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What do the Broncos need to do to build a 2020 playoff contender?

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I spoke with Nick Korte about how John Elway can make the most of his cap room and war chest of draft picks to make the Denver Broncos a playoff contender.

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NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
How can the Broncos build a playoff contender around Drew Lock?
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

If you like to play armchair GM, there is little doubt you’re already familiar with Over The Cap as it’s a haven for any and all contract and cap questions you could think of. One of the hardest aspects to free agency and building a roster is the forecasting of compensatory selections. They are awarded to teams based on the free agents they lost and are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors.

If that sounds a bit like calculus or an alien language, don’t worry. Nick Korte has you covered. He’s Over The Cap’s expert on compensatory pick projection, as well as their resident Broncos’ fan. Every offseason he makes an Offseason Road Map for the Denver Broncos which takes into account how Elway could build next year’s team.

2020 Broncos Offseason Road Map – Thin Air

So of course when the 2020 road map came out, I had to ask him about it.

1st and 10

You and I agree that there is no reason for Joe Flacco to return at his current cap figure. I’m also hoping the Broncos upgrade on Brandon Allen as a backup. Are there any potential free agents that catch your eye who would fit into the $7 M APY budget?

Korte: I have no particular names to offer. I would say that, unlike in previous offseasons, whoever they sign should be a clear backup, and the salary should be commensurate with that. I also think that the veteran backup should be experienced. Drew Lock and Brett Rypien alone would be a green group of quarterbacks, and someone who’s seen a lot in the NFL could be valuable to help Lock and Rypien take the next step forward.

2nd and 7

This looks like a decent year to pursue a free agent corner or two, with Byron Jones, Logan Ryan, James Bradberry, etc. all in need of new deals. How do you believe Marcus Peters’ extension will impact them? Is there any chance the Broncos try and find two new defensive backs?

Korte: I thought the Marcus Peters extension was quite team friendly. I get that teams have had difficulty dealing with his personality (people once said the same thing about Aqib Talib), but for a 26 year old Pro Bowl cornerback to not even get a top five contract at such a valuable position does not bode well for other CBs looking for a new contract. That includes Chris Harris, Jr., who is five years older than Peters. We don’t know for sure if that will help out the Broncos, but I doubt that it will hurt.

Assuming that Bryce Callahan is retained for 2020, I doubt the Broncos will sign two cornerbacks to high level veteran deals, but they could prove me wrong. A scenario that could be more likely is signing one veteran CB and also drafting one, if their board falls that way.

3rd and 3

In case you missed it, Brandon Thorn of the Athletic wrote a piece explaining why the Broncos may be wise to pass on Shelby Harris this offseason. How do you think Derek Wolfe’s injury history will impact negotiations, and would it be wiser to pursue an outside talent like Arik Armstead of the 49ers?

Korte: I’ll defer to Thorn and others when it comes to tape. If experts in that regard tell me a player is being overvalued (or undervalued) on the market, I will certainly listen and take those opinions seriously. I also can’t speak too much to Wolfe’s injury history without knowing the full details of how he’s been injured. However, it only takes one team to deliver a big payday, and if the Broncos don’t deliver it, I think another team will.

I think both Wolfe and Harris are capable of earning eight figure APYs. If the Broncos think that’s too much for either of them, and want to pursue an external option, that’s fine, but it is a position that needs attention, as there’s little behind Dre’Mont Jones at this point.

Film review: Is Shelby Harris a player the Broncos should retain in free agency? – The Athletic

He could be retained by the Broncos, but he may not be worth the price given how stacked the defensive line position is league-wide, and Harris’ less-than-ideal fit in the scheme.

4th and 9

Broncos Country is pretty down on Garett Bolles, so I don’t think anyone has a problem with declining his fifth year option. Given that and the potential loss of Conner McGovern and/or Ron Leary, do you believe the offensive line needs to be a round 1 type of priority in the draft?

Korte: I’m not a fan of locking into one position at the top of the draft, as that risks reaching for a need. The Broncos have gotten themselves into trouble with this before with Paxton Lynch, and arguably Garett Bolles himself. Now, if a tackle is at the top of the Broncos’ board when they are on the clock in the first round, by all means draft him. But Bolles is slated to be paid cheaply (about $2 million) yet fully guaranteed. Thus, it’s reasonable to keep him on the roster in 2020 and see what he can do. That doesn’t mean he’ll absolutely be the starter at left tackle in 2020, should the Broncos indeed acquire competition for him.

1st and Goal

How likely would you say Todd Davis’ departure is? Outside of Joe Schobert what does the free agent market look like at the position?

Korte: I don’t have inside information to say for sure how likely Davis’s return will be. However, if it is true that the Broncos want to upgrade the position, I think that will have to come at the expense of Davis’s slated $5 million salary for 2020. Again, I’ll defer to the film room experts on Davis and for good free agency targets, but in addition to Schobert I’ve always been a fan of Blake Martinez of the Packers, and old friend Danny Trevathan is also seeing his contract expire, and he has history not only with the Broncos but also Vic Fangio in Chicago.

Denver Broncos a possible landing spot for Browns LB Joe Schobert | PFN

“If Cleveland lets Joe Schobert walk, which it looks like they will considering they have not even offered him, Denver would be intrigued,” said Allbright.

2nd and Goal

What do you believe the market for McGovern will look like? And is there any possibility the Broncos approach Leary about a restructured deal to lower his cap hit?

Korte: I laid out the case that McGovern can expect eight figures per year on his next contract. In my road map, I also said that I don’t think it would be responsible to retain both McGovern and Leary on high level contracts.

I would not approach Leary about a pay cut unless they extend McGovern, as I think possibly letting both of them go would destabilize an already shaky unit. However, they will need to decide for sure whether they’re going to keep Leary or not before the start of the league year. That’s because there’s a team option on Leary’s 2020 year, and if they decline it they will be eligible to get a compensatory pick for his departure, something they will not have if they simply cut him.

Early Look at the Denver Broncos 2020 Roster - Mile High Report

This year, the Broncos will have to make a decision by March 10th to exercise his team option on 2020. If they exercise it, $1.5 million of his base salary will become fully guaranteed, a strong indication that Leary will remain a Bronco in 2020. If they decline it, they would no longer be liable for a total of $8.5 million in cash yet to be paid, and Leary would become an unrestricted free agent at the start of the 2020 league year. In addition, Leary will be eligible to become a compensatory free agent that could reward the Broncos with a compensatory draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

3rd and Goal

Why would the Broncos make the move for Heath if not to resign him?

Korte: Your guess is as good as mine, I thought this was an unusual waiver claim. We’ll have to wait and see what the Broncos’ plans with him are until after the Super Bowl, when he’ll be officially added to the roster.

Extra Point

One thing I loved about your piece is how you explained each item on the checklist plus provided what it would look like to the cap. I assume it’s your ideal offseason. We know Flacco, Von, and Simmons look like near certainties at this point, but could you lay out what would look like the worst realistic kind of offseason in your mind?

Korte: The worst case scenario is probably unanswerable unless and until we saw that the new players fell well below expectations. But in the short term, I think a worst case scenario would be one where the Broncos do not adequately fill the holes in their roster with veteran talent, and must rely on drafting for need to do so. I think, however, that Elway is good most of the time about not getting in that position.

Poll

What is the ONE thing Elway must do this offseason for it to be a success?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Find an upgrade on Todd Davis.
    (134 votes)
  • 1%
    Find a veteran backup QB.
    (32 votes)
  • 47%
    Find a cornerback or two.
    (1125 votes)
  • 9%
    Find a wide receiver.
    (222 votes)
  • 12%
    Patch up the defensive line.
    (285 votes)
  • 8%
    Resign McGovern.
    (198 votes)
  • 5%
    Give Phillip Lindsay an extension.
    (138 votes)
  • 9%
    Other (Please Comment)
    (237 votes)
2371 votes total Vote Now