As was alluded to in a previous fan post, Gabe Watson may be our most significant free agent signing this season. Yes there will be clamoring for signing some big ticket players, but chances are that management will not be willing to invest large amounts of money in high ticket guys that will hinder our ability to sign our own free agents in the coming years. However, the defense will obviosly need a influx of talent, especially on the defensive line if the Broncos are to mount a serious attempt at another championship run.
With the likely shift to a 3-4 scheme, it is more than obvious that we will need a NT or two. Many have been clamoring for selecting BJ Raji in the 1st round, though this may happen, it looks like Raji may be gone before Denver selects. The next guys who look like legitimate NT are probably projected to be round 3-5 and will likely be three year projects. This leads us to the free agaent class. Again the class is very lean as far as true NT, some might project Haynesworth as a NT, but he is much more effective being a penetrating DT in a 4-3 scheme and it would be doubtful that Denver would be able to convince him to come here to assume the role of a space eater routinely taking on double teams. Going down the list of free agents, there are very slim pickins in the free agent market for a true 3-4 NT.
The name that stands out on the list is Gabe Watson of the Arizona Cardinals. Gabe Watson is 6-4, 340 and went to school at Michigan. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2006 draft, Watson has had a career marked by inconsistancy to say the least. Projected as a sure fire top ten pick prior to his senior season at Michigan, Watson countinuelly showed tremendous athletic flashes followed by long stretches of medicore play. Described as a dancing bear by many scouts due to his athletic ability, looking at game film, he never seems to match is ability with any consistency on the field. Listed as a back-up NT in Arizona, he has again frustrated coaches in Arizona by what can be a tremendous play on one down where he can simply be unblockable on one play and then get pushed out of the way in the next play. Simpley put, Watson physically is the most complete NT available (this includes Raji), the question will be can he be motivated to play to his emence talent.
The second question will be wether the Cardinals looks at putting a franchise tag on Watson. The cardinals obviously know that Watson has the talent and with a thin pool of NT and a lot of teams looking to get a quality NT, Watson's value will be far more than some of their other more talented free agents, such as Karlos Dansby, who though more talented, is generally a player that is easier to find. My guess is that there will be a urge to get Dansby signed quickly and then franchise Watson to force other teams such as the Broncos into a bidding war to pay the Cardinals some draft picks to sign him. So the question will be what will Denver or another team be willing to pay for Watson. Although it is doubtful that any team will pay nearly the price as say Cleveland or the Jets did for Kris Jenkins and Shaun Rogers since both of those players were more proven commidities; however, Watson has youth on his side being only three years into the NFL, now would be the time when Watson may bloom or wilt. If Denver does manage a deal for Watson, it will be critical that he is motivated, both through coaching and his contract, the talaent is there to be a pro-bowl NT, the question is the will there also.
This may be the biggest deal for Denver this offseason, in that it would surely signal that we will not draft a DL in the 1st round and it will likely mean that Maualuga, Curry, or Cushing will be selected by the Broncos in the 1st round.