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Be the Broncos GM: Cornerback Roundtable

State of the Roster. Free Agents. Draft prospects. We've broken them all down, now it's time to talk about how we'd address the cornerback position in the 2014 offseason.

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Kyle: Well gentlemen, it's time to turn the corner, err, talk about corners. What would you do if you were Broncos GM?

Scotty: 1. Re-Sign DRC. He played his butt off last season and deserves a long term contract. He should be top priority for the Broncos.

2. Cut Champ. I'm not going to be sentimental here. I love Champ and appreciate everything he has done for this Franchise, but it's time to move on. Champ had a injury riddled season and clearly lost a step. Next year he will be a year older, and his injury risk will only be higher. If Champ is on the roster in 2014, he will be a liability like Quentin Jammer was this past season.

3. Keep and eye on Chris Harris's injury. If he's ready for the season opener, great! If not, I would look to sign another veteran FA CB as depth.

4. I want to draft a CB somewhere in the first 3 rounds of the NFL Draft. Where really depends on DRC and Free Agency. If the Broncos do not get DRC or another top CB they have to go CB in the first round. If they get DRC or another FA then they're pretty decent at CB. They will have DRC/FA, Harris and Webster and could wait until the 2nd, 3rd or possibly 4th round for another CB.

Pete: I think the Broncos should lock up DRC long term. I don't care if he is paid like a top 5 cornerback (something Elway hates doing) because, you guessed it, he IS a top 5 cornerback! Look no further than the Patriots game last season to see what DRC's importance to the team really is. The Broncos were up 24-0 and then he goes out on the last play of the 1st half. Remind me again what happened in that second half? I'm not saying that DRC is as vital to this team's success as Peyton Manning, but he's certainly as vital to our defenses success as Peyton is to the offenses success. Pay the man what the market will bear and get to shoring up the rest of our secondary.

If Champ's pride keeps him from restructuring into the $3 million base range plus incentives to max out in the $4-5 million range, then give him a gold watch and thank him for his career. There won't be a single team in the NFL that offers him more. If we can sign Champ, he'll provide good depth in the nickle or dime packages as well as a vital mentor for the young guns on the team (Webster and Carter). 

Add in Chris Harris Jr., and the Broncos still have one of the best secondaries in the entire NFL. If I were Elway, I'd slap a first round tender on Harris because giving up a 2nd round pick for him is a freaking steal! There is only around a $1 million difference between 1st and 2nd round tenders, and Harris has vastly out produced his rookie contract (undrafted college free agent). Lock up DRC, Harris, and hopefully restructure Champ. Do those things, and the Broncos are sitting very pretty at the cornerback position.

Kyle: I guess I'm not able to cut out sentiment as far as Champ is concerned. I want him to retire a Bronco. Scotty's cut-ties approach may end up being the wiser move, but I'd like to see the Broncos convert Champ's one-year, $10 million deal to a three-year, $12 million deal. Pay him decent money to finish off his career in Denver (as a safety), and save some room off the cap this year.

Scotty: The Champ to Safety move is the only way I could see him sticking. The big question for me is can he transition to the Free Safety spot in this stage of his career? I know Rod Woodson and Charles Woodson both did it, so hopefully Champ could follow in their footsteps. I wouldn't keep him as a CB however.  I like three-year 12 million idea Kyle.

Pete: I hate, wait, that isn't strong enough of an adjective; I loathe the notion that Champ can and should move to safety! Exactly what part of Champ's skillset transfers over to the safety position? Why do people keep suggesting this? Because Woodson and a few others have done it? Champ isn't the big, physical, smack you in the mouth type of player that those guys were. Champ is the "wrap you up around the ankles and bring you down" type of cornerback. That doesn't translate to the "roam the middle of the field and knock down anything that moves" type of physical play that is required from a safety.

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Pete (cont): If Champ tries to play safety, he'll be a bigger fish out of water than Jammer was this year. He'll embarrass himself on the field and tarnish his hall of fame career! It's a bad move with a complete lack of understanding about what the safety position requires by those who keep saying it'll be a seamless transition.

Scotty: I only could see Champ as a roaming instinctive/Center fielding FS. Champ is a sure tackler, but can he handle that punishment in this stage of his career? also does he have the legs to play center field? Can he make sure guys don't get passed him on deep routes? can he explode towards ball carriers in front of him? I don't think so.

I have soured on the Champ to Safety bandwagon a bit, but If I was Elway that would be the only way I'd keep him on the roster.

Pete: Champ is a sure tackler from a support position. I wouldn't trust him to be the last line of defense with a TE running straight at him. Again, he can bring down RBs around the ankles after they spring free from first contact, but it's an entirely different animal to be asked to be the last person on the team with a shot at tackling a big behemoth of a man who won't go down by the ankles. And heaven forbid Champ diving for the ankles ends up with him missing the tackle. That's a 100% guaranteed touchdown because again, he'd be the Safety (i.e. last line of defense). It's why the notion of him moving to safety is so damn comical in my eyes!

Scotty: I'd much rather have Jarius Byrd back there ;).  In all seriousness, I believe the Broncos should move on from Champ. At this stage of his career it's not worth it.

Kyle: I certainly think Champ's skillsets translate perfectly to a roaming free safety. Champ has always been an off-man specialist, and the ability to be even further "off" and have a two-second jump on anyone running deep will help Champ and the Broncos. He has the experience and awareness to see the play coming as well. He won't be beaten inside, and he still has the speed to recover outside.

As far as Champ's tackling: hard-hitting is overrated if you can't tackle in the first place. Did you not see Jermaine Kearse in the Super Bowl? Give me Champ with a sure-ankle tackle before Duke Ihenacho and a bounce-off-the-receiver crapfest. Bailey won't dive helplessly around the tight end's ankles. He will bring the sucker down.

Pete: You're far more optimistic about that transition than I am Kyle. If the Broncos keep him and move him to safety I hope you're right.

Scotty: My question is can a 36 year old Champ Bailey do that at a high level?

Pete: I just don't think he is capable of doing it at any age to the level that is required to be a starter in the NFL. I think people put too little stock in the core concept that a player can just switch positions as if it's just something to do. These guys are NFL player which means that they are the best on the planet at their particular position. The notion that a great CB like Champ is/was can just switch to safety at age 36 and be better than a 26 year old who's played that position his entire life is pretty arrogant. I'm not saying it can't be done because there are a few incidents of it happening (the Woodson boys), but I honestly think that it is foolhearty of any of us to assume that players (even great ones like Champ) can switch positions on the field like they were turning on a light switch.

Kyle: I'd be more comfortable with Champ as a nickel corner than safety, sure, I'm just saying I see the potential there. With a training camp dedicated to the switch I think he could succeed.

This draft is interesting; there are a lot of good cornerback prospects. I'm not selling the farm for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie if he's looking for a mega-buck deal. I'm counting on Chris Harris Jr. getting healthy and taking on that #1 cornerback role, Champ Bailey switching to nickel, and a three-way race between Tony Carter, Kayvon Webster, and Mr. High Draft Pick to compete for that #2 spot. It's a bit risky, but paying DRC anything over $7 million is just too much, even assuming the Broncos will restructure Champ's deal.

Pete: Why do you think paying DRC over $7 million is too much? I think he's an "above $7 million" cornerback. I think he's top 5 in the NFL for sure, and athletes always equate money with a team's opinion on them. It's silly if you ask me because that is the reason why these salaries skyrocket, but it is what it is and I think DRC is a top 5 CB.

Scotty: I want DRC back, and I think he gets a 7+ million dollar contract but I am concerned about giving him the money. He had a career year on a contract year, and had some bad years in Philly. Sure, that defense was a mess in philly but still it's concerning.

Jon: I want DRC back and I am not worried about paying him. Lock that man up and then finalize something with Chris Harris Jr. Those should be Denver's top two priorities.

Pete: Scotty, first of all, they misused him in Philly which was most of the problem. The other part of the problem was that Philly was awful. DRC was highly sought after coming out of college and he is finally living up to his draft status and living up to what many thought he'd become. He was playing on a 1 year contract, so regardless of how he performed, it was going to be a "contract year." I'm very comfy in paying him and solidifying our secondary. I know Elway is opposed to breaking the bank, but he did it for Peyton, and in my not-so-humble opinion, DRC is as important to the defense as Peyton is to the offense, so pay the man just like you did with Manning.

Scotty: Pete, I believe we should "break the bank" for DRC. I was just playing devils advocate there. When Elway was brought in as GM he listed four main important positions on team. 1. QB, 2. LT, 3. Edge Rusher, and Shutdown Corner. DRC was a shutdown corner this past year, and I believe Elway will value him as one.

Christopher: The Broncos need to address several issues this off-season in regards to their current crop of cornerbacks.   First and foremost, Champ Bailey reducing his contract.   There is no way the team pays him $10 million this season.   That cap number needs to at least be cut in half.   Second -- they need to place a tender on Chris Harris.   Due to his ACL injury, the Broncos cannot afford to give him a long-term contract this off-season.   They need to see how he returns from injury in 2014 so they can plan accordingly in regards to his status with the team for 2015.   The other big issue is what to do with free agent corner DRC.  As stated earlier, DeAngelo Hall was able to get five million a year from the Redskins -- which likely means a player of DRC's caliber will garner more money on the market.   His man coverage skills, athleticism and recovery speed are great -- but his zone coverage skills need to be refined and do not believe he has the true grit and willingness to be a quality run defender.   If the price tag ascends beyond reasonable levels, the Broncos should look elsewhere.    One option is former John Fox draft selection with the Carolina Panthers -- Captain Munnerlyn who should come at a more affordable rate than DRC and bring similar production.  Last but not least, Denver would be wise to address corner in the draft.   For the past several years, I have been a strong advocate of drafting an heir to Champ Bailey and that sentiment continues for 2014.   Justin Gilbert would be my ideal selection, but the Broncos should also consider Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Victor Hampton.

Kyle: Well said Christopher. Justin Gilbert is my top choice too; I just don't think he will last until 31 as things stand now.

Christopher: I doubt he does either, but that doesn't mean the Broncos should ignore being aggressive to get a top corner.   It sounded like they had Xavier Rhodes (ex-FSU, current Viking) high on their list last year and would have considered him over Sylvester Williams had he been there with his selection.   They have moved up several times over the past few drafts to select players in the middle rounds, so it would be nice to see them get bold and go after a highly coveted player -- however the price may be too costly.

Pete: I'd just like to get one final blurb before I close this chapter on my anti Champ to safety. Yes, I know Champ is a great tackler, and yes, I know that he would have amazing cover skills for a safety. Even with all of this, I still say that he won't be a good safety. How is this so? I'll tell you. You see, when Champ goes to make a tackle on a RB, it's usually after the RB has broken at least the initial tackle and is close to the sideline (because Champ plays CB). So Champ can easily dive down for an ankle tackle thus giving up any position he has because either he tackles the RB or the sideline tackles the RB. See, by the time a player gets to Champ, they have 2 choices: a) go left/right out of bounds, or b) go left/right and into Champ's waiting tackle. There is no other option.

For the past several years, I have been a strong advocate of drafting an heir to Champ Bailey and that sentiment continues for 2014. Christopher Hart

If Champ were to play safety, he would literally be the last person on the field with the opportunity to get the runner down. See, safeties are the only thing stopping the ball carrier (RB, TE, WR) from getting down and scoring a touchdown. The reason why I think Champ would get embarrassed is because he doesn't tackle high. I'm not saying he needs to blow fools up and get on Sports Center, I'm simply saying that if it came down to Champ making an open field tackle in the center of the field (i.e. where there is no sideline to force the ball carrier into his arms), I just don't see him being physical enough to make the tackle. If Champ dives down to wrap someone up by the ankles, that WR or TE can simply move in the direction that Champ isn't. Champ would then give up any positioning he had to make a tackle and watch the ball carrier dance on his way to the endzone. The reason Champ is such a great tackler is because he knows that there is only 1 possible direction for the ball carrier to move, so he is allowed to give up his position to tackle someone because he either tackles the guy or the guy goes out of bounds. He won't have that luxury in the center of the field, and the last I checked, Champ wasn't a player that excels at tackling high (meaning he's still on his feet to be able to change directions at the last second if the ball carrier changes direction at the last second or *gasp* actually leaves his feet to jump).

So because Champ isn't a high tackler like safeties often are, he'll end up missing way more tackles that the idiot safeties that try to land on Sports Center for vicious hits. Safeties need to be able to tackle while staying on their feet. They need to see the ball carrier into their arms, not carelessly dive at their feet which is the luxury that cornerbacks have because again, the sideline is a guaranteed tackle, so cornerbacks can leave their feet and dive down because they know that the ball carrier either goes out of bounds, or straight into their arms. A leopard can't change its stripes, and neither can Champ. You can't unlearn 36 years of stuff in 1 offseason. You just can't.

Mike:  The only Bronco I was ever sentimental about was John Elway.  We didn't draft Champ, Champ sat his butt hurt all season earning 700K per week he was inactive while the likes of Jammer and Webster started above him.  Do I hold him accountable for his injury?  No, but he made far more than he earned last season.  This season is the year to set that right.  I'm with Scotty.  He plays for 3 million or you cut him altogether.  I don't have a problem going into the season with DRC/Harris on the outside in base with DRC/Webster on the outside in subpackages and Harris in the slot.  That sounds fine to me.  

Obviously that means you sign DRC.  Pay the man his market value.  As far as the draft goes, corner looks to be pretty deep and the Broncos will be able to add some talent in the first couple of rounds.