On Februrary 8, I wrote this inside my annual Broncos offseason road map:
I will not consider any acquisition of a quarterback under contract with another team (looking at you, rumors of Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson) as realistic unless and until enough compelling evidence emerges otherwise.
Suffice to say, trading for Russell Wilson is a massive change in direction for the Broncos and their 2022 plans, in a very positive direction. Finally, I can banish what has been at the top of the road map in some form in regularity, just like Brandon Perna wants to banish the carousel graphic:
1. Fix the quarterback position
That strikethrough text feels really good to see.
Nonetheless, there are still important goals remaining to achieve to fully get the Broncos to the best competitor they can be–and that is as a Super Bowl competitor.
1. Nothing more to see at quarterback, goal succeeded, move on.
2. Fix the right tackle position
This position has been arguably even more disastrous than quarterback had been over the same time span. But with quarterback decidedly answered, there is no question about it: this is now far and away the Broncos’ most chronic problem position.
a) Offer a right of first refusal RFA tender to Calvin Anderson
Anderson has proven to be a useful swing tackle, and excellent teammate to boot. An ROFR tender should be sufficient to ward off other teams from making offers to him.
b) Sign a veteran right tackle
Other than Anderson there is nothing at this position of substance, and at the minimum there will need to be some veteran to give Anderson competition. I reamin skeptical that a high level veteran right tackle that’s worth commensurate pay can be found, even though since the original road map came out, I’ve received decent pushback on the grounds of looking for a free agent left tackle to move to right tackle. But even barring that, a cheaper one year contract to a veteran would help the depth chart dramatically. Bobby Massie and Cameron Fleming could hypothetically be such as re-sign candidates, but in a Shanahan oriented offense I would not be surprised if someone else would be more appropriate to target.
c) Draft a right tackle
It is pretty damning that Garett Bolles is the only tackle the Broncos have drafted in the last six rookie classes. Hypothetically a UDFA tackle could work out, but they really need to snap this streak and look for a true long term solution in the rookie class. It will be more challenging now that the Broncos aren’t scheduled to pick until 64th overall, but that’s a challenge I’m sure George Paton is willing to take on.
3. Replace Shelby Harris on the interior defensive line
Of the three players the Broncos gave up to get Wilson, Harris’s departure creates the most urgent hole on the team. Dre’Mont Jones and Mike Purcell have two positions occupied, but I don’t yet have enough faith in DeShawn Williams or McTelvin Agim to lock down the third.
a) Sign a veteran IDL.
I do not have a good feel on what the budget for filling this need should be, nor who should be targeted. Having yielded Harris on short notice, the Broncos may be limited to merely fielding an adequate veteran instead of a difference maker. If so, the price they pay should reflect the talent they’re getting.
b) Acquire a rookie IDL.
With limited draft capital I will not firmly ask for a draft pick to be used here, but I would like to see at least some UDFA work done here to at least give the depth chart some competition.
4. Acquire a backup tight end
Noah Fant being included in the Wilson trade is significant, but unlike with Harris, I’m bullish on the next player up in Albert Okwuegbunam taking a step forward to starting at the position. Still, there is nothing of note behind Okwuegbunam on the depth chart. I do not have a strong opinion on whether a veteran or a rookie should fill that depth out.
5. Bolster the running back position
Javonte Williams will clearly be RB1 in Denver for the foreseeable future, but like almost all running backs, having a reliable RB2 to keep his snaps more impactful, even if limited, is a good thing.
a) Re-sign Melvin Gordon for no more than $4 million APY.
Similar to Bridgewater, I think Gordon has never gotten a fair shake from most Broncos fans, despite coming in with 10 touchdowns and just short of 1,000 yards in both his seasons in Denver. But unfortunately for Gordon, he will turn 29 next season, and as we all know running backs can decline like no other position, so the Broncos should not offer Gordon nearly as much as they did two seasons ago.
I set a budget of $4 million for Gordon for two reasons. One is that $4 million fits right at the lower end of the second tier running back contracts that we would expect from someone of Gordon’s production versus his age. The second is that anything above $4 million should solidify Gordon’s contract as being valued as a 6th round compensatory pick. I would take my chances on filling RB2 in a different direction in exchange for a potential 6th round pick getting added to the comp pick ledger in my favor.
I would also prefer a one year contract, in order to keep future comp pick consideration in play, but I would be OK with more than one year, as long as any guarantees are only kept in the first season.
b) Acquire a rookie running back
This is a position where a draft pick absolutely does not necessarily need to be used, particularly with capital reduced in acquiring Wilson–indeed, we all know there are plenty of successful UDFA running backs out there. But given Paton’s early track record of success with Williams, I will also not be upset if he uses a draft pick on a running back as appropriate. Either way, finding a young long term solution at RB2 to succeed Williams, who in turn is succeeding Gordon at RB1, is prudent.
6. Bolster the edge rusher position
With Von Miller now off to Los Angeles as he seeks to match his old teammate Shaq Barrett in Super Bowl rings, depth alongside Bradley Chubb, entering the last season of his rookie contract, is needed.
a) Offer a 2nd round RFA tender to Malik Reed
Unlike with Anderson, due to the high valuation of the edge rusher position I do think Reed would get some attention on the restricted free agent market at only the ROFR tender. The cost for gaining that security is projected to be only about $1.5 million more.
b) Sign a veteran edge rusher
Earlier, I did not have this as a goal on the road map. But with draft capital having been considerably limited, there is a real chance that the Broncos won’t get an immediate rookie contributor here. Thus, I think signing a veteran is now prudent. Despite suggestions that the odds of this happening may be low, bringing back Von Miller would be my top preference. Miller is the only player I would be comfortable paying top dollar for, given that Bradley Chubb will be due for an extension soon. But given the importance of edge rusher, the Broncos should not be parsimonious in their offers, either.
c) Draft a rookie edge rusher
Trading away the 9th and 40th overall picks forecloses the Broncos from drafting the likes of Kavyon Thibodeaux, Aidan Hutchinson, George Karlaftis, David Ojabo, or Travon Walker. However, those players lead what looks to be a deep edge rusher class. Much like drafting Dre’Mont Jones in 2019, it strikes me as a good opportunity to find a long term solution among this deep rookie class, hopefully starting alongside Chubb at some point.
7. Sign two linebackers
Baron Browning has done enough to presume one starting position in 2022, but beyond him, there are four linebackers (Josey Jewell, Alexander Johnson, Kenny Young, and Micah Kiser) all set to become UFAs. While the Broncos could also turn to the rookie class here, they are going to need some veterans just to fill out the very shallow depth chart as it currently signs.
My preference would be to sign one linebacker to a mid-level veteran starter contract, and another to a clear backup contract. For the starter, my budget would be at $6.5 million, as that would be the approximate level that would clearly be valued as a 5th rounder in the compensatory formula. While it is not fair at all to either Jewell or Johnson due to suffering early season ending injuries in the final year of their contracts, it would not surprise me if the best offer they can get on the market is along the lines of a one year, “prove it” deal around that $6.5 million range in an effort to rebuild their stock for 2023. If so, the Broncos may be able to use that as a bargaining chip to retain one of them at a reasonable price.
While I would not outright oppose signing an external linebacker, between the four the Broncos have hitting free agency I would exhaust all options on retaining a couple of them first, while they have exclusive negotiation rights to them.
8. Sign a nickel cornerback
Patrick Surtain II looks to be a very special player, and with Ronald Darby alongside him should fill out the top two cornerback positions. But in today’s NFL, nickel cornerback is effectively a starting position, and the next man up under contract is the unproven Michael Ojemudia.
The Broncos could look to retain one of Bryce Callahan or Kyle Fuller, but both will be in their 30s next season, and even if Evero runs a system similar to Fangio’s, both may want to follow Fangio should he get a defensive coordinator job next season, and if so they would help to pad Denver’s compensatory free agent ledger in their favor. But should that happen, the Broncos will need to find a CB3 externally to keep the depth chart deep, even if they ultimately find a cornerback in the rookie class as well.
9. Let Kareem Jackson walk unless he’s willing to sign for cheap
This point hurts to type, as Jackson has exceeded expectations in his transition to safety, and has been a regularly excellent teammate and leader that’s given passion to the Broncos defense. But at age 34 next season, and with Caden Sterns having a very strong rookie season, this may be the time where all good things have to come to an end.
Sticking with comp pick projections here, the budget I would set as “cheap” would be about $2 million, as that amount would likely be enough for contracts to qualify for compensatory free agent status. If Jackson can get more than that elsewhere, I’ll be very happy for him and wish him well on continuing his long NFL career.
10. Do not offer RFA tenders to Diontae Spencer, Andrew Beck, Austin Schlottman, or DeShawn Williams
I doubt that there will be much to talk about with any of these players. It’s fine if the Broncos want to bring any of them back, but contracts that are below even the ROFR tender are what would be appropriate.