Months of no football...BLECH! I think it'd be good to get some thoughts out here about our off season. I'm no draftnik, but I can at least give us some talking points about where our team is and where it may be headed and maybe some of you more draft-oriented guys can use the information in the coming months to get us some good information on guys to look for based off of our needs.
20,000 ft. View
Let's take a bird's-eye view of the team for a moment and start by breaking down some basic thoughts I have on the team (keep in mind, this is an overall look at strategy / scheme, I am not talking about personnel yet):
- Our passing offense is a strength that doesn't require much in the way of adjustment
- Our run game on paper looks good, but in reality it is not a deep well that we can draw from currently
- Our offensive line looks a lot better because of Manning and the offensive system...there is room to improve there
- Our special teams coverage units need a lot of work
- We have a defensive line that is very strong against the run
- We have a defensive line that lacks in pass-rush threats (though injuries are the major cause for this)
- We have some very talented OLBs and a huge void of suckage at MLB
- Our CBs look much weaker this year than they did last off season
- What safeties? (I put a high value on pass coverage skill at safety moreso than run support and our current pool is a reverse of that in talent)
- Because of injuries, our defense never really had an identity this year
- Our offensive identity was a masterpiece at work in passing when the O-line was able to hold up halfway decently (basically almost every game other than the Superbowl)
First things first: as the fantastic arm-chair GM that I am right now would be working with our coaches to put in place some over-all goals for our team. To start with, I'd like to make the changes necessary to make sure our offense is not one-dimensional. While depth at Running Back is need, this has more to do with our O-line than anything else on that side of the ball. When did we lose games this year? For the most part it was when our line didn't play extremely well.
On the defensive side I want a HUGE focus to be put on creating turnovers. While I think it is always good to shoot for the stars and get a dominating defense that doesn't give an inch, I know that isn't a necessity with our offense performing at even 2/3 of its ability. We need ball hawks. We need smart players on defense that can put coverage schemes into place that will make it easy for opponents to give us the ball back. The only two guys under contract with us that fits that bill right now are Chris Harris and Danny Trevathan if we are being honest (I'd add Von Miller, but dude wasn't on the field enough this year to show us that...and there's a very real risk that he may get a year off soon as well).
Another thing to talk about is how we can better control the ebb and flow of our overall games. I think the coaches were dialling into that toward the back half of the season, but it needs to be talked about more: Our offense needs to score yes...but if they constantly have less than two minute drives to score that means the defense is going to be on the field an awful long time. We have a master at QB and we actually do have a run game...sometimes quick isn't the quality (or so I've heard).
Offensive Personnel Growth Opportunities
If we don't keep Knowshon Moreno (which I don't think is likely...I think he'll want too much in all honesty), we have a very very big lack of depth at RB. I do think Montee Ball will be ready to take the reigns as a #1 back for us. But C. J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman as the #2 and #3? No way does that make me comfortable at any level.
As a matter of fact, let's be real here for a second: unless Ronnie has a phenomenal training camp, I'm looking for better players for that roster spot. That kid looks like a bust, sounds like a bust, and smells like a bust. I don't like that smell in my locker room. Put up or get out time.
I like CJ's potential and he has a real shot to make an impact. In my mind we need two more guys in the mix for TC. I would really like to see Donald Brown in orange and blue of the FA RBs available. Other than that, I'm not crazy about any of them other that MJD and I'm not crazy about him at all (due to age and he looks to be wearing down based off what I saw this year). I look for us to yet again use a draft pick on RB though I would hope it would be 4th round or later.
I'm sure there are a bunch of you out there in Broncos Country saying, "But Sadaraine! Our O-Line was one of the most productive lines in the league...just look at these stats!" Welcome to No Bull land kiddos...it is a magical place where we talk about what happens between on the football field instead of the stat sheet. I'll say this one time for all who want to yammer about stats and our O-line from last year: in every facet of their jobs, the O-line benefited greatly by Peyton Manning and his mastery of our offense. Pass protection? Just give him two seconds. Run blocking? You don't need much when it is a 6-man box.
Let's start from the outside - in. Ryan Clady needs to get healthy, take his place back at LT, and stay healthy. Chris Clark did an admirable job, but he is clearly not a tier one option at LT. We can talk about moving him to RT, because that makes a lot of sense. Other than that, he's a solid backup.
Orlando Franklin again had a very solid year. He is a good option at RT, but like many others on MHR, I sure would love to see him at Guard opening up holes for our run game.
Louis Vasquez doesn't need to go anywhere. There aren't any names I can think of that I would rather have at RG and he's still young.
Manny Ramirez played like a stud for us all year at C and I give him a big mile-high salute. The dude way exceeded my expectations from last pre-season when the team said they were going with him at C. That being said, I like him a lot more at G and I would like to see him either as depth or an upgrade to LG.
And this brings us Zane Beadles. I think we are in a win-win situation with Zane. He's a UFA right now and I think he's going to make some pretty good money off of his stats from being blessed by playing for us this past couple of years. I also think he's the weakest link in our line and we need to move on from him. As always, I give the guy his props though...he's phenomenal pulling and once he gets down field to block.
Main Option 1: Change nothing, cross your fingers, and pray we don't meet another defense like Seattle's
Main Option 2: Get a FA C or draft one who can start day one, move Manny to LG and roll.
Main Option 3: Move Orlando to LG, Move Chris Clark to RT, and roll.
We need some depth here either way and can take BPA for either G or T if we see good value on our board come draft-day.
I only mention these guys because we are going to be replacing Eric Decker. I honestly don't see how we justify paying him big bucks and I think it is highly unlikely that he will stay for cheap. Let me start by saying I think Bubba Caldwell can handle the #2 and I actually think he has more speed than Decker has which would add a nice dimension to our passing attack.
If a WR lands in our lap that is a great pick then we might take one, but otherwise I think we could get a FA to come here cheaper than Decker would cost for the chance to play with Peyton and hunt a ring. Guys like Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks, James Jones, Golden Tate, and Anquan Boldin would look good in orange and blue...we just need to find one of them that would play for a reasonable rate.
This will be short and sweet. We have our starter. I think we'll cut ties with one or both of Jacob Tamme / Joel Dreessen. Of the two, I'd rather keep Dreessen for his run blocking skills. I don't think we need four tight ends like we kept this year. I think we keep Virgil Green and have another for depth (I don't honestly care where from...when you have a Julius Thomas on your team you only really need one solid backup and Green can handle it).
Defensive Growth Opportunities
SAFETY SAFETY SAFETY SAFETY SAFETY!!!
In case you have any question about what Sadaraine thinks is our most glaring hole on the roster in the most need of help because of being chalk full of injured dudes and ineptitudes, we need help at safety. We have plenty of time before training camp to get rah rah about the guys that are back there and how good they are. But let's get real for a moment people. We have Rahim Moore and a bunch of dudes that can't play coverage much better than the average middle linebacker.
Here is the one area of the team that we need both a free agent and at least a moderate draft pick spent. We need two guys who can read defenses, stay deep, and defend the pass. They don't both have to be doing that every play, but they need to be able to. We need guys that make the opposing QB hold the ball too long because there is no good spot to throw to. I want two fast, long, mean dudes in batman costumes flying all over the field making plays.
Jarius Byrd is a guy I go after hard if I'm calling the shots. The dude has the goods that we need and in my mind would be worth more to our team than DRC, Moreno, or Decker. You get him, have Rahim pair up with him and we have a powerhouse tandem to work with as long as the Dream (LOL) can stay healthy.
Here is what seems like a no-brainer to most of us in the peanut gallery. Have we made it work without a talented MLB? Yes. Is that optimal? No way. Last I checked we still run a lot of 4-3 defense and put a premium on stopping the run. Thanks to our dominating line we were able to make it work early on in the season. Once a couple of those guys went down Woody wasn't able to shed blocks and make plays.
I'm down with taking a long look at Stewart Bradley. I'm down with seeing if Nate Irving can handle the duties. But we have to have a guy there that can make plays and be an enforcer. For two years we've gone with the wily veterans who have been short a step or two. This position needs to be addressed.
As far as free agents go I would try very hard to sign Donald Butler (H/T to McGeorge). Another name that comes to mind is Brandon Spikes. Either of these guys gives you a proven good player and takes away from an opponent.
If we don't resign Dominique Rogers-Cromartie then we are in trouble and will need to look for a serious player in free agency. If we do, I think we are in decent shape but need to be drafting another guy to start grooming. At this point I'm finished with Champ Bailey at CB (feel free to slide over to safety and stick around though) and Omar Bolden (he's flamed out as a safety too). We have Chris Harris and Kayvon Webster as two guys I think pretty highly of and expect to be solid contributors next year.
As far as guys to go after I like the idea of Aqib Talib, Sam Shields, or Charles Tillman (even given his age he unlike Champ doesn't appear to have lost a step). Keep in mind these are names I'm looking at if we can't keep DRC around.
Here's an area that I really like our guys at as they are. I do want to see us possibly draft a pass rushing DE. But if Von Miller gets healthy as well as Quanterus Smith I think we will be in better shape than most people think. I see this group as a very strong unit for our team and think we have too many other more pressing needs right now that I would focus our precious cap dollars on.
- I will be very worried if our team looks mostly the same at the start of next year. As you can tell I think there are a lot of areas where we can get better.
- I'm okay with keeping the coaches as is other than our Special Teams coach. That unit needs better leadership.
- I didn't address our kickers because even if I don't like one of them (I won't mention names that sound like kumquat) it doesn't matter because of how their contracts are structured (for the record they are both dumb contracts from where I stand).
- There are a lot of big name free agents in this because of the level of impact I want to see for positive changes. I don't in any way expect us to sign one of each of the guys I mentioned and I was on purpose looking for big impact guys for our team because of our situation (a Super Bowl contender).
- KC is missing the playoffs next year as they don't get a powder-puff schedule to help them look better than what they are.
- San Diego will still be a threat to us next year, but I don't see them getting the wild card.
- Oakland is still a joke and I take great joy knowing that their only happy moments that had anything to do with football last season was in cheering for our loss in the Super Bowl. You are in a truly sorry state if that's all you have to hang your hat on.
- Hit those comments people. Go Broncos!