I've been a long-time lurker at MHR, and though I've thought about writing before, I've never been compelled to do so until now. After the SF game, it's clear that the time to start thinking about 2011 is now. That said, I'm not as pessimistic as others are around here about our current talent level. Is McDaniels on the hot seat? No doubt about it. Is it time for the ax? I don't think so. Follow me below the jump for how we can become competitive in 2011.
First things first, I believe McDaniels will be back in 2011. As many of you have pointed out, Shanny is also under contract next year, and Bowlen is unlikely to pay three head coaches. I can't blame him. As I've already said, I don't think the situation is quite as dire as some here believe. A couple of untimely penalties, questionable calls from the refs and a few poor punts right now are the difference between 2-6 and 4-4.
But this team does have holes, and it's going to take a while to fill them. How should we do that? I'll start with an analysis of our current roster and then make suggestions about our direction in free agency and the draft.
QB: The most fiercely debated position on our team. Because this is my post, I'm going to say my opinion. We should play Orton for the rest of the year and then trade him for the highest draft pick possible. The bottom line is that we know what we have with Orton. He's an above-average QB, and that's worth something in the NFL. But it's not enough on this team now, and it won't be enough next year. We need greatness at a few positions, and Orton is never going to give that to us. Will Tebow? I don't know, but next year is the time to start the experiment.
RB: I'm of the opinion that Moreno is a solid running back running behind a putrid offensive line. Buck and Moroney are gone after this year. So are we going to draft a RB in the first or second round? Unlikely? Break the bank to bring one in via free agency? I doubt it. We're going to have to sink or swim with Moreno this year and next, bringing in some versatility and depth late in the draft and FA.
WR: Our strongest position on the team. Everyone stays next year, except for Gaffney. We should move him while we can, and move DT into the starting lineup.
TE: What can I say about our tight ends? They are no bueno. Graham has one year left on his contact, which I'm guessing he will play out. Quinn is a bust. Gronkowski hasn't shown much. Something to be addressed in the draft, late, or maybe bring Branson back. He displayed some skill before getting hurt.
OL: At this point, we are what we are, with the exception of LG. I would be shocked if we didn't make signing a veteran LG our highest priority. As long as McD is in town, we're also going to keep Walton and Beadles a C and RT. They're just rookies, and we can expect improvement in year two. Harris, as many have noted, is gone after this year.
DL: Another weak point. Williams is way past his prime, Bannan is underwhelming and McBean isn't the answer. Vickerson, to me, will either be a starter or provide depth next year. This area needs to be addressed in the draft.
LB: I'm of the opinion that we're set at OLB. With Doom back next year, Ayers will be even more productive, and he's already proved to be a solid player, if not spectacular. At ILB, DJ seems to have the support of his teammates and coaches, so pencil him in again. I also happen to believe that we haven't yethad a defensive coordinator who has tapped his full potential. DJ could be a fearsome blitzer, if they unleashed him every once in a while. This leaves our other ILB slot. They're aren't too many top-rated talents in the draft this year at MLB, so I'm hoping they address this in free agency.
Secondary: Oy. Another point of contention here at MHR, mostly around what to do with Champ. My perspective: if Champ wants to come back, we should make an earnest effort to resign him. He's not a top-5 corner anymore, but is he top 20? No doubt. That means we should bring him back, if the price is right. I'd even be fine giving him a longer deal and moving him to safety in a couple of years. At the other CB spot, I know everyone is down on Goodman right now. But if you've watched the Broncos the past 1.5 years, it's clear that he's been playing hurt. He was hurt yesterday to the point that he could hardly run. Literally. Given the length of his contract, I don't think he's going anywhere next year. Cox, Syd and Vaughn provide good depth. Jones is gone. At safety, dilemmas abound. Dawkins is the emotional leader of the defense, but he just doesn't have it anymore. Again, with the length of his contract, I'd be surprised if we let him go. I suppose a trade is an option. My guess is he's back in 2011 competing for a starting spot with a high draft pick. At the other spot, Hill is gone after this year, leaving the position wide open for McBath to take. Unlike others, I haven't seen much to lead me to believe that McBath is the answer, but he's going to get every opportunity to prove me wrong.
My analysis of our roster leads me to the following areas of need: LG, DL, ILB, S/CB, TE. Best-case scenario for our offseason would look something like this:
Free Agency: 1. Sign Logan Mankins. Break the bank to do it. 2.Sign David Harris, ILB for the Jets. It's entirely possible that he'll hit the market, and if he does, we need to be ready to pounce. 3. Re-sign Champ. 4.Bring in a backup RB who can push Knowshon. 5. Re-sign Branson.
Draft: I'm guessing that we'll be able to get a second-round pick for Orton and that we'll likely trade down from wherever we end up in the first round. That said, let's assume one first-round pick and three second-round picks.
First Round:Draft a DE. Plenty of talented 3-4 ends to choose from. If not DL, CB is the other talent-laden position. If we don't re-sign Champ, this could be an option.
Second Round: Draft our nose tackle of the future to play behind Williams for one year. Next up, draft a safety to come in and compete with Dawkins, McBath and Bruton. Finally, take the best defensive player available, regardless of position. Let's say another DL pick.
Third Round: I would look for a tight end here, or possibly a RB to compete with Knowshon.
Later rounds: full back, OL depth
Where would all of this leave us?
QB: Tebow, Quinn, FA
RB: Knowshon, FA, draft pick
WR: Thomas, Lloyd, Royal, Decker, Willis
FB: Larson, draft pick
TE: Branson, draft pick, Graham, Gronkowski, Quinn (keep best three)
OL: Clady, Mankins, Walton, Kuper, Beadles
DL: first-round pick, Williams/second-round pick, Bannan/second-round pick.
LB: Ayers, Harris, DJ, Doom
CB: Champ, Goodman, Cox, Syd
Safety: Dawkins, McBath, second-round pick, Bruton
In my mind, this would make the left side of our o-line very strong, especially considering that Clady will be a year removed from his injury. Walton and Beadles will have another year under their belts, meaning they should be that much better. If they're not, it will be time to re-evaluate. Kuper? Well, I think he might be playing hurt right now, but he's been a disappointment and isn't going anywhere with that big contract he signed.
A better o-line will give Tebow time to throw and open bigger holes for Knowshon. If Know still can't get it done, we'll know that it's time to move on, from Know. Tebow will get 2011 to learn and 2012 will be make-or-break. No doubt, there will be ups and downs in 2011, but with a lot of talent around him, Tebow and company could make for an exciting offense immediately.
On defense, we would be learning on the fly, albeit with, presumably, much more talent. Our d-line would be playing two or three rookies extensively. There would be a learning curve. But at this point, I'm not sure there's another way. If this scenario played out, our linebackers would be dominating. Period. Our secondary? Well, it would be old. But Cox and Syd will be even better in year two, and I would have every expectation that McBath and our second-round pick would end up getting the majority of the reps.
Would all of this be enough to get us into the playoffs? It's tough to say. But our defense would be younger, with more talent, and our offense would be better up front, making life easier on Tebow and our running game. After the loss in London, I really see 2010 and 2011 as transitional years. If we are able to make the right adjustments this offseason, and if our rookies (including Tebow) continue to grow, 2012 is the year when we would be ready to do some damage. Will McDaniels be around to see it? That's the theatre that we'll all be watching closely.
Agree with my decisions and think I'm a genius? Let me know. Hate everything I've suggested for the Broncos' future? Give me a shout in the comments. Thanks for reading.