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 Spotrac.com 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?
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.
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.
Daniel Jones has to connect on this one. Has Saquon Barkley getting vertical against Jarrad Davis -- a win for NYG every time. Jones was plenty clean in the pocket, too. pic.twitter.com/sHFHEiVKDb— Derrik Klassen (@QBKlass) October 28, 2019
Maybe next year
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.
Jacoby Brissett: “That was probably the best defense I think we’ve faced this year. They were just so disciplined in staying with their playing, they were coached well. Fangio did a good job, staying the course of his plan and then T.Y. did T.Y. things.” #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) October 28, 2019
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.
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.
Shaquil Barrett is available. While we’re at it, so is Darian Stewart. Jameis Winston also has an expiring contract.
Nobody threads needles like Jameis Winston pic.twitter.com/J1C7j7fi6z— NFL Humor (@NFLHumor) October 27, 2019
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.
Titans offense had scored 50 points over their last two games.— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) October 28, 2019
They had scored 54 points over their previous five games combined.
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
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.
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.
Sweating the standings
14. Buffalo Bills
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?
This game can be beautiful and it can also be brutal. Absolutely gutted that I won’t be able to finish the season with my guys and give the fans what they deserve. I truly love this game and can’t stand letting you guys down. Thank you for all of the thoughts & well-wishes.— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) October 28, 2019
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.
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.
So how many points would Joe Flacco score in this Kansas City offense? 10, 14?— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) October 28, 2019
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.
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.
Remind me to ask Jeff Essary if Blake Jarwin would be an upgrade on Jeff Heuerman.
Byron Jones has allowed 14 catches on 27 targets for 182 yards and 1 TD through 7 games in 2019.— Joey Ickes (@JoeyIckes) October 23, 2019
Compared to 2018, he’s on pace for a:
Lower completion %
& Fewer TDs
In other words... he is better than he was in 2018....
He is a BAD MAN
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.