Having already analyzed the D-line and Linebackers it's time to take a look at the defensive backfield. Like the defense in general, a poor backfield from 2007 turned even worse in 2008. What's surprising is that, as bad as the Broncos were on pass defense, they weren't the worst pass defense and were statistically better at pass defense than run defense. However, that may merely be a condemnation of our run defense. Let's discuss the players, their performance, and their possible future with the team.
The revolving door at safety was a joke this year. Last year the Broncos convinced John Lynch to restructure his contract only to later release him and let Ferguson leave to Houston since Abdullah was the project starter. Only Abdullah was cut without ever starting a game. This comi-tragedy reached its zenith with the signing then release of Rodgers. Even the casual fan had to wonder if anyone on the defensive staff had any idea what they were doing. On to the players:
Marlon McCree - Broncos fans found out quickly why SD let McCree go. I can't say he was the worst safety in the league, but he certainly didn't look like a starter. Some of that may be the system and the complete absence of pressure on the QB. McCree is a FA and his play just doesn't warrant his $2mill cap hit. Unless he is willing to take a substantial pay cut I just can't see paying for his services in 2009.
Marquand Manual - When he was healthy, Manual seemed to spend most of his time as the 8th man in the box. Essentially he was an undersized LB in a 4-4 defense, if you can call it that. Like McCree, I just don't see the upside in keeping another backup at starter salary. Manual will likely be cut to make cap room for FAs or draft picks.
Josh Barret - one of the few surprises in the backfield (at least pleasant ones) was this rookie's play. In the KC game he gave as good as he got matched up on Tony Gonzales. Only time well tell if Barret has what it takes to truly be a starting safety on the NFL, but for now he seems to be Denver's best option at safety.
Vernon Fox, Herana-Daze Jones - all I can really say about these two is that they came in when everyone else went down. They weren't particularly good, but they weren't any worse than any of the other players we rotated through the tag-team backfield. I don't know if either of these guys will be back or not. I hope not, because that would mean we haven't signed any better prospects at safety.
Champ Baily - The biggest problem with Champ, actually the only problem, was that we couldn't get him on the field. A groin injury in the NE game sidelined him until the final game and he obviously wasn't fully recovered at that time. In a testament to his toughness, Baily sustained a dislocated elbow (an injury that put Torain on IR) on the first series of the SD game. Knowing a playoff spot was on the line he had it popped back into place and played through the pain. Last week he had surgery to repair the elbow. Some fans have suggested trading Champ but his contract makes that idea salary cap nonsense. Besides, why would you trade the best player, a guy who is a true leader, at a time like this? One intriguing idea is to convert Champ to safety. In the hierarchy of defensive players, all-pro cornerbacks are much more prestigious than safeties, but the concept is intriguing none the less.
Dre Bly- most fans seem to have a love/hate relationship with Bly. He has never produced the interceptions for Denver that were expected of him. But, then, no one has during his tenure. Once Bailey went down, Bly seemed to step up and was a solid player, recording 1/3 of Denver's interceptions (OK that's only two but it's better than anyone else). Many expert observers, including our own HT, think Bly is still a quality CB with safety help over the top. He showed signs of it in the NYJ game when we finally played two safeties. Bly's contract makes trading or cutting him unlikely at least until 2010.
Josh Bell - Bell actually did a credible job filling in after Champ went down, especially in the Jests game. I expect him to be the nickel corner next year.
Karl Paymah - Paymah has been with the Broncos since 2005. Many fans complain that he plays off too much, but I can't tell if that's just the DC's preference or an attempt to keep from exposing him too much. In four seasons he has never impressed anyone. He is an UFA this year and I don't expect him to be re-signed.
Jack Williams - Williams generated a lot of excitement in camp and preseason this year, but was never able to translate it to the field in the regular season. Since he just finished his rookie season I expect the team to keep him instead of Paymah.
With Bailey, Bly, and Bell we have a good set of cornerbacks, although we should add more depth. Maybe Williams improves, or maybe we need to look to FA or draft. Safety is actually the bigger problem. Barret looked good at times and at other times he looked like a rookie. Maybe he has the stuff to be an NFL starter, but I wouldn't want to count on it. We probably need to add two safeties, one of whom should be a veteran and that means trade or free agency. Another option that has been debated would be to convert Bailey to safety and bring in another cornerback. It seems to me that there are a number of cornerbacks available, but that would make Bailey a VERY highly paid safety. I suspect we need to sign a FA at safety and draft at least one more safety and another CB for depth.