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A Broncos “Win From Now On” plan

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If this works out, the Denver Broncos are back to chasing Lombardi trophies in 2019 and beyond.

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Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens
What would it take to send Ol’ Joe off like Peyton?
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

If you’re anything like me, you check out the mock drafts this time of year. Now that the Joe Flacco trade is old news, there’s been a split in the Denver Broncos 2019 perception. Denver’s either contending for the playoffs this year, or they’re content to build it all back up brick by brick.

What few have asked is: “Why not both?”

Back when Elway first became the GM he talked a lot about “winning from now on.” Enough that it’s a bit of a cliche at this point, but the smartest teams work to walk the fine line between this year and long term viability. One doesn’t have to look far to see how the Chiefs won the 2017 and ‘18 division titles with very different quarterbacks. So I took a swing at how the Broncos could follow suit this Spring.

Let’s assume Elway can somehow find a way to trade Case Keenum. For this exercise, let’s assume Washington pivots from their interest in Flacco to the guy he just replaced. That gives leaves Denver with roughly $39 million in cap space, but let’s not stop there. In order to create as much room to chase the A tier free agents, let’s also part with Darian Stewart to get a little over $3 million back. Ronald Leary was also considered, but this fact by Mike Klis stuck in my mind.

So we’ll roll with our $42 million. Now what to shop for in the free agent market?

( Cap numbers per Spotrac’s nifty roster manager and what I’ve seen as perceived markets)

Free Agency

Now that Elway has officially declined the extension for Brandon Marshall, the Broncos could use an infusion of speed to the second level of the defense. While I’ve said that a Fangio defense could probably survive with Josey Jewell and Todd Davis manning the inside linebacker spots, where’s the fun in that?

C.J. Mosely - Inside Linebacker

There’s reason to believe that Mosely will enter the free market, even if he’s the odds on favorite for Baltimore’s franchise tag. If he does, the Broncos should pounce.

2019 franchise tag candidates and predictions for all 32 NFL teams

New Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta wouldn’t deny that the tag is in play for Mosley. It’s just not very practical. Using the projected $15 million tag on Mosley would eat up more than half of Baltimore’s available cap space.

If the 26-year old linebacker reaches free agency he’s likely to create a bidding war, and for good reason. Baltimore has been a top 10 team against 2nd level runs 4 of the 5 years Mosley played for them. He’s logged 5,160 snaps during his career, only missing three games since entering the league. Even more promising, Mosley made strides last year to improve as a pass defender. According to Pro Football Focus he allowed just 408 yards to receivers last year.

The former Baltimore Raven would probably cost around $10 million against the $42 million cap number, though that number could rise with multiple suitors.

Mosley finished this game with 16 tackles, and played an integral role in holding the Saints backs to 3.3 yards per carry on the day.

Adrian Amos - Safety

While Justin Simmons and Willie Parks were serviceable players in 2018, neither has proven to be stars in Fangio’s system. Amos has, and he’ll be just 26 at the beginning of the 2019 season. If Denver can lock him up, the issues at cornerback become a lot less alarming. Coverage is among the strongest aspects of his game and he’d immediately provide the kind of security over the top that neither returning Bronco has to date.

With Amos, Fangio and Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell would have three rangy athletic safeties as well as Chris Harris to build coverage designs. Additionally, Amos has grown from a 5th round rookie to top ten player at his position in the league. He can immediately step in as a veteran leader that will help build the “Death by inches” culture Fangio espouses.

As one of the top free agents on the market, Amos is expected to cost about $9 million a season. Adding him and Mosley would leave the Broncos with about $23 million in remaining cap space.

Ja’Wuan James - Right Tackle

This one has some history dating back to last March.

Denver Broncos have made ‘multiple offers’ for Redskins Su’a Cravens - Mile High Report

The Broncos thought they had a deal in place with the Dolphins for James, but they needed another move to come through. When it didn’t, they kept James.

The 26-year old James would immediately step in as the best right tackle Elway’s employed since Orlando Franklin became a Charger in 2015. He’s a competent pass blocker and brings underrated mobility for a 6’6 320 lb man. There are some injury concerns, but if he can stay healthy there’s no reason to doub that Mike Munchak would squeeze every bit of talent out of the 2014 first rounder.

Reports suggest that James will cost about $8 million, so the third free agent signing would leave Denver with a little under $16 million left. Considering that about $11 M is needed for the draft pool, the rest of free agency would consist of playing around the periphery of the market.

The Draft

One of the fools errands of predicting the draft this far out is that with the Combine and pro days it’s all but impossible to accurately predict who will go where.

While most have dismissed Drew Lock as a target, I doubt Elway has. As I mentioned in last week’s GIF Horse, Flacco is both the short term answer and insurance against Lock going before 10. Denver ain’t looking to sell the farm to move up anymore, but the Missouri Tiger is still the target if he slides.

If he’s there, John Elway is Locked in.

While cornerback seems to scream desperate need, one look through Pro Football Reference reveals that neither the Bears nor 49ers ever took a corner earlier than the 3rd round (Chris Culliver in 2011) while Fangio was their defensive coordinator. While that could easily change with the Broncos, it wouldn’t be a shock if “the Don” prioritizes other parts of the roster.

In fact, if Lock isn’t available at 10, my odds on favorite for Fangio’s first rookie selection is Devin White. Todd Davis has a contract the Broncos can walk away from with minimal consequences after the 2019 and a White/Mosley pairing would recreate the kind of athletic ‘backer corps Fangio had with the 49ers.

In round two Dalton Risner would represent the kind of clay that Munchak could make into a potential All-Pro for years, if he slides that far. A college tackle at Kansas, his lack of length of refinement in pass pro means he’ll move inside. That suits Denver just fine as they have long term questions about the interior of the offensive line,

I mentioned in last week’s GIF Horse that Flacco routinely had a competent receiving threat at tight end throughout his NFL career. Up ‘til now the 2019 roster is sorely lacking one, but we address that in round three with Jace Sternberger. While TJ Hockenson and Nick Fant have created all of the buzz, it’d be a mistake to sleep on the former Texas A&M Aggie.

But what about the cornerback Joe? Isaac Yiadom, Chris Harris and...who? I could see Fangio digging through the bargain bin to grab a couple veteran contributors here. A reminder: Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rodgers were the starting corners for the 2012 49ers that made it to the Super Bowl. One developmental guys that definitely intrigues me though? Joejuan Williams.

Are we bound for the playoffs? Destined to go up in flames?

Let me know what you think in the comments.

On to your Broncos News Links

Reports: Washington was interested in Joe Flacco trade – ProFootballTalk

Unless things fall apart in Denver, that quarterback won’t be Flacco. One possibility could be Case Keenum, who the Broncos are expected to shop in a trade now that they’ve moved in a different direction at the top of the depth chart.

Flores, Taylor from SB53 to new jobs, scouts on Kyler | SI.com

4. Sources say Joe Flacco has been on the ground in Denver, and already took his physical with the Broncos, clearing the way for the trade with the Ravens to become official when the new league year kicks off on March 13. I detailed on Thursday why I don’t hate the deal for Denver. And I really do like it for Flacco. The return to a Gary Kubiak-style offense, as run by new Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, should be fantastic for the 34-year-old. The presence of offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who has potential to turn a long-term Denver weakness into a strength, is another benefit. And the skill group has some growth potential, with rising sophomores Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman coming back.

GIF Horse - Separating fact from fiction on Joe Flacco - Mile High Report

I dug into the tape to see what’s really left of the Super Bowl 47 MVP.

Situational passing stats - comparing Case Keenum and Joe Flacco - Mile High Report

What do the numbers say about Flacco as an upgrade over Keenum?

Film Study: What does Joe Flacco bring to the Denver Broncos? - Mile High Report

Breaking down some attributes of the former Super Bowl MVP and his fit with the Denver Broncos.

Flacco trade: Why it won’t make impact for Broncos | SI.com

In the unlikely but not impossible scenario that Flacco recaptures that form of five years ago, the Broncos can keep him on for $20.25 million in 2020. And, if 2020 also goes well, for $24.25 million and 2021. If, this fall, he plays like he did the past three seasons, they’ll let him go without consequence. Which brings us to the fact that the Broncos, holding the 10th overall pick of April’s draft, won’t be dissuaded from taking a quarterback in the first round.

FMIA: Kyler Murray and One Coach’s Argument For Why The Small QB Will Have a Massive Impact in the NFL – ProFootballTalk

3. I think I wouldn’t get too fired up about “quarterback of the future” Joe Flacco in Denver. He is no more of a lock to make it beyond one year with the team than Case Keenum was—as it turned out. I could see the Broncos picking a quarterback in the draft this year, and high. Maybe Missouri’s Drew Lock or Duke’s Daniel Jones, somewhere between Denver’s first-round pick (10th overall), though I doubt they’d use this pick for a passer, and its second-round pick (41st overall). No question in my mind John Elway will pick a young quarterback this year or next.

With Joe Flacco trade, Broncos and John Elway finally bring some clarity to QB plan | NFL | Sporting News

Yet, for the Broncos, the biggest issue with any of the non-Flacco options in free agency or the trade market is the allowance of the question with which president of football operations John Elway has wrestled for roughly half of his managerial tenure in Denver: Is this new guy, the guy?

Picking players who need a change of scenery on all 32 NFL teams - 2019

Denver Broncos CB Bradley Roby.

Roby, the Broncos’ first-round pick in the 2014 draft, was supposed to show in 2018 that he was ready to be a starter after Aqib Talib was traded. It didn’t work out that way. He had likely his worst game as a pro in a loss to the New York Jets -- he was a key defender on three Jets touchdowns -- and an inconsistent season overall. He wasn’t always assignment-sound, and by the end of the season, he had his effort questioned by Monday Night Football analyst Jason Witten. Roby is set to be an unrestricted free agent, and he will move on at a high-demand position in the league. The Broncos put him in a prove-it situation, so he knows their plans to re-sign him likely hinged on a far better season than he had. -- Jeff Legwold

Studs & Duds - Traits Of 2019 Quarterbacks - The Draft Network

STUD – Drew Lock’s Arm Strength If you want a guy who can throw a heater, Lock is your dude. His extended play touchdown pass vs. Alabama just exploded off of his hand and went across the width of the field to torch FS Deionte Thompson and CB Saivion Smith. Lock isn’t a dude without warts. He’s another one who scares the living daylights out of me with his ability to handle pressure. But if there’s a guy who can hammer throws in and afford to hold the ball late, it’s Lock.

2019 NFL Draft: Ranking all 13 quarterbacks to know, from Drew Lock to Kyle Shurmur - CBSSports.com

Lock is my top quarterback prospect for many reasons. He has loads of experience, and I noticed clear-cut improvements with his accuracy -- which still needs some work -- pocket presence, and decision-making in 2018, particularly down the stretch. Also, he has high-end arm strength for the NFL level and rarely is afraid to make a throw down the field through a tight window. Plus, he’s a good athlete. The fadeaway tosses need to be left in Columbia, Missouri though.

Solak Mock Draft 5.0 - The Draft Network

10. Denver Broncos: Ed Oliver, iDL, Denver

I posed to Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the Joe Flacco trade this question:

And I got a shocking number of “Still Denver” responses. Color me skeptical. I could see it, but moving for Flacco screams “Win now” for a team and front office that’s fooled itself into believing it was just a quarterback away. If they want to add the QB for the future, they’re likely to do it in a later round, with a player who’s better recognized as a developmental QB. Instead, we go for an impact pass-rusher on the defensive line who can fill in to a weak defensive tackle room for the Broncos. Domata Peko can be returned as a cheap option at that space-eating DT spot, but he and Adam Gotsis alike both offer little to no ability on 3rd down. Enter Oliver, who can penetrate from the interior at an elite level, and will benefit from the reps at 5-technique he would likely get on that defensive front.

2019 NFL mock draft: Here are the biggest needs for teams in 1st round - SBNation.com

10. Denver Broncos: Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida Offseason needs: Offensive line, cornerback, tight end, linebacker In trading for quarterback Joe Flacco, the Broncos are probably under the assumption they’ve checked off their main priority this offseason. With a statue like Flacco in the pocket, the Broncos better figure out how to keep him upright. Beyond left tackle, Denver has questions along the offensive line. Taylor would be a natural bookend.

2019 NFL Mock Draft: Jaguars come around on Kyler Murray, Dolphins trade up for QB, Broncos go defense - CBSSports.com

10 BRONCOS Byron Murphy, CB, Washington With Drew Lock off the board and Joe Flacco set to replace Case Keenum, the Broncos focus on their defense. Byron Murphy is our No. 1 cornerback and he’ll join Chris Harris Jr. in the secondary next season.

NFL News Links

When will the Kaepernick settlement details leak? – ProFootballTalk

The NFL’s 32 teams will know the amount, because they’ll be paying the amount in 1/32nd chunks. It takes only one owner to whisper the amount to a reporter in order to get the number out, and it would be impossible for the league office to track down the leak.

Bengals’ Taylor on DC hire: ‘Just need the right person’ - NFL.com

With the NFL Scouting Combine looming, the Cincinnati Bengals are still without a defensive coordinator and a solidified scheme for their defense, but their new head coach Zac Taylor isn’t fretting about the process.

Cardinals QB Josh Rosen OK after car accident - NFL.com

Josh Rosen is okay after getting in a car accident over the weekend, and the Arizona Cardinals QB put any worries to rest once having fun with the incident through social media.

Antonio Brown’s dream destination: The Dallas Cowboys? - Behind the Steel Curtain

If there is one team in the whole NFL that desperately needs to dream big and make a blockbuster trade for Antonio Brown, it would be the Dallas Cowboys.

Tim Tebow: AAF called a lot, I’m all-in on baseball – ProFootballTalk

“It wasn’t very hard and they’ve called a lot,” Tebow said at a press conference. “Coach Spurrier keeps calling and I love coach Spurrier. It was easy even though it was an awesome offer. … I’m all-in on baseball and no way could I stop and not give this a chance after everything that I’ve worked for.”