The focus of the Denver Broncos front office this free agency period will certainly revolve around keeping their ferocious defense intact for the 2016 season.
The first move in that regard already happened when the team agreed to terms with defensive end Derek Wolfe, who was rewarded with a four-year deal with a max value of $36.7 million dollars.
Without question, the front office will certainly use the franchise tag Super Bowl MVP and All-Pro outside linebacker Von Miller. The cost of doing so would be a hair over $14 million dollars, but there is no chance the Broncos are going to risk letting their best defensive player with Hall of Fame potential to hit the open market.
Expect Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager John Elway to work diligently alongside cap guru Mike Sullivan to reach a long-term deal with one of the game’s best players on the defensive side of the ball.
Next in the priority list is Malik Jackson, who has reportedly entered contract negotiations with the team. If the Broncos are unable to satisfy his monetary desires, Jackson will certainly be rewarded on the free agent market.
The last duo of top-tier defenders the Broncos will look at are inside linebackers Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan. It is a virtual lock that the team will use at least a second-round restricted tender on Marshall in order to keep him on the squad in 2016.
What is less certain is the teams’ ability to retain Trevathan, who is one of the best inside linebackers on the free agent market. It is reasonable to assume that he will command a yearly salary that could be well beyond what the Broncos could afford to pay him and that he could move on to ‘greener’ pastures this spring.
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But for all the interest and attention keeping the defense intact has garnered so far this off-season, I am far more interested and concerned with what the Broncos brass will do to improve their offensive production in 2016. The team was able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in the 2015 season due to their impeccable defensive performances, which time after time, bailed out an offense that lacked efficacy, creativity and longevity over the course of the year.
The Broncos' ability to be players in free agency on the offensive side of the ball will be dictated on what transpires with the aforementioned players on the defensive side of the ball. To make matters simple, I will put it this way — "What could the Broncos do offensively with the $11 million or so dollars it might take to re-sign Jackson?"
Perhaps the Broncos could be suitors for a top-tier offensive lineman, such as Mitchell Schwartz of the Cleveland Browns, who has performed very well at right tackle and started every game on their offensive line since he was drafted out of California four years ago. With Ryan Clady’s future still up in the air and 2015 second-round pick Ty Sambrailo still recovering from a torn labrum, it would be wise for Denver to invest resources in a proven player that would instantly improve the trench game on their offensive front.
Additionally, they could look to improve upon their running game, especially with C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman scheduled to be free agents. The team most definitely will bring back Anderson on a restricted tender, but my gut tells me that they will allow Hillman to move on. This leaves them very thin in their backfield, with Juwan Thompson and Kapri Bibbs as reserves moving forward.
It is unlikely that the Broncos will have the financial prowess to come to an agreement with high-end running backs like Lamar Miller or Doug Martin, but that doesn’t mean there is a lack of options in free agency’s running back stable. A veteran such as Matt Forte, who desires to play for a contender could be the spark the Broncos’ offense needs. Alas, there might be some concerns in Dove Valley about giving a 30 year old running back a sizable contract at this point in his career.
With that being said, I offer an alternative that hasn’t been mentioned too much — Alfred Morris, who has shown flashes of brilliance operating in the zone blocking system, but has seen his playing time and production drop off every year since his rookie season with the Washington Redskins.
In many ways, Morris could be seen as a reclamation project, but a player that still offers upside and fresh legs at this point in his career. Under the tutelage of Mike Shanahan, Morris put up fantastic numbers and was easily one of the most efficient running backs in the NFL. In my opinion, he could reach such esteem once more and would be a relatively affordable signing (around $3M a year) that could help bolster the Broncos’ rushing attack in 2016.
Sometimes a change of scenery is all that it takes for a player who has fallen from grace to spring back to the top of his game and I believe that Morris could certainly achieve such heights here in Denver.
Whether or not the Broncos end up pursuing either Schwartz or Morris remains to be seen, but in my opinion, would be wise to do so in order to improve their offense this coming season.
Feel free to give your thoughts on who the Broncos should target on the offensive side of the ball in the comments section.