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6 players the Broncos should chase in free agency

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If John Elway is serious about chasing the playoffs, he needs to put his money where his mouth is to get the Denver Broncos back into contention.

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It’s no secret that the Broncos have a huge opportunity in front of them this offseason. Denver currently has 5 picks in the top 100 selections of the NFL draft and are expected to receive some Day 3 compensatory picks as well. Additionally, they have the ability to create roughly $80 million in cap space if they cut both Joe Flacco and Ron Leary.

By themselves, each of these facts would have me optimistic about 2020. Pairing them with the fact that Denver has a starting quarterback, edge, and receiver on rookie contracts and the potential to aggressively add talent to the roster is enormous.

Even if you’re playing wait and see on Drew Lock, it’s impossible to ignore the breathing room his $1.5 million 2020 cap number creates. For comparison’s sake Jared Goff will count for $36 million against the Rams cap this season. Elway’s getting similar bargains from Courtland Sutton and Bradley Chubb. If all three players are healthy and meet or exceed the most conservative hopes for this coming season, Denver is getting ridiculous return on their draft investment from the past two seasons.

What that means is the Broncos have no excuse to be cheap or overly cautious this offseason. While Lock is on a rookie deal, Elway has a 3-year window to surround his quarterback with a Super Bowl caliber roster. So long as the young passer does his part, Denver should have the talent around him to contend for the playoffs in the AFC.

On a recent episode of Cover 2 Broncos, Jeff and I identified the interior offensive line, defensive line, secondary, and receiver corps as the most pressing needs. With those in mind, here are 5 veterans who could alleviate those concerns and set Denver up to chase the best player available in the NFL Draft.

1. CB - Byron Jones

There are a few hard rules I’d follow if I ran an NFL team. The biggest one is that I would not overpay a star running back. Well, Jerry Jones paid a running back and now it looks like he’ll lose one of the cornerstones of his defense.

Since the Broncos don’t look like they’ll seriously attempt to keep their future Ring of Famer in orange and blue, they’ll have a rather large hole at CB1. Jones represents my top target in free agency, and I hope Elway feels the same. He’s the only corner in the market that truly represents a notable upgrade on Chris Harris Jr.

More than once I’ve seen some gripe about his lack of interceptions, but what gets lost in the box score scouting is how good he’s been at preventing completions to his assignment. According to PFF, he’s the 4th best corner in the league in this regard to go with 15 pass breakups. Over the Cap expects him to sign a five-year contract worth $16 million per season, including $50.5 million fully guaranteed. The length is a little long for a 28-year old, but I have no problem with $16 million for a stopper when Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins will represent tests on the way to another Lombardi.

2. G - Joe Thuney

It looks like the Broncos want to be able to pass early and often under Pat Shurmur. Because Mike Munchak is being retained, I fully expect the team’s rushing attack to look a lot like it did in 2019. That means it’ll be a hybrid zone/gap scheme that utilizes a heavy dose of down blocks. Both these areas fit into this former Patriots’ wheelhouse.

Another reason I’m so high on Thuney is that he’s been a picture of health since coming into the league in 2016. Meanwhile Brandon Scherff has missed 15 games over the last three years. While paying big money for a guard after shelling out a 4-year $51 million deal for Ja’Wuan James last year may seem excessive at first glance, keep in mind the bargain deals and the fact that a rookie left tackle will probably enter the lineup in 2020 or 2021.

The one thing giving me pause on Thuney is that he’s played left guard for the Patriots since converting from left tackle at North Carolina State. Dalton Risner or he would have to move over to right guard, which may not be something the coaching staff is high on.

There’s a pretty decent chance Munchak is perfectly happy to roll with Elijah Wilkinson at guard and Patrick Morris at center in 2020. If that’s the case, I defer to him. But if Elway’s looking to chase a premier talent for the interior, Thuney’s my top offensive line target on the market and it isn’t particularly close.

3. DL - D.J. Reader

Since it looks unlikely that the Chicago Bears will part ways with Akiem Hicks, Vic Fangio will need to look elsewhere to beef up defensive line. Enter this 6’3 340 lb Texan. One of the big things I love about Reader is his versatility. He has the skillset to be able to man one of the defensive end spots in the base 3-4 looks Denver employs and slide inside to contribute on passing downs.

Another reason he’s such an intriguing player? He played a career high in snaps last year because of the injury to J.J. Watt and still showed up in a big way on a per snap basis. Oh yeah, and he’s just 25. His best football should be ahead of him.

4. WR - Stefon Diggs

I know a local reporter mentioned that dealing him isn’t crazy for the Vikings, but I’d chalk that up to media needing to generate headlines. More than once I’ve mentioned that Minny has a win-now roster with the smallest of windows. They’d be stupid to blow a hole in their cap to part with one of the best receivers in football.

With that in mind, there is no doubt that the Broncos should make a move to add the Minnesota Vikings’ star receiver if he’s truly available. He’s had success with Pat Shurmur and since, he profiles as a kind of younger Emmanuel Sanders to pair with Sutton in 2020 and beyond, and he’s just 26. There’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t be an instant upgrade this season and become a WR1B for the foreseeable future.

Diggs would bring the vertical element and route running savvy Shurmur needs.

5. WR - Breshad Perriman

Sorry Robby Anderson, it’s not your game but your market that has me spooked. If you want to argue for the former Jet here, I won’t bemoan you. I just can’t get on board with $12+ million to a one trick pony with huge guarantees.

Enter this former first round bust. When the Buccaneers star receivers went down for the year he stepped up in a big way for Winston down the stretch and brings both the size and speed to serve as a dangerous burner on Shurmur’s slot fades. I doubt he’ll cost anything resembling Anderson’s asking price and could wind up the role player.

6. LB - Nick Kwiatkoski

I’m not in the “blow a hole in the middle of the defense” camp and so personally I believe the Broncos are better off keeping Todd Davis for the last year of his contract. Now that the compensatory pick loophole is closed, there isn’t any real benefit to declining his option beyond creating cap space. Obviously, the Broncos have cap space and so they should just hold onto him for the season.

That doesn’t mean Elway shouldn’t seek to upgrade the position though. Miss me with the $10+ million guys like Joe Schobert and Corey Littleton as they’re both a bit one dimensional for my liking. Instead, it makes sense to chase after a guy who has proven success in the Broncos current system.

Kwiatkoski played for Fangio in Chicago and started games for him before the Ryan Pace drafted Roquon Smith. Last season he stepped into the void once Danny Trevathan landed on IR and showed once again that he has the makings of a quality starter. Because of their current cap situation the Bears probably can’t keep him, but he has the makings of a B-tier free agent that could wind up a steal, and he’d give the Broncos flexibility with their linebacker corps going forward.

Your Broncos’ Links

Denver Broncos quarterbacks throwing deep in 2019 and 2020 - Mile High Report

You need deep threat receivers, a QB with a strong arm and an OL that is decent to effectively throw deep in the NFL. Here’s how the Denver Broncos fared in the 2019 season.

Report: Broncos assistant coaches will not attend the Scouting Combine - Mile High Report

Fangio is leaving his assistants home because they feel like their time will be best served staying in Denver and watching film on the prospects instead of seeing them in person in Indianapolis.

Free Agent Profile: Inside Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski - Mile High Report

Could the former Fangio draftee make sense for the Broncos in 2020?

Should the Broncos trade for the Vikings Stefon Diggs? - Mile High Report

The trade rumors have been swirling for the last week, and Broncos Country Tonight wanted to find out if the Broncos should make the move.

2019 NFL rookie report card: Ranking each team’s class, 1 to 32 - NFL.com

The Broncos have to be happy with the product of their last two drafts. In 2019, they might have found their franchise quarterback in Lock after a handful of swings and misses. Fant steadily improved, posting two games of 110-plus yards in the Broncos’ final eight contests. Risner was a starting-caliber guard as a rookie, finishing 29th among NFL guards in pass-blocking grade, per Pro Football Focus. Jones needs to improve in the run game but found success rushing the passer, finishing with 3.5 sacks. Hollins saw increased playing time later in the season, recording 21 tackles and one sack. Winfree spent most of his time on special teams.

NFL Draft Links

Solak’s 2020 NFL Mock Draft 5.0 | The Draft Network

Broncos

Henry Ruggs III

WR, Alabama

I love what Courtland Sutton brings you as a big guy in terms of a back-shoulder threat and downfield route runner, but he’s never really going to be a field-stretcher at the position — that’s not his game. By adding speed opposite Sutton, you help pull safeties off of him when he works downfield and give him more space in the intermediate middle of the field to win with size and leverage as a route runner. Henry Ruggs III is pure speed. Even though there are other players in this class with good speed — Jerry Jeudy and Jalen Reagor — the floor on Ruggs warrants this selection. You know he’s going to make your entire passing offense better.

Damon Arnette

CB, Ohio State

Arnette makes a ton of sense as a Fangio CB: aggressive, physical dude who knows how to tackle, but still wins with quickness as a man cover defender.

Ledyard’s NFL Draft Scouting Report: EDGE Epenesa | Pewter Report

Even in college, teams left him unblocked and ran away from him all the time, because they knew he didn’t have the burst or agility to chase down most plays from the backside. They utilized the same strategy on zone reads, optioning off Epenesa because they knew he was a liability when asked to move laterally. It is simply really hard to be a high impact edge defender if you are not athletic for your size. Epenesa’s struggles to corner consistently and even to impact the pocket when he did face tackles who could match him physically were evident on tape. Can he be a full-time, every-down player in the NFL with those limitations?

NFL Links

Denver Broncos: Thoughts on the AFC West - Mile High Report

What are the Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders up to anyway?

2020 Free Agent Profile: Defensive Tackle Arik Armstead | The Draft Network

I mean, look at these numbers from the 2015 combine. Vertical Jump: 34 inches (93rd percentile) Broad Jump: 117 inches (97th percentile) Consider this: Those numbers Armstead put up in the jumps are better than what Antonio Brown measured in at. That explosion shows on the field, and for the first time in his career, he seemed to put it all together mentally in 2019 — resulting in a 10-sack season. Versatility is king in today’s NFL, and with his ability to play virtually any position on the defensive line, Armstead will likely receive one of the most lucrative contracts of any free agent this offseason.

The Jets failed to take advantage of Robby Anderson’s greatest asset | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF

I don’t think there is anyone out there trying to claim that Anderson isn’t fast — the guy can scoot. His 40-yard dash time coming out of Temple was 4.34 seconds, and it looks like he plays even faster than that. Given that speed, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise to see that Anderson ranks among the top five wide receivers in the NFL in targets of 20 or more yards downfield since 2016, with 112, and he trails only Julio Jones (126), Mike Evans (121) and Antonio Brown (113). As a team, you want to take advantage of a player like Anderson, who can get over the top of defenses with regularity. The Jets have been unable to do that.

One free agent each NFL team needs to pursue in the 2020 offseason | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF

DENVER BRONCOS: WR RANDALL COBB Outside of Courtland Sutton, there’s not much for Drew Lock to throw to in the Denver offense. Randall Cobb isn’t back to his 2014 Green Bay form, but outside of the nine drops, he showed he was effective in the slot this past year. His 22 plays of 15-plus yards at that alignment led all wide receivers, proving that he’s still a serious weapon against zone who can find holes and create explosive plays.