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Ranking the Broncos’ moves this offseason

What was the best? What was the worst?

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LSU v Alabama
Jeudy could be a premier weapon for the next decade plus.
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

We’ve now reached that part of the offseason where most of the moves have been made. Elway may yet nab a veteran or two who is out there on the market, but the vast majority of the additions and subtractions have happened. That means it’s the perfect time to take a quick look back and rank the best decisions the Denver Broncos made.

1. Drafting Jerry Jeudy

2. Trading for Jurrell Casey

Right off the bat, I was at an impasse between these two moves. Both blew my socks off when they happened and health permitting, both could be huge difference makers for their respective sides of the ball this year.In the end, I gave the nod to the rookie. Here’s why:

  • He plays the most important position in football outside of quarterback.
  • He should help the coaching staff realize what they have in Drew Lock.
  • He should take pressure off Courtland Sutton and make the whole offense better.
  • If things go as hoped, he’s going to be a long term answer.

Admittedly, it’s very close. Casey’s going to be a stud for Vic Fangio.

3. Signing Graham Glasgow

It’s easy to forget the right guard because his position and the fact that it seemed to happen so long ago. But as I’ve worked my way through the Broncos’ tackle situation from 2019 I’ve been reminded time and again how much an upgrade at guard could help the entire offensive line.

4. Drafting Lloyd Cushenberry

It still blows my mind how he fell to 83rd overall and became the third center selected. It’s also interesting to me that the Broncos tried to trade up for Matt Hennessy only to lose him to the Falcons.

In the end, I think they made the right call. I went back and forth on both centers back when I made my final big board, but decided Cushenberry made more sense for the Pat Shurmur offense.

5. Bringing back Shelby Harris

Sometimes a little luck can go a long way, whether it be good or bad. Back at the end of the season it seemed inevitable for Harris to depart, and rumors connecting him to the Indianapolis Colts became quite loud in the months leading up to free agency. The San Francisco 49ers trade for DeForest Buckner seemed to throw all of that into a tizzy, and Harris watched as players like Jordan Phillips signed for contracts while he was left in the cold.

A dinner with Fangio seemed to turn him back to the idea of coming back to the Broncos on a 1-year deal worth just $3.25 million. Peanuts compared to what his market was supposed to be. If he can return to the form he showed in 2018 that will be one of the biggest steals of the offseason.

6. Trading for A.J. Bouye

It’s no secret that the Jacksonville Jaguars are actively rebuilding. They went into the offseason doing all they could to purge their cap ledger and drafted high upside, low impact rookies who won’t do much to keep them out of the Trevor Lawrence / Justin Fields sweepstakes in 2021.

The fact that John Elway surprised most by capitalizing on that with a deal for A.J. Bouye was brilliant. The week leading up to the deal Jeff Essary and I discussed Darius Slay and Byron Jones because both moves looked far likelier. Instead of paying the heavy guarantees both made, Denver’s Duke brought in the last two years of Bouye’s $67.5 million deal for a fourth round pick. There isn’t a single dollar of dead cap if they deem it necessary to move on at any point, which helps to mitigate the risk of an age related decline.

7. Hiring Pat Shurmur as Offensive Coordinator

8. Hiring Mike Shula as QB Coach

There was a number of reasons I did not want the Broncos to change coordinators for yet another offseason, but if Elway was dead set on doing it I’m glad he found a decent one. The move looks like it will lead to more shotgun sets and better utilize Noah Fant. Add in the new weapons that make sense for the incoming scheme and all signs point to a fruitful marriage. Hopefully.

9. Drafting KJ Hamler

Two things push the Nittany Lion down the list. First and foremost is my concern about his hands. There was simply too many drops on his collegiate tape and too often he made body catches. I’m not at all convinced that it’s a thing you can just fix by putting him in front of a JUGS machine. Second is the fact that Denver bypassed a sliding Josh Jones to take him. I’ve now studied both of the Broncos’ left tackles and believe the Houston Cougar would have been a starter by the end of 2020.

10. Resigning De’Vante Bausby

Right after the 2019 season ended I went back over every single game with Cody Roark of LockedOn Broncos. Bausby’s performance in week 3 against the Packers got lost amid his injury and the time since. It’s one of the best single games any defensive player had last year. He didn’t repeat it in Jacksonville and got hurt against the Chargers, but if he can find his way back to what I saw in Lambeau Denver will have their answer at CB2.

11. The rest of the Broncos’ draft class

I’m taking the easy route and throwing most of the rookies into one pool rather than stir arguments trying to pick my favorites. I’ve already written at length about them, and no draft pick is a sure thing, but I’m very intrigued by McTelvin Agim pairing with Dre’Mont Jones down the road. Neither are the kind of maulers Fangio deployed during his last season with the Bears, so it’ll be interesting how he maximizes their ability to rush the passer.

12. Signing Sam Martin

There’s two ways to look at the Martin signing. On the one hand, he should be a noticeable upgrade on Colby Wadman, who somehow got the job over Marquette King back in 2018. Denver’s altitude is a very real advantage, so the fact that there hasn’t been a weapon punting the ball since Britton Colquitt is simply baffling.

The other hand is that if Martin fails it should finally be the last straw for Tom McMahon, who may well be the real reason behind the special team failures the last two seasons.

13. Cutting Joe Flacco

It had to happen so I’m not going to spend too much time beating a washed up horse. Just know that as soon as he restructured his contract at the beginning of 2019, I was thinking about how Elway would eat the cost this year.

14. Resigning Jeremiah Attaochu

15. Signing Christian Covington

16. Bringing Joe Jones back

There’s a halfway decent chance only Covington remains on the Broncos’ final roster. Still, I liked both these decisions about the same. Bringing Attaochu back ensures Denver has a little veteran competition at the edge spot to push Malik Reed, Justin Hollins, and Derrek Tuszka. It also means there should be a little less pressure for Bradley Chubb to push too hard as he comes back from his ACL tear.

I liked the Covington move because it means 2020 is the last year DeMarcus Walker can get by on draft pedigree. There’s still believers in him out there in part because he had a big sack year at Florida State and Elway took him two (or more) rounds too high, but the fact of the matter is he’s routinely capitalized on others demanding attention and takes too much off the table as a run defender. If he makes some sort of unforeseen leap to become a valuable role player, I’m happy, but Covington should mean there’s real competition at the back end of the defensive line rotation.

Jones is going to have a bit of a dog fight with some recent additions to stick to the roster. Josh Watson has showed flashes in spurts and Justin Strnad was a recent addition who should be useful on special teams. Still, the contract was favorable to the Broncos and it was right around this time last year that he stepped in as LB2 when Todd Davis missed time in OTAs due to the birth of his child.

17. Signing Jeff Driskel

Elway made a concious decision to pursue a career backup who wound up on Injured Reserve in the one year where the veteran quarterback market was flooded with options. If that’s not clear proof that he believes in giving Lock a real opportunity to prove he’s a franchise quarterback, I don’t know what is.

What I dislike about the move is what it means beyond the media drama and message. The truth is Elway himself said this 2020 team is going to be a playoff contender, but the pilot of the ship missed the lion’s share of his rookie campaign with an injury. While Lock’s hand was a bit of a fluke, serious contenders make a point to shore up the QB2 position.

Back when I was a student in The Scouting Academy, I wound up catching some of Driskel’s rookie tape. When he signed with Denver, I made a point to go back over his tape from Detroit. Elway’s plan B if Lock fails or gets seriously hurt is tanking into the top of the 2021 draft.

18. Letting Casey Kreiter leave for the New York Giants

The fact Elway chose to let Krieter go for completely unproven talent at the position doesn’t feel great, especially when you consider it wasn’t much of a cost cutting maneuver. Like the Driskel move above, $277,000 doesn’t feel like it’s worth wins when one botched snap on a field goal could make the difference between a playoff appearance or not.

19. Not even trying to retain Derek Wolfe.

Maybe I’m just missing that piece of the puzzle, but Wolfe signed with Baltimore for less than double what Christian Covington made. He also made it clear on a number of occasions that he wanted to stay in Denver. Maybe he says no, but it seems wild that Elway didn’t even try.

If the Broncos are serious about chasing wins in the postseason, Wolfe could have an opportunity to get the last laugh.

20. Signing Melvin Gordon

I’ve written a ton about this, and so I’m going to keep this short.

Objective facts about Melvin Gordon:

  • He’s played in 16 games over a season once in his career.
  • He’s averaged more than 4 yards a carry once in his career.
  • He’s gone over 1,000 yards rushing once in his career.

The fact Elway threw $16 million at him is just insane.

21. Losing Connor McGovern to the New York Jets

In the grand scheme of things this move made sense. Word was the Broncos had an offer out for McGovern that was retracted after Glasgow signed. With the Lion in the fold, the coaching staff and Elway moved to drafting a rookie for the interior over paying a combined $20 million annually to both Glasgow and McGovern.

But it’s easy to look at a deal like this after the Melvin Gordon signing and wonder if Denver would have been better off paying the money to their center and drafting a back at 83. Zack Moss, Darrnyton Evans, Joshua Kelley, and Anthony McFarland were all available. Heck they could have gone after someone like Matt Peart and taken a back like Eno Benjamin in the 7th.

22. Trading Andy Janovich to the Cleveland Browns

That Elway prioritized extending Jano during the 2019 season when Rich Scangarello was his coordinator only to dump him for nothing because Shurmur wasn’t going to utilize him really symbolizes the cost of changing coordinators every single year.

23. Signing Nick Vannett

The Vannett signing surprised me when it occurred because Jeff Heuerman was quietly a solid number two tight end in 2019 and the Broncos’ had almost a 10th of their roster locked up on prospects at the position. Back when he signed, I watched a few games to get an idea as to why Elway paid him 5.7 million when his PFF grade was atrocious. I found there are three things Vannett has going for him that will keep him on the 2020 roster.

  • He’s decent on down blocks when an opponent isn’t too far away.
  • His hands are mostly solid when his quarterbacks check down to him.
  • Denver’s on the hook for at least $1.65 million if Elway cuts him this year.

When you add in the decision to draft Albert Okwuegbanam and the fact Pat Shurmur typically carries three tight ends and an H-back, signing Vannett really cost the Broncos at least an additional $500,000 unless they carry five tight ends or move Andrew Beck instead of Heuerman.

24. Losing Will Parks

If Denver would have lost Parks for $4 to $6 million annually, I would have totally understood it. He was a better scheme fit in the Vance Joseph defense as a versatile safety-backer hybrid who could kick out and cover the slot. Under Fangio he struggled some with all of the responsibilities at safety. While he looked better at nickel, Denver had a few options there and with Bryce Callahan’s return it didn’t make sense to throw a lot of money at Parks.

But like Harris and Wolfe, Parks’ market wasn’t anything close to what I expected. He will count for just $1.48 million against the Philadelphia Eagles’ cap. Even with their addition of K’Von Wallace, I’d expect him to live up to that.

25. Letting Chris Harris Jr. leave for the Los Angeles Chargers

Watching Broncos’ fans treat Harris like an ex after a long term relationship ended badly has been one of the bigger bummers to this offseason. Many rationalize it by pointing to his comments or the fact that he wasn’t his old self as he traveled with opposing number one receivers. Others laugh about the fact that he made far less than the reported deal Elway offered him back before the trade deadline.

At the end of the day, none of that really matters to me. I received his jersey as a gift for Christmas back in 2015, and Denver doesn’t play in Super Bowl 50 without him. I hope he still makes the Ring of Fame someday.