John Elway and the Denver Broncos were mostly unimpressed with this years’ crop of top free agents and instead chose to target second tier players with the mentality Elway and Vance Joseph were hoping to instill along the offensive and defensive lines.
It’s a good strategy. If you can’t get supreme talent, then get guys that will play with a meanness that the team clearly lacked the year prior. The free agent moves may have been a net zero sum gain, but that’s just based on talent and excludes the mental side of the gains made.
ESPN asked 15 coaches, executives and NFL evalutors to rate each NFL teams moves this offseason. Predictably, the New England Patriots came in number one, because they can do no wrong and also predictably, the Denver Broncos moves were so undervalued that they came in dead last in the AFC West.
The Broncos needed to address their offensive line. They used their first-round pick on tackle Garrett Bolles. They picked up guard Ronald Leary from the Cowboys and tackle Menelik Watson from the Raiders. They also brought in Jeff Davidson from the Chargers to coach the unit. Will it be enough?
"I just have a feeling [Leary] is going to be totally exposed in Denver," an evaluator said. "In the unit with Dallas, you got probably the best center and the best tackle in the league, and that covers him up. You are not going to get that in Denver. Leary also has some knee issues that teams were nervous about."
“I think you are going to get what you pay for: B-level players, and hope your staff can scheme around them.” - An NFL evaluator
The general feeling among insiders was that Denver would remain good enough on defense to compete, but that the offensive line and quarterback situations remained questionable. GM John Elway seems almost as willing to acquire and cut coaches as he's willing to acquire and cut players. He is betting that the Broncos will get more from their existing personnel after their latest coaching shakeup.
"They made interior defensive line moves," an evaluator said. "They are all budget-type moves, not overspending. But I think you are going to get what you pay for: B-level players, and hope your staff can scheme around them."
Bill Kollar's history coaching defensive linemen -- think Malik Jackson, who was a fifth-round pick -- suggests the Broncos have a chance to make that happen.
Here is the tl;dr version of what these experts had to say about the Broncos:
- Ronald Leary sucks
- Budget signings suck
- We sure hope these coaches can scheme!
There you go, people. Experts around the league have spoken.
No mention of any of the other draft picks Elway made. No mention of the Jamaal Charles risk/reward possibilities. No mention of the fact that the budget signings on defense were all instant upgrades over what they had last year.
Instead, we get the typical lazy analysis and reporting we’re used to getting from ESPN. It’s no wonder their business model is collapsing.