Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The Broncos managed to sign 5 key free agents the past couple of days along with agreeing to deals with some of their own. Here is a closer look at these players, their deals, and where they stand on the depth chart.
First of all, if there is a prevailing theme coming from this years free agent class, it is that for the most part, Elway looked to go after younger guys with something to prove:
WR Wes Welker: 32 years old (exception)
DT Terrance Knighton: 26
G Louis Vasquez: 25
LB Stewart Bradley: 29
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: 26
Next thing to note, outside of Vasquez, nobody got offered more than a two year deal, here's where they stack up:
Vasquez: 4 years, 23.5 million, 14 million guaranteed
Welker: 2 years, 12 million, fully guaranteed
Knighton: 2 years, 4.5 million, $500K signing bonus
Rodgers-Cromartie: 1 year, 5 million (don't know the guaranteed money, but guessing it's probably fully guaranteed)
Bradley: 1 year, 1.1 million, 200K signing bonus
Given the length and gravity of their contracts, it is very apparent that the Broncos are counting on a two year window to win the super bowl. Vasquez looks like he will be a long term solution at guard, most likely RG. The Broncos also like to give out 1 year "show me" contracts to young players with something to prove. Tracy Porter was given a 1 year 4 million deal last year. It didn't work out, no big deal. Same thing with Bradley and DRC. As far as Knighton goes, his deal is very similar to what they gave Kevin Vickerson. So speaking of Broncos talent that they retained, here's a look at those deals:
Kevin Vickerson: 2 years, 5 million (bonus/guarantees unknown, perhaps it is fully guaranteed at that price though)
David Bruton: 3 years, 4.5 million (bonus/guarantees unknown)
Again, none of these contracts will handicap the Broncos short or long term future. They were able to retain some key pieces and add a handful more from the outside very cheap.
Many of us here simply overvalued certain positions. Slot receiver, even if you are a 100+ catch guy in Welker still is only worth 6 million. DE, no matter if you are a 3-4 OLB or true 4-3 DE---that rush position is worth anywhere from 5-8 million dollars. Michael Bennett received a one year deal worth 5 million to play in Seattle. Cliff Avril, a younger guy who was franchised last year (and reportedly turned down a 3-yr 30 million deal with the Lions last year) will be paid 15 million over 2 years. Paul Kruger who is somewhat of a late bloomer got 41 million on a 5-year deal with 20 million guaranteed. That's your market, anywhere from 5-8 million dollars. Which brings us to the elephant in the room: Elvis Dumervil.
We are at the 11th hour with Doom. Perhaps as a final and stern warning about what will happen and what the market actually is, John Elway had this to say (via the Denver Post):
"These are the deals that wrench your gut,"
At the beginning of this thing, I supported Doom fully. Thought management was making the wrong decision, opening up holes where we had none etc etc. I like Doom as a player, but I agree here with Elway. Most of my previous sentiment was grounded in the fact that some other team would pay Doom if we didn't. Surely he was worth at least 10 million----nope. And when Michael Bennett (who is also a very good player against the run) signs somewhere for 5 million on a 1 year deal, the market probably isn't even at 8 million for Doom. More realistically 6-7 is the number they want him at.
Some out there may still bellyache over the loss, but I won't. The market changed mostly due to the flat cap, and now Doom has to realize 12 million with a 13+million cap hit is way too much. I would be fine (and perhaps the Broncos would be too) with a paycut to the 7-7.5 million range. Question is will Doom be fine with it? Will another team pay him more? Probably not, and so the outrage about keeping things quiet and working out a trade was also wishful thinking. Nobody would trade a pick to take on that contract.
Now if Doom goes, where does he go? Patriots fans had their worse dreams realized when Welker signed a deal to play with Manning. Well, with a boat load of cap space, no deals as of yet, and a need for a scheme versatile DE/OLB, Doom very well could end up a Patriot. That makes our next meeting with the Patsies in the regular season so, SO, much more interesting!
Where do these guys fit?
Vasquez: He will be the starting RG come training camp and for the regular season. Kuper could be stashed on the PUP list with no immediate cap hit if I remember correctly. That seems like a good wait and see approach to a talented player who has faced some devastating injuries as of late. Who knows, he was always more tough and powerful than Beadles (though Beadles has come along great)---perhaps he can push LG if the opportunity presented itself. With Vasquez and Franklin on the right side, I foresee 3rd and short situations much more productive and fruitful.
Bradley: Elway said he provides good depth and will push Irving and Johnson at the Mike. I liked this signing very much. Bradley was a bit mis-cast in AZ as an inside backer in the 3-4 defense. A strike shortened offseason didn't help any. Hearing him give an interview on the radio, he said one of the things he sees as an asset in coverage is his size. He said his 6'4" frame gives opposing QB a bigger entity to throw around in the middle. He was once a probowl/all pro LB. If he can stay healthy I think he can be the man in the middle.
Knighton: He will be in the starting rotation along side Big Vick. Now due to his large frame (335 lbs) folks see him as our 0 tech/NT. Another interesting interview I heard last night---Knighton says he takes a lot of pride in pushing the pocket back toward the quarterback. Several times he referenced the Broncos edge rush and the fact that he expects to play both the 0/1 tech and 3 tech spots.
If you're not sure what that is it just means where the DT will line up and it pertains to which shoulder of the opposing OL. For example, 0 tech means that the DT will line up right across from the center. A 1 tech will line up on the outside of the center's shoulder. A 2 tech will line up over the inside shoulder of the guard and the 3 tech will line up on the outside shoulder. So when you hear NT you can bet they are playing the 0/1 technique and when you hear UT you can bet they are playing the 3 technique. Think about it---the UT (rush DT) will line up on the outside shoulder of the guard. That makes it more likely he will receive a one on one as the Tackle has to account for the DE. Harder for the Center to move over to double team unless he slides back behind and that leaves the middle vulnerable.
I said it earlier, expect him and Big Vick to move alignment and responsibilities interchangeably. In Knighton's own words he loves to push the pocket.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: He is the new #2 opposite Champ Bailey. He had a tumultuous couple years after being traded from the Cardinals in that Kevin Kolb deal. Bottom line though, it would probably be easy to check out when there was so much turnover and controversy at Defensive Coordinator. Seriously, who the hell puts an offensive line coach in charge of the defense? Andy Reid that's who and he's the headman with the Chiefs now haha. Kidding aside, from all counts DRC is a corner that mans up really well and uses the sideline and boundary beautifully to redirect and disrupt routes. This is precisely the kind of corner Del Rio and company covets. Again, we liked to play man coverage extensively underneath. As a side note, I want to talk Chris Harris for a minute.
Some see Harris as a legit #2 already with the skillset to possibly become the #1 man on the outside. So don't get angry, Broncos Country, that DRC is given a shot on the outside over Harris. Here's how it breaks down---the Broncos 65% of the time ran nickel. In nickel defense you have 5 defensive backs, of which usually 3 are corners. That extra corner is brought in to guard the slot and play the inside which is much more demanding than playing outside. Chris Harris was on a radio talk show last night and though I'm paraphrasing, this is what he had to say:
The Broncos want me on the inside because I'm good at it. The inside is much more difficult to cover than the outside because you have to know more of the defense---you have to communicate more with the linemen and linebackers, and the receivers have more room to work with.
This isn't a demotion by any means. Chris Harris is the Broncos best cover guy period and they are using him in a very difficult role. They trust Champ and DRC to protect the outside, and playoff debacle aside, I still have faith in Champ. Just if we're playing Baltimore or someone else with a blazing fast burner---give him safety help from time to time;)
Welker: Slot guy--duh! If the Broncos were such a 11 personnel heavy group last year, expect even more this year. Welker in the game means nickel defense from the start, unless you want a LB on him, which is an automatic mismatch. That means a favorable box count and possibly an easier time rushing the ball. This seems like a perfect opportunity to post a chart I saw via Pro Football Focus (click on it to embiggen):
What you'll find is that both Manning and Brady work the hell out of the short/intermediate part of the field. And though Manning had about the same production yard wise, Brady comes in just a bit better especially over the middle of the field. This is why Manning pushed for Welker---what he brings as a weapon to this portion of the field will be an asset to Manning.
Here's another one I snagged from PFF via PatsPulpit---and it is comparing the route tree and both Welker and Amendola's production (don't worry about Amendola, click to embiggen):
Not a lot of deep stuff understandably, and surprisingly not a lot of comeback routes, but we see a lot of crossing routes, quick outs and ins, slants, and a Manning favorite---the WR screen. We will go over the Manning passing concepts in future posts, but lets just say right now it is an understatement to say Brady and the Pats lost an important piece of their offense. Frankly, Welker will help take Manning's intermediate passing attack to a whole other level, and more importantly they are both smart enough to be on the same page once the season starts.
Well there you have it MHR----every pick up the Broncos made in FA was smart, at a good price, filled a need short or possibly long term. Elway tends to target younger players and players with immense upside with something to prove. No one was overpaid, and the market is a whole different beast than we thought.
If you have any questions, have at it---GO BRONCOS!!!
P.S. It still makes my heart smile knowing that Brady took a pay cut so that Broncos Country can watch Peyton Manning throw TD's to his buddy Welker, WICKED PISSAH Pats fans!!!