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The Broncos, Sun Tzu and the Art of Poaching From the Enemy

Chargers RB Mike Tolbert has an 8.2 yard rushing average for his career against the Broncos. It makes sense to remove that threat and add it to the Denver running attack.(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Chargers RB Mike Tolbert has an 8.2 yard rushing average for his career against the Broncos. It makes sense to remove that threat and add it to the Denver running attack.(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I'm sure everyone has at least heard of Sun Tzu and the Art of War, the oldest known military manual. It has been used down the age of history as a practical learning tool to best an opponent whether it be on a battlefield, playing field or in the business world. The ancient Chinese War general had a wealth of annotations that are true to modern day and some of these truths could keep the Denver Broncos riding on top of the AFC West Division for quite awhile if they were to be enacted.

"To capture the enemy's entire army is better than to destroy it; to take intact a regiment, a company, or a squad is better than to destroy them. For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the supreme of excellence. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence." -- Sun Tzu , the Art of War
Indeed. My premise today has to do with breaking our Divisional opponents (the enemy) by poaching their Free Agents from them. It serves a dual purpose. Not only does it strengthen our team, but takes an asset away from our opponent. Their loss is our gain. Remember, the surest way to achieve a playoff berth is to win your Division.

Defeating the rest of the West by foraging their provisions (players) helps to break the enemy's resistance without fighting (before the season starts). Upgrading the Broncos personnel by signing away players from the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders puts a head start on winning the West in 2012 -- six months before the season even starts!

Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy... use the conquered foe to augment one's own strength. -- Sun Tzu

The San Diego Chargers are currently the Broncos biggest competitive roadblock to maintaining hold of the AFC West. This offseason, the Chargers are sitting on a Salary cap of $111,960,165. The salary cap for 2012 has not been set, but it is projected to be between $121-125 million. That means San Diego has some room, but they must spend wisely. It should be noted first, that each team will need to set aside $5 Million to sign their Draft picks. That makes the picture a little clearer. Now let's take a look at who is in the mix.

Wide Receiver Vincent Jackson is one of the biggest names available in Free Agency this offseason. The Chargers have been hesitant to sign V-Jax to a long-term deal because of his offseason DUI's as well as other issues, but 1,000-yards receiving in 3 of the last 4 years speak volumes. San Diego would like to keep him and will do everything in their power to do so. Jackson wanted $50 million for 5-years in 2010 and if the Chargers pay him, poaching season opens and that brings us to a player I'd like to see the Broncos obtain.

Running Back Mike Tolbert is a player that would enhance the Broncos running game immensely. With his size, he can give the Denver offense a little of everything -- a Fullback bruiser that can punch the ball in from the one yard line who is also a threat to break tackles and rumble for 20 yards. Tolbert is an extremely powerful runner who is effective as a receiver. He scored 10 Touchdowns last year and 11 in 2010. The Chargers will have to consider whether they can afford Tolbert or keep Jacob Hester at a cheaper price. Mike made $1.835 Million in 2011 and it will take about $2- 2.5 Million a year to secure his services. There are other players that San Diego will consider keeping as well, but Tolbert would be a coup for Denver.

Tight End Randy McMichael is available, but I would not petition for his services. To begin with, he will be 33 in June. He is a decent receiver and an above average blocker, but McMichael wouldn't be an upgrade from Daniel Fells or Dante Rosario.

Nose Tackle Antonio Garay had a good 2010 season at age 31, but his production dipped slightly last season. He will be 33, in November and even though John Fox would like to utilize a Nose Tackle, bidding on Antonio would not be advantageous.

Safety Paul Oliver would be a player I would pass on also (no pun intended). Bronco Free Safety Quinton Carter's production was better in 2011 and Rahim Moore's year was about the same as Oliver's.

I don't expect the Broncos to make an offer to Vincent Jackson even though it would please some of the fan base to have a premiere Wide out join the Broncos, the player to grab for the greatest advantage in this situation, is most definitely Mike Tolbert.

The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him. -- Sun Tzu

The Kansas City Chiefs have a bit more room to maneuver this offseason as their Cap situation presently sits at $95,844,195. That is even lower than the Broncos own figure of $101,389,121. Both teams have the room to make moves and the Chiefs have some good players to re-sign.

Cornerback Brandon Carr is a key Free Agent in Kansas City. At 25 years old he is coming into the prime of his career. He made $2.61Million in 2011 and will be doubling that Salary with his next contract. The Chiefs will have to pony up strong starting corner money to the 6'0, 208-pound Carr. His partner on the other side, Brandon Flowers is also a Free Agent this year and the Chiefs want to keep this tandem together. Carr may end up with the franchise tag if they can't agree to a long-term deal before the onset of Free Agency on March 13th.

Wide Receiver Dwayne Bowe is another player ripe for the plucking. He has emerged into Kansas City's number one receiver. At 6-2, 221 lbs, he's a big body with a big catch radius, something that would help Tim Tebow's completion percentage. Bowe is a good route runner with a propensity to make the acrobatic catch and has three 1,000 yard seasons under his belt. He had an impressive 15 Touchdown catches in 2010. That number dropped to 5 last season, no doubt due to the loss of Matt Cassell. In my mind, the Chiefs will be busy trying to re-sign Brandon Carr and Bowe, with Bowe ahead of Carr in priority for the Franchise tag. Perhaps the Broncos can pry one of these players loose, but it may leave another opportunity open.

Full back Le'Ron McClain could work very well in Orange and Blue. While not as dynamic as Mike Tolbert, McClain blocked for Willis McGahee for the 4 years they were in Baltimore. Le'Ron made $1.5 Million in 2011 and would be an acceptable alternative to Mike Tolbert. I see the chances of getting either one about the same.

Other poaching options include WR Jerheme Urban, TE's Anthony Becht and Leonard Pope, or CB Travis Daniels. Urban wouldn't be an improvement over any of the Bronco Receivers and Becht is 33. Pope has never had a 250 yard season, but is a large blocking presence at 6-8, 264 lbs. Travis Daniels would be a cheaper and at 28, younger trade off to Andre' Goodman.

I wouldn't mind displacing Brandon Carr and/or Le'Ron McClain from the Chiefs and adding them to the Broncos roster.

The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain. -- Sun Tzu

The Oakland Raiders are in Cap trouble at $140,861,316 and have immediately addressed that situation by dropping CB Stanford Routt. FS Michael Huff, DT Tommy Kelly, DT John Henderson, CB Chris Johnson, and OG Cooper Carlisle may also get released as new GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen attempt to turn around a once proud franchise. With the exception of Routt, none of those players would appeal to the Broncos. However, there are two players that would look good in Denver.

Running Back Michael Bush has shown talent for a couple years serving mainly as the back-up to Darren McFadden. He filled in quite well when McFadden was injured again this season. free agency should he reach that point, there seems to be plenty of it at home where the Raiders need to place a high priority on a back-up to the oft-injured McFadden. The 27 year old ran for 977 yards and 7 Touchdowns while starting 6 games in 2011 for a $2.61 Million Salary. That is solid #2 RB money and it would take more than that to pry him away from the Bay area. Broncos starter Willis MaGahee is drawing an average $3 Million per year on his current deal, so a creative contract would be required, but new Broncos capologist Mike Sullivan could make it work.

Strong Safety Tyvon Branch might be just be what the doctor ordered for the Broncos. With back-to-back productive campaigns at Strong Safety for the Raiders, Branch fits the bill as an effective run support near the line of scrimmage. Though he isn't adept in man coverage, he is very capable and consistent in zones. Tyvon made $555,000 in his 4th season last year and at 25, is young enough to play out a second contract and cost efficient to pursue.

These two players could help the Broncos hold off the rest of the West from Day one.

So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak. -- Sun Tzu

Kick em when their down. As noted above, the Raiders were forced to liquidate expenses and their first move was to rid themselves of a ridiculously over priced contract by cutting ties with Cornerback Stanford Routt. They had paid him #1 money after Nnamdi Asomugha bolted for Philadelphia. Trouble is, Routt is not a #1 Cornerback and wouldn't be on any team in the league. He is however, a decent #2 guy who would fit quite well with the Broncos. A #2 Cornerback is worth anywhere from $2.75 to $3.5 Million per year these days and that would not upset the Cap balance the Broncos currently have. The Broncos no longer have the $6 Million (before restructuring) contract of Brian Dawkins looming and could safely replace the $3.42 Million Andre' Goodman is due to make on a new Strong Safety and Cornerback. The best part about this, is that Stanford Routt can be signed immediately. No need to wait for the Ides of March to begin refurbishing the Defensive Backfield. Not only that, but it takes care of a position of need prior to Free Agency and the Draft. A veritable win-win situation if I ever saw one.

The interest around the league for Routt is fairly high. It has been reported that the Bills, Titans, Cowboys, Vikings, and Chiefs have all expressed a desire to obtain the 28 year old Free Agent. It would be a shame if the division rival Chiefs were to pick him up.

To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting. -- Sun Tzu

This is my solution to break our opponents before the War even begins. What's yours?

Go Broncos!