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NFL Power Rankings Week 9: A Way-Too-Early look at free agents the Broncos should consider.

It’s never too early for a 2-6 team to look ahead, right?

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos
If the Broncos don’t resign Chris Harris Jr. they have a huge hole in the secondary.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

So the Broncos are 2-6. If you’re still thinking the playoffs are a realistic possibility with Brandon Allen or a rookie quarterback, I have to find out where you buy your orange shades. I truly admire your optimism.

It isn’t as though Denver’s the only place where 2019 hopes have died. With the dust and snow now settled on week eight in the NFL, there’s a clear chasm opening between this year’s contenders and teams selling dreams about tomorrow.

It also makes for a good time to start a way-too-early peak at potential talent that John Elway could snag in next year’s free agency.

I used to look for any and all intriguing guys on expiring contracts, when applicable. Admittedly, I haven’t studied most of these players at any length beyond watching them play on Sundays, and their contract situations remain very fluid. I tried to share some insight on players I did study as part of my scouting class with Dan Hatman and The Scouting Academy last summer.

This exercise is mostly to provide a glimpse into areas where the Broncos could snag immediate help with their $50-$70 million in 2020 cap space.

Quick Disclaimer: As always, the Power Rankings themselves are based upon how I see each team’s chances at winning the 2019 Lombardi. That means some teams will be lower than their record indicates and some teams will be lower than previous opponents they beat.

Who are we kidding, really?

32. Miami Dolphins

Do people play in South Beach?

31. Cincinnati Bengals

If the Bungles let Darqueze Dennard leave, he’s probably worth a look. He’s missed most of the first half of 2019 after a knee scope landed him on the PUP list, but he fits the Fangio mold of former first rounders who may flourish in a better environment.

30. Washington

If I was Brandon Scherff, I’d run far, far away from Dan Snyder. I can’t say with much certainty I’d drive all the way to Denver, but Elway should definitely give him a call. Chris Thompson intrigues as a potential RB3.

29. Atlanta Falcons

In case a 2-5 start isn’t enough to doom the entire dirty bird regime, this next fact should: in 2020, the Falcons currently have less than $1 million in cap space.

They also don’t have many expiring contracts that catch my eye on first glance. Austin Hooper could be a fun upgrade over Heuerman.

28. New York Jets

Considering what Rich Scangarello likes out of his running backs, Ty Montgomery may intrigue as a pass catching RB3.

27. New York Giants

If someone suggests Eli Manning, slap them. Actually, scratch that, I don’t want to be responsible for advocating violence. Metaphorically slap them or something.

Maybe next year

26. Los Angeles Chargers

25. Denver Broncos

I doubt Elway holds onto all of them, but in my humble opinion, the big names to resign are Justin Simmons, Chris Harris Jr., Connor McGovern, Will Parks, Shelby Harris, and Derek Wolfe.

Both Tim Patrick and De’Vante Bausby should return as Restricted Free Agents.

24. Arizona Cardinals

D.J. Humphries is hardly inspiring, but he may very well be an upgrade on the Broncos’ current left tackle.

23. Chicago Bears

Just about every Bears defender who played under Vic Fangio will be floated as a possible Bronco over the next year or so. With Chicago headed towards a bit of a cap jam, that means Todd Davis, Aaron Lynch, Nick Kwiatkoski, Isaiah Irving, Roy Robertson-Harris, Deon Bush, and others.

One name to watch who isn’t playing on an expiring contract but could become available: Akiem Hicks.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers

Artie Burns is kind of a free agent Rorshach test. He’s a former 1st round pick and an intriguing athlete who got himself benched four games into the 2018 season in a bad Steelers secondary. This year he’s played less than 20% of snaps.

Some of the Steelers’ depth linemen like B.J. Finney, Matt Feiler, and Zach Banner could intrigue. Mike Munchak worked with all three during his time as the Pittsburgh’s OL coach, and Denver’s depth is sorely lacking.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Shaquil Barrett is available. While we’re at it, so is Darian Stewart. Jameis Winston also has an expiring contract.

20. Cleveland Browns

I’d probably pass on Greg Robinson at left tackle, but if Mike Munchak wanted to move Connor McGovern over to guard and bring in a true center, J.C. Tretter is an intriguing veteran option.

Last summer I also studied three other Browns who have expiring contracts: Rashard Higgins, Damarious Randall, and Joe Schobert. I liked Randall’s game the most, but the price would impact my interest in any of them.

Crazier things have happened

19. Tennessee Titans

Two big names that could intrigue are Logan Ryan and Jack Conklin. I suspect Fangio may have an interest in the former, while the latter disappoints another suitor.

One sleeper you probably haven’t heard of that I really took a liking to this summer was Kamalei Correa. He’s probably not a guy you want starting for you, but he does a little bit of everything and would certainly help on special teams.

The way 2019 is shaping up: Ryan Tannehill is playing his way into consideration as a bridge or stop gap in Tennessee or elsewhere. Marcus Mariota has played his way into a backup or desperation plug.

18. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags’ decision to overpay Nick Foles means they’re about to undergo a bit of a talent drain this spring. A few linemen to watch include Marcell Dareus and Akeem Spence on defense, as well as Cedric Oghuebi on offense.

17. Oakland Raiders

16. Carolina Panthers

At one point a few weeks ago, James Bradberry came up in a reply to a discussion I had with Mile High Huddle’s Nick Kendall. I did study him last summer and thought he was headed towards a bit of a breakout this year. I do have serious doubts the Panthers let him walk, though.

Without studying Bradberry’s 2019 at length, charting suggests his tackling has improved, so keep that in mind. I’ll definitely look at him if he becomes available this spring.

15. Detroit Lions

If Fangio is looking for some Grade A beef this spring, A’Shawn Robinson could be just what the doctor ordered. A second round pick in 2016, he’s been a load against the run in Motown.

I studied Robinson’s 2018 season at the beginning of last summer.

Sweating the standings

14. Buffalo Bills

13. Philadelphia Eagles

Ronald Darby could be an option if Strap walks. I’d also consider Halapoulivaati Vaitai for the offensive line. He played left tackle in place of Jason Peters during the Iggles Super Bowl run and now backs up both spots on the right side.

12. Houston Texans

Remember when people pitched trades for A.J. McCarron?

11. Los Angeles Rams

Jokes about McCarron aside, I’d consider Blake Bortles if Joe Flacco’s the alternative. 38-year-old Andrew Whitworth is more likely to retire than chase a payday in Denver, but he’d also serve as an upgrade on Garett Bolles.

10. Minnesota Vikings

9. Kansas City Chiefs

Kendall Fuller intrigues. Darron Lee did last spring, but saw his playing time crater in recent weeks as the Chiefs worked to fit their defense.

8. Seattle Seahawks

7. Indianapolis Colts

The name that catches my eye is Jack Doyle. If the Broncos are looking for a better blocking tight end than what’s currently on the roster who also serves as a reliable pass catcher, the 30-year-old Doyle makes a ton of sense.

6. Dallas Cowboys

With the way Jerry Jones has thrown money around, it’s almost a certainty that there will be some serious talent leaving Big D over the next couple seasons. Scheme fit is where things could be a bit complicated, as the Cowboys favor what amounts to a 4-3 Tampa Two type of build on defense, so the defensive lineman may not fit what Fangio is looking for.

In the secondary, Byron Jones is the big name and one to really keep an eye on if Chris Harris Jr. walks for greener pastures. Another player that’d make a lot of sense if the Broncos are concerned about Bryce Callahan’s long-term status is Anthony Brown. I looked at him over the summer and came away impressed.

Anthony Brown would look good in orange and blue.

Remind me to ask Jeff Essary if Blake Jarwin would be an upgrade on Jeff Heuerman.

5. Baltimore Ravens

Jimmy Smith, Marcus Peters, and Cyrus Jones are all playing out expiring contracts right now and could make some sense to patch a hole or three in the secondary.

True Contenders

4. Green Bay Packers

On the off chance Fangio is looking for more depth on the second level, Kyler Fackrell offers many of the things the Broncos’ head coach values in an edge rusher. I looked at him last summer and he’s probably headed towards a chance of scenario with the Smith’s eating into his snap counts this season.

I don’t think the Broncos will want to spend a lot on an edge rusher, but Fackrell may be a decent fit.

Blake Martinez is another linebacker I studied at length. If he hit the market, I’d probably place him near the top of my list because what he lacks in sheer athleticism, he makes up for in mental processing and technique. Bryan Bulaga and Jason Spriggs are also watching their deals expire and it wouldn’t be a horrible idea to sniff around some of the Packers’ linemen.

3. San Francisco 49ers

Emmanuel Sanders is a free agent.

I’m just kidding.

Seriously though, Arik Armstead was the first player I scouted for TSA this last summer. A former first round pick, he could offer Fangio a base end in base personnel who could slide inside the nickel. He offers an ability to two gap and own his run responsibilities. He’s a strong edge setter and has the kind of height and wingspan to impact passing lanes. He also brings enough short area mobility and length to demand attention on stunts. I don’t think he’ll be cheap and could be resigned, as he’s currently going through a career season and San Francisco could want to keep him.

2. New Orleans Saints

Both Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater are free agents. With the way the Saints cap ledger looks, there’s an outside possibility neither return. Eli Apple just had an injury last week and may not tackle as Fangio likes in his corners, but does have pedigree to intrigue. Andrus Peat could be the sort of free agent addition to really solidify the interior. He’s been a left guard for New Orleans so it’d take some shuffling, but he may be worth it.

1. New England Patriots

Joe Thuney may be an intriguing option along the interior offensive line and I had dreams about Danny Shelton this past spring. Kyle Van Noy is one 2020 free agent I actually studied at length prior to this year for The Scouting Academy and could feasibly add to the Fangio defense if Todd Davis is cut.

Van Noy could be a decent veteran addition if the Broncos’ are shopping for one.

One of the weirdest things about the Patriots is how they make all of the square pegs fit into the round system without a hitch. It makes it even more difficult to really project how those free agents would look on other teams. Tom Brady is an obvious headliner, but until he leaves Bill Belichick’s teat, I’m not even wasting my time.

What do you think Broncos Country?