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ESPN’s Bill Barnwell ranks Broncos’ offseason moves third best in NFL

The Denver Broncos have had themselves an outstanding 2020 offseason ranking third in the NFL on their moves by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Most of us Denver Broncos fans know they had an outstanding offseason, so when you see a national media personality like Bill Barnwell of ESPN agree it adds a bit of validation that we aren’t all just being homers about the moves Denver has made. Barnwell ranked all 32 offseasons this week and he put Denver in the Top 3.

He breaks each analysis down into four parts: what went right, what went wrong, what they could have done differently, and what’s left to do.

What went right: In a world in which we don’t really know whether Drew Lock is a viable NFL starter, John Elway did the best thing any general manager can do for a young, questionable quarterback: Go out and get playmakers for him. The Broncos signed running back Melvin Gordon in free agency, then used their first two picks on wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. They also upgraded their offensive line by signing Graham Glasgow and got Lock an accomplished offensive coordinator in former Browns and Giants coach Pat Shurmur.

I liked what the Broncos did on defense too. Letting cornerback Chris Harris Jr. leave, Elway traded a pair of picks for veteran corner A.J. Bouye and lineman Jurrell Casey, with the latter being stolen away from a Titans team that needed the cash and cap room for a seventh-round pick. Denver waited out the market on tackle Shelby Harris and was able to bring back the 2019 starter on a one-year, $3.1 million deal, far less than the figures Harris’ camp was tossing around before free agency.

Reading those two paragraphs really had me looking like this. It seems like John Elway has been attacking a specific plan to rebuild this offense that started in 2018 and 2020 was one of the final masterstroke.

In 2018, Elway added their number one wide receiver in Courtland Sutton and picked up running back Phillip Lindsay. They went with Case Keenum in free agency that year as a stop-gap that obviously didn’t work out.

In 2019, Elway got more aggressive with the offense by going with offensive players with his first three picks who are all now promising young starters. Tight end Noah Fant in the first round, then offensive guard Dalton Risner and quarterback Drew Lock in the second round. In free agency, they brought in Ja’Wuan James who struggled with a knee injury all season. If he is back to full strength this season, that will be a huge boost to the offensive line.

In 2020, Elway somehow got even more aggressive rebuilding the offense in the draft with at least five interesting players. Wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler went with their first two picks, then they picked up center Lloyd Cushenberry in the third and oft-injured yet incredible talented offensive guard Netane Muti in the sixth. To top of that off, they picked up Lock’s favorite red zone weapon in college in tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. In free agency, he then added offensive guard Graham Glasgow and running back Melvin Gordon.

Of the 11 starting positions on offense, Elway has added new faces to ten of them. Garett Bolles is the only hold over and his time in Denver is quickly coming to end as the team declined his fifth-year option as one of their offseason moves this year.

That’s a lot that has gone right for Denver as they rebuilt the team following Peyton Manning’s retirement after the franchise won Super Bowl 50.

And that’s just the offense! Their two biggest moves on defense were neither free agent or draft moves, but trades. They picked up cornerback A.J. Bouye from the Jacksonville Jaguars and essentially stole perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey from the Tennessee Titans for a measly seventh-round pick. Denver also re-signed Shelby Harris for a cheap one-year deal, which should make the Broncos defensive line about as nasty as it could get with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb on the outside.

What went wrong: Gordon can be a valuable player, but he has been too inconsistent to justify the two-year, $16 million deal he took home. The move could marginalize Phillip Lindsay, and I’m not sure Gordon is actually a better back than the former undrafted free agent. Elway also didn’t find a challenger or replacement for embattled left tackle Garett Bolles, who has shown precious few signs of improvement as a pro while committing a staggering 34 holding penalties during the past three seasons, 15 more than any other player over that time frame.

These are all knit-picky items. The move to get Gordon makes a lot of sense because he is a complement to Lindsay, not a replacement. If anything, he is likely to replace Royce Freeman on the roster when it comes to snap counts. It’ll also allow the team to not overwork Lindsay and his smaller NFL frame. I think it’ll make Lindsay more explosive on less touches in 2020.

As for Bolles, well, Rome wasn’t (re)built in a day. I’d rather Elway stick to his board and get the right talent than reach for a player with questions or red flags.

What they could have done differently: The Broncos could have waited out the perennially flooded running back market for a bargain. I suspect they could have signed someone like Devonta Freeman on a one-year deal for less than half of what they’ll pay Gordon in 2020, and while Gordon is probably the better player, the difference isn’t commensurate with the money involved.

Again, the move to get Gordon was more about complementing Lindsay than getting a good deal. I’m not sure Devonta Freeman is the kind of player that would fit well with Lindsay already on the roster. Denver is looking for some goal line flexibility too. Gordon fits the bill even if he cost them a little more to get.

What’s left to do: Bring in a challenger for Bolles. There aren’t many exciting options at left tackle available on the open market, but simply getting somebody who won’t commit three holding penalties per month would be a step in the right direction for the Broncos. Jason Peters might be out of their price range, but they could pretty easily justify signing someone like Kelvin Beachum or Cordy Glenn to compete for the job.

We at Mile High Report would love to see a guy like Jason Peters come to Denver, but all reports seem to suggest Denver isn’t interested. They are content to let Elijah Wilkinson and Bolles duke it out for the starting job in 2020.

With all of the moves Denver has made this offseason, they are clearly going to be a better team this year. The coaching staff is just going to have to figure out how to scheme around their weak points on both offense and defense.

Compared to the rest of the AFC West, Denver should separate themselves from two rivals and closed the gap on the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs’ offseason ranked 21st on this list, while the Los Angeles Chargers ranked 10th and the Las Vegas Raiders ranked 15th.


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