Here are my thoughts for the offseason:
1. General Manager. Hire Scott Pioli. The number one thing the Broncos need is a long-term plan. They need a vision of where they are going and what they are to become. Every team that has success on a consistent basis, (see New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Baltimore and I'll put San Diego in this category as well) has drafted well and brought along the young talent as the older talent fades or moves on. They are all smaller market teams like Denver and make only a few moves in free agency to shore up small holes and stay away from the Steinbrenner-Jerry Jones style of personnel management. This is the most critical position in terms of long-term success, and if you can't get Pioli, look for another in the same mold as Pioli, A.J. Smith, and Bill Polian. Denver's habit of giving the farm away for has-beens year after year has to end.
2. Coaches. Hire Steve Spagnuolo. Or Rex Ryan. Both are available and will immediately fix our Orange Slush Defense. I like Woody Paige article on the merits of Spags and he points out that our defense has the same need of a innovative coach as our offense did 14 years ago when Shanahan was hired. The entire defensive coaching ranks needs to be gutted. Spags or Ryan will be bringing in their own people anyway, so this shouldn't be a problem. Leave the offensive side alone. With Rick Dennison and Bobby Turner we will have a productive zone blocking running game and Jeremy Bates is doing a good job with Jay Cutler.
3. Defensive Line. Get Julius Peppers in free agency. He's an amazing athlete with a more consistent record than Albert Haynesworth and has less baggage and it looks like Tennessee is trying hard to lock Haynesworth in anyhow. Failing that, grab Terrell Suggs or Johnathan Babineau. How did Parcells go about turning around things in Miami? He started with the front line, as the battle is won and lost in the trenches. If we can't control the line of scrimmage (and we couldn't this year), then we are done. I like Elvis Dumervil on passing downs, but he can't seem to stop the run. Jarvis Moss, Marcus Thomas and Tim Crowder all look like busts, but they are cheap right now and I'd like to see what someone with Spagnuolo's caliber could do with them. Dewayne Robertson is done, and the rest of the line can hit the street where they belong. A couple of draft picks need to be spent here for the future.
4. Safety. The safety position has to be our barest cupboard. Marlon McCree had horrible numbers, but I'm willing to chalk that up to the same exposure problem our corners had this year, namely you can't cover your man forever when the line isn't getting any pressure on the opposing QB. He had better numbers in Carolina and San Diego and so I'd give him another year. The other M&M couldn't wrap up Christmas presents and needs to be cut or waived. I'd look at taking a safety in the second round. I'd like to see either Taylor Mays of USC or William Moore with Missouri but they should be gone by the 44th pick. If not, I'd take the top safety on the board and go after someone like Darren Sharper in FA for the interim.
5. Linebackers. Every great defense starts with a great middle linebacker. Think of the great Denver defenses and you have to start with Randy Gradishar, Karl Mecklenburg, or Al Wilson and the leadership they brought to the table. Look around the league and the teams getting it done are led by the likes of Ray Lewis and James Farrior (who are both free agents but I can't see either team letting them get away). We need to take Rey Maualuga of USC in the first round with the 12th pick. Barring that, we need to take a run at Jonathan Vilma or Mike Peterson in free agency. This year the linebacking corps was a virtual MASH unit. D.J. Williams is good at the “Will” position when he was healthy and I thought Jamie Winborn was one of the few good surprises on defense. Rookie Wesley Woodyard might just be the answer at “Sam”. I think we have the makings of a good linebacking core if we have a leader to lead them. Nate Webster needs to follow his lost helmet right out of the Mile High... uh Invesco Field, and expensive busts Niko Koutivides and Boss Bailey can go with him.
6. Corner Backs. Unless someone is willing to make a Herschel Walker-type trade for Champ Bailey, we need our best football player out there. He make opposing offenses throw the other way and is one of the only consistant run stuffers we have. Dre' Bly has been taking a lot of heat, but they have to throw to his side of the field to get away from Bailey and they had no pressure from the front seven. Perhaps I'm naive, but I think that although this tandem is getting long in the tooth, with a decent pass rush, these two will be back to Pro Bowl contention. Draft a cornerback in the later rounds so he can be mentored by Bailey while he is still here.
7. Special Teams. Matt Prater's 68% kicking average is a little brutal after being used to Jason Elam's 85.3% kicking over the last five years, but Elams first year stats are almost identical to Prater's (26/35 for 74%) and in 2002 he went 26/36 for 72%. So I'm inclined to give the kid a break for his first year kicking and look forward to some booming 60+ yard field goals from that booming foot of his. Brett Kern was decent as a rookie. “Kamikaze” Spencer Larsen had some unbelievable hits but I was disappointed overall as I thought with Scott O'Brien coming on board that things would be significantly better. They only excuse is that the team as a whole was the walking wounded and they were stealing the special team players every week to plug the holes. Give Scott another year.
8. Running Backs. Due to injury, this position turned us into a CFL team: four wideouts and throw the ball on every down. I read a post by ChristianL ( he has some great points on his wish list) and I agree that making a run at Darren Sproules would be worthwhile. They are paying LaDanian Tomlinson around 7 million a year and Michael Bennett 3 million a year and they probably can't afford to keep Sproules. Can you imagine a return team of Sproules and Royal? That's just scary. I really like what I saw out of Peyton Hillis and think he might be the answer. Ryan Torain needs to be healthy enough that we can actually get a good look at him to see what we have there. I don't think Selvin Young is the answer from what I saw this year and Andre Hall has hands of butter. Michael Pittman is a good change of pace runner when he isn't busy being injured. Tatum Bell is worth keeping around as cheap insurance as he knows the running scheme. If we don't pick up Sproules in free agency, we need to spend a 3rd or 4th round pick on one.
9. Center. Tom Nalen just announced his retirement so signing Casey Wiegmann for the next couple of years has to be a priority. Wiegmann will be turning 36 next year though so some thought should go to drafting his replacement.
10. Quarter Back. Bazooka Jay is my man, but after watching the Cowboys crash and burn when Tony Romo broke his pinky finger and remembering Jay Cutler nearly go down with a hand injury early in the season, and as Patrick Ramsey is a free agent, I think we need to look for a good, quality backup similar to what Tennessee has had in Kerry Collins (who is a free agent, by the way). Maybe someone like Jeff Garcia who is pushing 40 and probably won't be starting for Tampa Bay next year.
11. Receivers. Don't think we need any help here. Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal both had an outstanding year and Brandon Stokley was a quality possession receiver. Tony Scheffler had a very good year and has to be a Top 20 TE. Daniel Graham has nearly the same numbers he had when he was the Patriot workhorse and has to be one of the top blocking TE in the league.
12. Rest of the Offensive Line. This line was one of the best units in the NFL. Ryan Clady was outstanding at Left Tackle and Ryan Harris, Chris Kuper and Ben Hamilton all played superb. Other than Hamilton with 9 years in the league, the rest of the unit is young at 4 years or less.