Case Keenum, and do not renegotiate his contract.
Status: Failed, but there was at least a solid plan for a veteran replacement.
I was neither excited nor devastated about the swap out of Keenum for Joe Flacco. However, financially the move can make some sense, and that is bolstered by the opinion of MarsLineman both before and after the trade that Flacco will be a good fit for the offense that the Broncos want to install. This is enough to mollify my desire for steady veteran play to be available at the quarterback position.
b) Acquire at least one rookie quarterback.
Status: Succeeded cum laude
I am very happy that, as opposed to last offseason, the Broncos got serious with infusing the roster with young quarterback talent. They did very well to get significantly extra draft capital in a trade down, yet still ended up with Drew Lock at 42nd overall, a quarterback many thought would have gone in the first round. Then, on top of that they signed Brett Rypien as a priority undrafted free agent. We will have to be patient to see whether Lock or Rypien can be a quarterback of the future, but at least they have given themselves a chance, and in the case of Lock, MarsLineman once again gives us some encouraging analysis of his potential.
c) Do not offer an RFA tender to Kevin Hogan, but don’t rule out bringing him back for cheaper.
This was smart to do before Lock and Rypien were acquired. However, after the draft I think it’s highly unlikely that Hogan will make the 2019 Broncos roster. Still, it’s fair to give him one last training camp and preseason to prove himself.
2. Do not offer RFA tenders to Jordan Taylor or Deiontrez Mount (or Matt LaCosse).
These two decisions were uncontroversial. However, it should be noted that I totally missed that LaCosse also became an RFA. Had I known that, I would have also recommended not tendering him, of which the Broncos concurred. However, LaCosse did end up drawing interest from the Patriots on a two year contract, so that should perhaps give Broncos fans some pause.
3. Do not offer an RFA tender to Casey Kreiter, but do offer him a commensurate long snapper deal.
Kreiter is back on a one year, $1 million deal. While the Broncos considered bringing in competition, that has yet to materialize, so the long snapper position appears to be settled for one more season.
4. Make some decisions on the offensive line.
a) Extend Matt Paradis.
This decision is easily the strongest dissent I have from what the Broncos did this offseason, for reasons detailed here. While my dissent is tempered a bit by the drafting of Dalton Risner 41st overall, I still feel that the Broncos are potentially one offensive lineman short of having a solid unit for the foreseeable future. The recovery of Ronald Leary is one question mark, while Connor McGovern on the last year of his rookie contract is the other one. Even with Risner, I would have preferred to see Paradis remain as the anchor in the middle, especially at the friendly deal the Panthers signed him for.
b) Try to bring back Jared Veldheer on a one year deal.
Status: Failed, but replaced with a younger and more expensive replacement
I’m fine with Ja’Wuan James as the decision at right tackle for the Broncos in 2019 and 2020. The amount that they paid him is ambitious. But hopefully he will be an upgrade on the older Veldheer–though again, with Veldheer drawing interest from the Patriots there should again be a little pause.
c) Let Max Garcia and Billy Turner walk unless they are willing to take team friendly deals.
I was pleasantly surprised as to how much attention that Garcia and especially Turner got on the free agency market. I hope both do well on their new teams in 2019 and beyond.
5. Make some decisions on the defensive line.
a) Exercise the 2019 option on Derek Wolfe’s contract.
This was a straightforward option to exercise. Wolfe will return for one more season as a capable and knowledgeable veteran presence on the defensive line, and will do so on the final year of his contract.
b) Offer a 2nd round tender to Shelby Harris.
Once again, a straightforward transaction. Harris has already signed his RFA tender, indicating that there will be little doubt that he’ll play through at least one more season with the Broncos as he works to approach the richer land of unrestricted free agency next offseason.
c) Bring back Domata Peko on a one year deal.
Status: Failed for now, but he’s still available
I likely overvalued Peko’s worth in my road map, so it’s good that the Broncos showed more prudence with him. It’s also unknown as to whether the Broncos even want Peko back with the new coaching staff on board. However, the depth at nose tackle still isn’t great, so I still wouldn’t oppose bringing Peko back if it can work out for both sides.
d) Try to bring back Zach Kerr on a one year deal.
Kerr was brought back on a two year, $2.5 million contract, but despite the length I intially recommended I end up preferring the two year deal over just one year, due to the fact that Wolfe, Harris, and Adam Gotsis will all be UFAs come 2020. Getting Kerr for two years helps protect some depth on the defensive line.
e) Acquire a rookie defensive lineman.
6. Extend Jeff Heuerman, but limit his compensation to $3 million APY.
Heuerman was indeed extended, for a little more than I had budgeted. However, the contract is structured in a way that the difference in value is not that significant.
7. Let Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett walk.
Uncontroversial decisions here, although I am disappointed that Ray was not able to sign any deal that would allow him to become a compensatory free agent. Barrett, on the other hand, should deliver a 6th round comp pick to the Broncos in 2020.
8. Sign a midlevel veteran wide receiver for around $6 million APY.
This, along with the failure to extend Paradis, is an action (or lack thereof) that I fear will hurt the Broncos in 2019. In fairness, there were very few worthy receivers that could have been had for this budget, as players like John Brown and Adam Humphries were getting $9 million APY. But there is still uncertainty on whether Emmanuel Sanders will be 100% by Week 1 in the final year of his contract, as well as whether Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, and Tim Patrick will be able to take the next step forward in their young careers. I hope the Broncos’ wide receiver corps can satisfy the high expectations that the front office has naturally created for them.
9. Set a budget of $10 million APY to sign a starting cornerback.
Status: Succeeded, but way over budget
Bryce Callahan was someone that I figured the Broncos would have targeted, given his history with new head coach Vic Fangio in Chicago, and the amount he was signed for ($7 million APY) was quite reasonable. But beforehand, Kareem Jackson was signed for much more, at $11 million APY on a firm two year commitment.
Not only have the Broncos paid way more than I anticipated at the cornerback position, they’ve also created a contract dispute with Chris Harris, Jr in the process. The Jackson signing, in particular, is one that looks risky to me due to both his age, and the fact that he is now getting paid more than Harris despite the consensus being that Harris is a better player. I’m certainly nervous about how things are going to work out at this position in the long term.
10. Consider trading Devontae Booker.
As I said, this was a minor point, and one I didn’t anticipate happening any time soon. As training camp and the preseason proceeds, I will be curious to see how much playing time Booker gets behind Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, and whether any other teams suffer serious injuries at running back to see if this idea will still be feasible.
11. Do not cut Darian Stewart…at least not now.
I’m willing to concede that, especially given what the Broncos wanted to spend in the defensive backfield, that this transaction needed to happen. This is bolstered by the fact that Stewart has yet to find a new team.
12. Decline the 2019 option on Brandon Marshall’s contract.
While this point was indeed achieved, I’m disappointed about the aftermath of this achievement, for three reasons:
- Marshall chose, as always, the worst team to sign with.
- Marshall didn’t even sign for enough to fetch the Broncos a certain comp pick.
- Marshall has not definitively been replaced. Hopefully Josey Jewell can take the next step in his second year, or another young linebacker can step forward, but I’m skeptical.
* * * *
Here is the tally of how my plan compared to what the Broncos actually did:
- Clear successses: 11 (1b, 1c, 2, 3, 4c, 5a, 5b, 5d, 5e, 6, 7)
- Successes, but with concerns: 2 (9. 12)
- To be determined: 1 (10)
- Failed, but with an understandable reason: 3 (1a, 4c, 11)
- Failed, and remaining in dissent: 2 (4a, 8)
As I see it, the parts of the roster that I feel have still not been adequately addressed are inside linebacker, the interior offensive line, and depth at wide receiver. I also have concerns on how the cornerback position is being managed. On the other hand, the quarterback, tight end and the defensive line have been significantly bolstered, to go along with existing strength at running back, edge rusher and safety. This looks to be a team that is not quite fully complete, but improved enough that any team who faces the Broncos should expect competition from them.