Greetings friends. It is officially the off season which means that if you look at the fanposts section you are probably going to see a lot of mocks. Tis the season for wild speculation and endless optimism with a side of blind homerism. I had written an extremely long full blown breakdown of the needs of this team by position, but I changed my mind and decided I would go a different direction. We are still many weeks away from Free Agency opening and last Sunday was a very empty day without any football. So let's talk about a few things that I've been thinking about since the season has ended.
1. Don't expect the Broncos to chase a high priced Free Agent.
I have had numerous conversations with friends about how we think the Broncos will attack Free Agency. Some of my friends think that the Broncos are going to go after some high priority free agents. Brandon Carr, Carl Nicks, DeSean Jackson, Marshawn Lynch and Cortland Finnegan are all names that I've heard people say we should/will go after. I 100% disagree. If you are wondering how we are going to approach the off season, I think we should look at last off season as a good indicator.
The Broncos signed several players last year to "value" deals. Willis McGahee, Daniel Fells, and Marcus Thomas were three players signed in free agency last year who all were starters in 2011. Broderick Bunkley was acquired in a trade and he too was a starter. The Broncos signed Ty Warren and he was supposed to be a starter until he got injured in Training Camp. That means the Broncos signed 4 starters last year, but none were high priced. When free agency opens, I expect the Broncos to follow that same strategy. With that being said, here are some players that could be a fit for the Broncos
MLB Lofa Tatupu
MLB is a big problem for the Broncos. Joe Mays is not the answer and nobody is sold on Nate Irving because he didn't get to play as a rookie. Contrary to popular belief, the Broncos aren't going to cut bait with Nate Irving after 1 year and draft a MLB in the early rounds. What they are likely to do is bring in competition for Nate Irving, possibly a stop gap player to play while they let Irving develop. Enter Tatupu.
The former Pro Bowl MLB sat out the 2011 season with a knee injury. He had interest throughout the year from teams like the Raiders, the Bears and the Redskins, but never signed with anyone. He needs a new home and when you combine the facts that he hasn't played in a year and nobody knows how healthy he actually is, he could come relatively cheap. The Broncos can and should look to sign Tatupu to a 2-3 year deal. Not only would Tatupu be an upgrade over Mays, but he brings veteran leadership to a team that could be losing it's biggest leader in Brian Dawkins.
Cornerback is a huge need for the Broncos moving forward. Champ Bailey is 34, Andre Goodman is just as old and his skills are quickly eroding. The only young talent at the cornerback position is Chris Harris, the Broncos fantastic 2011 undrafted free agent. Syd'Quan Thompson and Cassius Vaughn are returning, but are coming off of injuries and haven't shown enough to be guaranteed anything. William Middleton is a 26 year old corner who was drafted in the 5th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. After being cut and resigned by the Falcons and Bucs, he found his way to Jacksonville where he has played in 39 games in the last 3 years. Middleton was inserted into the starting lineup in 2011 after a bunch of injuries to the Jaguars secondary. He performed well until he too went to IR due to injury. Middleton is a young guy who is still unproven and coming off an injury. The Jags will try to resign him, but Middleton could be persuaded to join former head coach Jack Del Rio in Denver.
FS Mike Adams
Safety was a big issue for the Broncos after Brian Dawkins went down with an injury. Rookie Quinton Carter performed well and looks to have a nice future. Rahim Moore, on the other hand, really struggled and will need to make major strides. A lot depends on whether or not Dawkins plays another year. Assuming he doesn't, the Broncos will need to look for somebody to compete with Rahim Moore for the starting safety job opposite of Carter. Mike Adams played well in 2011 for the Cleveland Browns. Pro Football Focus has him ranked as a top 30 safety and at the age of 30, he could be exactly what the Broncos need; a cheap, veteran safety to compete with Moore.
OG Geoff Hangartner
The Broncos have one of the youngest offensive lines in the NFL. Starting LG Zane Beadles and C J.D. Walton both struggled during the 2011 season, but it is very important for the Broncos to try to keep as much continuity as possible. Offensive Lines take years to gel and the Broncos haven't had continuity on the line in a long time. Unfortunately, the Broncos may have to make a move due to the poor play of Zane Beadles. The former 2nd round pick really struggled throughout the year. The Broncos may try to move Orlando Franklin to G, and put Ryan Harris or Tony Hills at RT, but another solution would be to sign Geoff Hangartner. The former Carolina Panther is 30 years old and spent 2011 as the starting RG for the Panthers. The Panthers are getting back some injured lineman and Hangartner may not be resigned in result. Geoff could be brought in to compete with Beadles as starting guard or he could be a versatile, veteran backup in the mold of Russ Hochstein.
Broderick Bunkley was the unsung hero of the 2011 defense. Desperately needing defensive tackles, the Broncos acquired Bunkley from the Eagles last off season for an undisclosed late round draft pick. Bunkley was great all year long and proved to be an elite run stopping DT. The problem is that the Broncos now are forced with trying to resign him and it could get tricky. Bunkley will likely command a good price on the open market so Bowlen will have to open his wallet to keep him here. A player who Bunkley could look at in terms of a contract would be Casey Hampton who signed a 3 year, 21 million dollar contract with the Steelers in 2010. Don't make the mistake of thinking Bunkley is automatically going to be back next year. It's going to be difficult if the Broncos aren't going to spend money.
TE Zach Potter
FB Le'Ron McClain
DT Marcus Thomas
DE Jason Hunter
LB Wesley Woodyard ?
WR Eddie Royal
2. 1st round running back? Maybe. It depends on Free Agency.
First of all, let's take a look at the Broncos depth chart at RB: Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, Jeremiah Johnson, Mario Fannin, and Xavier Omon. Clearly, there is a need. How big of a need? Well, in my eyes, RB is the #4 need behind Defensive Tackle, Cornerback and Linebacker.
I have seen a lot of mocks where the Broncos are taking an RB in the first round (Lamar Miller) citing John Fox's draft history as a reason why the Broncos may look at an RB in the 1st round. Let me just say that I am absolutely not a fan of this draft strategy. Running Back is not a premier position in this league and finding a guy to shoulder half the load or a running attack can be done without spending a 1st round pick. There are several players who can be had in rounds 2-4 who could split carries with McGahee (Doug Martin, Chris Polk, Bernard Pierce, Cyrus Gray, and Robert Turbin to name a few). However, John Fox does place a premium on running the ball and if a player like Miller is available at 25, EFX could pull the trigger.
If the Broncos resign Broderick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas, Defensive Tackle doesn't become as big of a need and opens the door for a possible 1st round RB. If the Broncos only sign one of the above Defensive Tackles, DT will remain a huge need. Free Agency will fill up some holes and highlight the needs as we move deeper into draft season.
3. MLB in the 1st Round? Doubt it.
I briefly talked about this earlier, but I want to talk about it a little more in detail. In recent weeks, there has been some talk that the Broncos would draft a MLB in the 1st round. I don't understand that move at all. In 2011, the Denver Broncos selected Nate Irving in the 3rd round. They cited his intelligence, his toughness and his leadership as to why they picked him and talked about how he would help return the defense to it's former Orange Crush days. Fast forward one year and now the Broncos are going to replace him already? How does that make sense?
The reason I keep hearing is "Nate Irving couldn't even beat out Joe Mays, he isn't the answer". You expect a rookie MLB to start at the most important spot on defense in his first year when he had no off season to learn the playbook? Folks, you had your expectations set way too high. If he isn't the starter in the upcoming season, then you can start to be concerned, but Irving certainly isn't the first rookie to take a redshirt year and he won't be the last. I don't see the Broncos using a premium pick to replace Irving before he has even had a shot at the starting job. The only way I see the Broncos using a high pick on a MLB is if they plan to move Irving over to the Will linebacker spot.
4. Dwayne Allen in the 1st round? No chance.
To the National Media, the Denver Broncos should draft Dwayne Allen. The TE from Clemson is a do-it-all tight end who would drastically help Tim Tebow in the pass game. There are just a few problems with that philosophy.
1. EFX selected two raw tight ends in the 2011 draft and will focus on developing them
2. Neither Elway, Fox nor Xanders have never selected a first round tight end because it's not a premium position.
3. Tight End isn't even a top 5 need on the team.
4. Tight Ends are terrible value in early rounds unless your offense is centered around them which Denver's is not.
5. Who backs up Tebow?
One of the most intriguing story lines this off season will be who the Broncos pick to back up Tebow. The decision will show a lot in terms of what is to be expected of Tebow and the offense moving forward. Will the Broncos pick up a mobile quarterback like Tebow or will the Broncos pick up a pocket passer? If they pick a mobile quarterback, it probably means the Broncos will keep a similar style of offense moving forward. Conversely, If they pick a pocket passer, it likely means they expect the offense to change from what it currently is. Of the quarterbacks available via free agency and the draft, here are the best solutions for each scenario:
This weekend, I will be participating in a 5 round live mock draft at Mocking the Draft, the SB Nation draft site. I look forward to seeing what happens and posting the results for everyone here to see. Until then, MHR.