Stop me if you've heard this one before: Two blowhards walk into a bar. They start chatting it up about Darelle Revis...
I know, I know. You've heard it before, but man! It just cracks me up every time. Fine, we'll move on...
With free agency on the horizon, it's time to get filthy, dirty and nasty. So lace up your boots and strap on your helmets, gentlemen, for tonight we pen our battle plan. You know, because it's just not as much fun predicting the past.
This is a position-by-position offseason strategy for the Denver Broncos, and it will cover free agency as well as the draft. My guys don't have to be your guys for us to all get along; just focus on the 'what' instead of the 'who' and the rest will take you home.
The 2012 Broncos sustained multiple injuries along a starting offensive line that ranked 5th overall and 1st in pass blocking (rankings courtesy of ProFootballFocus). Important to note is that the unit managed this upper-echelon ranking while giving backup Center, Dan Koppen, 12 starts in place of the injured J.D. Walton, and backup Guard, Manny Ramirez, 11 starts in place of injured Pro Bowler Chris Kuper.
With starting tailback Willis McGahee already out with an injury of his own, the problem at offensive line, and specifically with the run-game, was further compounded in that sickening playoff loss against Baltimore, when backup RB Knowshon Moreno was abruptly stricken from the game with yet another injury as well. With so many components to their running game either out of action or severely hobbled, this left Denver working to close out the game with a 185-pound rookie tailback trying to pound the rock up the gut, even when the defense pretty well knew it was coming. And right between both a backup center and a dinged up guard to boot. Needless to say, the results were not pretty.
For this positional group, as the top brass of the Denver Broncos peer over the wall to sneak a peak at what their offseason could look like, they would be wise to remember one rule above all others: Don't throw a grenade when a BB Gun might be all you need.
Coaches, players and fans alike still feel the sting of that heartbreaking loss in front of a home crowd, and they certainly remember the team's inability to pound the rock when it mattered most.
And for what it's worth, "they" lied to you again. Time doesn't heal all wounds. Only winning does.
The Broncos will learn from this loss what they can, but what they can't do is to just start throwing money and draft picks at things that made them mad. And sad. So, chin up boys. Patience. Deep thoughts.
Not dissimilar to most teams in this league, the Broncos have more problems than nukes. Or grenades, whatever term we're going with in this paragraph... you get the idea. The trick is to use them wisely (I know, duh right?). In this particular case, having healthy running backs and a healthy offensive line will go an incredibly long way towards fixing what was broken.
Let's underline that. The running game was broken by what can only be described as an unfair share of injuries, and at the worst possible time. Lady luck was mean to the boys in blue. She's a cruel, heartless savage bitch. But whatever, right? She's no longer such a big part of their lives anymore. What was broken isn't necessarily still broken. In fact, it's not even likely. If you throw the nuclear option at a potential problem, you're not going to have enough nukes left to shoot at the more realerest problems. Ya, it's a word. Look it up.
Sure, the Broncos could use an early draft pick on a RT like D.J. Fluker or add a free agent such as Eric Winston, either of which would slide Orlando Franklin over to guard and thus act as a multipurpose upgrade. The problem is that those are grenades, fellow fans, and not the kind you hear about on MTV's Jersey Shore. They're grenades in the sense that it's a huge resource to spend on a problem that might not exist. And with a very limited number of high-resource options to use this offseason, it might be more wise to conserve where possible - you know, instead of just lobbing shit up in the hopes that something sticks somewhere.
It was injuries that were the problem last season, not the players themselves. And so the name of this game is instead to hedge bets by adding quality depth to further insure against prolonged injures. Look for the Broncos to add someone like Donald Thomas in free agency - a "fringe starter" and a versatile interior lineman that can be trusted to hold his own if one of the interior guys can't come fully back from injury. The Broncos would also be wise to look at drafting an offensive lineman sometime after the third round. Again, this isn't an immediate starter the Broncos need here. What they need is insurance. Write me down for Brennan Williams (OT, North Carolina) in the 5th round.
This is the NFL, boys and girls... there are no certainties. I can't promise you that Chris Kuper is going to come back full bore, but what I can promise you is that you'll hate yourself in the morning if he is healthy, meaning the second-round draft pick you just spent on an OT isn't doing much to upgrade an already fantastic offensive line - all while your defense is getting pounded away with the deep ball again. There are real problems, and there are potential problems. Use the nukes wisely.
Starting tailback Willis McGahee is still coming off an injury that forced him to miss the final seven games of the 2012 season, including the playoff loss against Baltimore. McGahee will be 32 years old before the second-half of the upcoming football year gets under way, and just in case you weren't aware: That's really old for a running back. Like, really old.
The Broncos have a little bit of room to make some wise purchases in free agency, and this could be one of just three positional groups (along with DT and a bit of spending at CB) where they really look to make a mark. Cutting Willis would save the Broncos two-million in cap space, which means they could probably land top FA RB Steven Jackson by going into their pockets for a rather reasonable two- or three-million more. Jackson is no spring chicken himself and has a lot of wear on those wheels, but he's still proven to be productive, dependable and durable - even recently. I wouldn't put Jackson in the "must have" column, as the team could chose a less expensive option or even go with McGahee to start the season. Still, if Jackson is agreeable to one-year offers in the four- or five-million-dollar range, then expect the Broncos to be a suitor.
Whether Willis stays or goes, and whether it's Steven Jackson or somebody else, whatever's done with McGahee, it's likely to be through free agency. It's a stop-gap solution, one in which you want to keep a veteran presence as the starter until you can effectively trust the youngsters in a variety of down-and-distance situations. Having drafted speedster RB Ronnie Hillman in the third-round of the previous draft, the Broncos will now add a power component to the roster - the thunder to Hillman's lighting. The usual suspects of Montee Ball, Stephan Taylor, Le'Veon Bell and Marcus Lattimore are all options here, any of which would replace Lance Ball in the lineup. Put me down for Stepfan Taylor in the fourth-round.
In all reality, I'd have better luck throwing darts blindly at a wall while hoping to hit the bullseye than I would at getting just two picks right this early in the offseason. The doors of free agency are just around the corner, but until they open, not even Nostradamus is going to get a whole lot of this mambo jambo exactly right. Well, and I guess it doesn't help that he's been dead for a minute.
Anyway, I'm hoping we don't focus so much on the 'who', and instead on the 'what'. By the end of the offseason, expect the Broncos to have added a power back through the draft as well as a RB through Free Agency - one that's more durable than McGahee at this point in his career. After all, it doesn't matter what a running back is actually capable of doing... only that you trust him to still be doing it when February rolls around.
Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker - or Black & Decker as they like to be called - each turned a heckuva corner under Peyton Manning last season. Drafted in the first- and third-rounds in 2010, respectively, these youngsters have a firm grip on their starting outside roles. The rest of the depth chart here is truly up for grabs, however. There's really nobody on the roster outside of these two that should feel secure in their seats.
Look for the Broncos to double-dip again here, adding free agent(s) as well as draftee(s).
With the true starting positions covered, Brandon Stokely is likely to be brought back to man the slot position at a minimum salary. Austin Collie is another option there. It's almost too easy to connect those dots, but it's not out of laziness or "group think". The fact is, Peyton Manning trusts these guys, and that alone gets them on the field and producing immediately. And you could probably ask ex-Broncos receiver Matt Willis how it goes on the flip side of that coin.
In addition to a slot receiver, look for the Broncos to add another veteran body on the outside as well. WR Andre Caldwell could be a target for replacement, as he's neither a special teams contributor nor did he see much action on offense after being signed by the Broncos last year.
After shaking the tree of free agency, the Broncos will also hit up the draft for a new slot receiver to groom behind Stokely/Collie/Yo Mamma. This is a guy that doesn't need to start right out of the gate, but he'll still have plenty of room to carve out some playing time as the #4 WR. This means the Broncos are likely to use a high-powered rifle to fill the need - you know, bigger than a hand gun but smaller than a bazooka. And if you're getting tired of that stupid analogy already, then just expect to see a WR drafted sometime between rounds 3-5.
Bronco fans near and far have quickly fallen in love with The Great White Swope (Ryan Swope - WR, Texas A&M), and it's easy to see why. He's the prototypical slot receiver who's tough as nails, fearless over the middle and brilliant in his understand of the game. With his draft stock still climbing, however, chances are getting less and less likely of the Broncos landing him. Whoever they choose, though, this is the mold. Listen to me when I talk to you, would ya? It's not about the 'who', it's about the 'what'. Swope has had a meeting with the Broncos, as has similarly skilled inside wide receiver Chad Bumphis (WR, Mississippi State). These are the types of guys the Broncos are looking to bring in.
The Broncos are rock solid on top, yet paper thin in the depth department. More than one body will be brought in, but don't expect that to mean they'll spend anything more than a 7th round draft pick on a prototypical outside receiver (taller, and faster than he is quick).
Oh, and patent pending on "The Great White Swope"(TM).
Last year's free agent acquisitions Jacob Tamme and Joel Dressen each had a terrific season under Peyton Manning, and with youngsters Virgil Green and Julius Thomas still clinging to their roster spots, it's unlikely the Broncos will use any considerable resources on this positional group. The question here becomes whether or not all four of them will remain Broncos. "They" say there's an outside chance that Jacob Tamme will be moved to clear a roster spot, and more importantly, to get the younger guys some playing time. And if you're wondering who "they" are, it's me.
It's time for Virgil and Julius to sink or swim and that's never going to happen if there's no room in the pool. It's probably not very likely that I'm right on this, but it's probably more likely than you think. Get it? Got it? Good.
I got wrapped up earlier and since this is getting pretty long-winded already (I just never know when to shut up), I'll just skip the defense. At least for now. I pretty much covered it in my last three posts anyway.
So that's about $5M I've spent in free agency, while also using draft picks in the third-, fourth- and fifth rounds. It's given us a very strong backup/fringe starter at the guard positions, and then we added competition for the primary backup tackle position through the draft. I added Steven Jackson to be a more dependable work horse deep in the season, while adding Stepfan Taylor to groom as his successor. I added The Great White Swope as our slot receiver of the future, and he'll get plenty of playing time in his first year as well.
I admit that it's possible we may have to trade up in the third-round to get him, but whatever. Whatevs, yo! It's not just because I think he's got cool hair, but rather because I think he's the type of guy the Johns will fall in love with. I'm going out of my way to pick him, not just because I'm clinging to my own man-crush, but because I think the Johns will cling to theirs. And again, nobody really cares about my half-mock-draft or who I pick for us, the point is more about the 'what' than the 'who'.
That's it. Offense is done. Top-five unit, or your money back. I spent more resources than I wanted to, but I also added more than I expected.
So, what's the latest news on Revis? Is he in the building yet? Bahahahaha.
Oh, and since you've already wasted ten minutes reading this FanPost, what's another 13 seconds? I told you it was time to get dirty, filthy and nasty. Ryan Swope layin' the wood for his quarterback....