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What could a patient offseason look like for the Broncos?

What happens if George Paton rolls it back with Drew Lock?

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The last couple of weeks have been rife with news that there will be proven franchise quarterbacks available this offseason. I’ve looked at how the Broncos could build around Deshaun Watson and turn into a Super Bowl contender. I’ve also looked at how a trade for Matthew Stafford could help the Broncos compete in the AFC West.

Now it’s time to turn back to George Paton’s stated vision for the Broncos:

“My philosophy and vision, it starts with the process driven and our scouting department. There’ll be no shortcuts. We’re going to embrace the day to day, we’re going to embrace the grind, and we’re going to do it together. Drafting and developing players will be our foundation. It’s going to be the lifeblood of this football team. We’re going to be aggressive, but we’re not going to be reckless in player acquisition. We’re going to leave no stone unturned.

There’s going to be a collaborative, positive and diverse work environment with free-flowing ideas. Every decision made will be a consensus. It’s not going to be my decision, it’s not going to be Vic’s or John’s, it’s going to be a Denver Broncos decision.

We’re going to be progressive, we’re going to be innovative, we’re going to be forward thinking and we’re going to use all the information at our disposal to make the best informed decisions. Most importantly, the personnel and the coaching staff will work side by side to acquire and develop players who fit our vision and help us win. Together we’ll work every single day to make Broncos Country proud of them.

So what could an offseason built around the grind entail? I took my best stab at it.

What does the cap look like right now?

That’s a good question. As of today, Over the Cap projects the Broncos to have $14,052,103 in available cap space with a $193,788,121 projected cap due in part to what they rolled over from 2020.

It’s important to keep in mind that everyone is still waiting to confirm what the final number is. I also want to emphasize that there are ways to manipulate the salary cap. Look no further than the way the New Orleans Saints built and maintained a Super Bowl caliber roster to keep the window open around Drew Brees. The cap exists, but smart teams find ways to squeeze a ton of talent under it.

What about the QB question?

Dak Prescott does not become available after Jerry Jones applies another franchise tag. Deshaun Watson cools off after the Texans hire Eric Bieniemy. Matthew Stafford becomes a Colt. George Paton and John Elway decide to roll Drew Lock out with a parachute backup. When push comes to shove we settle on Andy Dalton. Some fans are restless until we tell them how he led the Bengals to the playoffs three times. Then they’re ecstatic that Lock can learn from such an established pro.

Cut

A.J. Bouye - Cornerback (frees up $13.375 million)

Jeff Driskel - Quarterback (frees up $2.5 million vs. $750,000 dead)

Jurrell Casey - Defensive line (frees up $11,874,750)

Von Miller - Edge (option $22.125 million, frees up $18 million vs. $4,125,000 dead)

Without speculating beyond his on-field impact, it’s easy to see why the Broncos may elect to move on from Von Miller. He’s going to be 32-years old and missed all of 2020 with a lower body injury. We’ll tell the fans he only had eight sacks in 2019 and they’ll come around on it. We’ll time the news around Bradley Chubb’s fifth year option so the cost of outside linebackers also comes up.

Extended

Justin Simmons - Safety (4 year contract- $14.8 APY. $4 million cap number in 2021)

It’s important to note that while Simmons’ average per year is $14.8 million, his deal could be structured like Garett Bolles’ in order to create space for 2021. Over the Cap’s Nick Korte wrote about this, and as I’ve said a few times now: it is what I expect Paton and the real Broncos to do.

Retained

Phillip Lindsay - Running back (2nd round tender: $3.422 million)

Alexander Johnson - Linebacker (2nd round tender: $3.422 million)

Tim Patrick - Receiver (2nd round tender: $3.422 million)

Negotiate with Shelby Harris

As a former 7th round pick who found a tepid market in 2019, Harris may relish the opportunity to return to where he’s found all of his NFL success. We’ll budget an absolute max of $10 million per year for him on a three year contract in hopes that we have flexibility with it as Dre’Mont Jones’ rookie deal expires.

What about the rest of Free Agency?

The Broncos enter free agency with money to spare.

I already mentioned Andy Dalton so we’ll skip to the really exciting parts. Since we know the Broncos offense is already getting Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay, Albert Okwuegbunam, and K.J. Hamler back the defense will be a priority.

On the first day Anthony Harris creates a stir among the segment of Broncos Country who pines for every splash name when someone sees who he’s following on Twitch. Kareem Jackson tweets out a shrug emoji. We move on to day 2 where a vocal radio critic blasts the Broncos when Leonard Floyd signs with the Chargers after Shaq Barrett resigns with the Buccaneers.

Everyone’s so restless that fans celebrate when the Broncos sign former Cowboy Chidobe Awuzie. A couple of haters critique the move because of Awuzie’s PFF grade and a few highlight reel plays where he got toasted in single coverage, but he’s a scheme fit. Fangio surely knows more than them so it’ll work out. For three years and just $15 million guaranteed he’ll serve as a strong mentor for all of the young defensive backs to learn under.

A couple days later Cam Sutton comes along. A second corner isn’t what anyone had in mind, but he’s an exciting player who hasn’t played much. With inside/outside versatility and a reputation for physical play, it’s easy to see how he’ll only get better with experience. After the corners there’s radio silence for days before news breaks that Elijah Wilkinson will return on a one year deal.

Mile High Report shrugs and begins to reveal their top draft prospects. The day quarterbacks drop, Andy Dalton signs. After the red rifles are shot in celebratory fashion? Crickets until the draft.

What about the 2021 Draft?

For this scenario I decided to try the Pro Football Focus Mock Draft simulator. Any complaints about the picks should be directed at them.

On top of the obvious things, my approach to the draft is to consider risk vs. reward, fit, as well as long-term need. Lastly I want to remind you that I’m still in the process of watching players, so my opinions may change on many of them over the months to come.

T1.23 Azeez Ojulari - Edge - Georgia

The best prospects available at nine are cornerbacks, so the Broncos elect to trade down with the Jets. We receive 86 as well as a future first for the trouble. Hopefully Justin Fields is a huge bust in year one.

In the meantime we grab the Ojulari to step into the Broncos edge rotation on day one and eventually push Malik Reed for playing time across from Bradley Chubb. While he isn’t the biggest prospect at 6’3” and 240 lbs. he’s bendy with the kind of burst to threaten the edge and versatile enough to play in space or meet a pulling guard head on.

3.73 Shaun Wade - Defensive Back - Ohio State

When 41 rolled around we decided to sell the pick when Jon Robinson and the Titans offered a future first to go with 85. Let’s hope Arthur Smith’s departure means Derrick Henry’s mortal this year.

This time last year people said Shaun Wade could be a first round prospect. Instead he went back to school and struggled on the boundary for the Buckeyes. His play at the line is bad enough I doubt he’s an ideal fit at corner in the NFL, but his physicality and range could be molded into the heir to Kareem Jackson.

T3.85 Jabril Cox - Linebacker - LSU

With Alexander Johnson back in the fold, it’s time for the Broncos to lock down his running mate. Before Justin Strnad was drafted in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Elway showed interest in Patrick Queen and Joe Schobert so it’s clear that coverage is a priority. After transferring from North Dakota State before the 2020 season, Cox flourished in the SEC.

T3.86 James Hudson - Tackle - Cincinnati

Whether he’s in the long term plans or not, Ja’Wuan James’ contract means he will return in 2021. That inevitability means the smart plan is to hedge at right tackle with a low cost option that could have starting potential down the road. Hudson’s quite raw after converting from the defensive line, but offers Munchak an extremely promising athlete to mold.

4.110 Marlon Williams - Receiver - UCF

Both Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton are playing out their final year with the Broncos and Diontae Spencer is already gone. It makes sense to add another body to the position. At first glance Williams is an odd fit for the Shurmur offense because he is not especially adept at creating separation. Instead the hope is for him to serve as a reliable tertiary option in traffice who can make things happen after the catch.

4.150 Paulson Adebo - Cornerback - Stanford

I want to take a second to say I have zero problem with any player who decided to opt out of the 2020 college football season in the middle of a pandemic that has killed 400,000 Americans. With that said, it’s impossible to know what the time off will do for some prospects. Now that the NFL Combine is effectively gutted and teams have even less access to prospects than before, opt outs could find themselves falling down draft boards.

Adebo stands out as one such player I hope the Broncos keep an eye out for. Before he chose to return to Stanford last year he looked like a top 100 lock. I need to go back over his tape but what I remember is a player who could fit as a boundary corner. He plays the ball in the air and is a willing tackler, even if he isn’t especially physical.

6.189 Alaric Jackson - Offensive Line - Iowa

Jackson is another prospect who drew my interest last year before he ultimately chose to return to school. Jackson’s work in the run game as well as his hands will give him a chance at the next level, even if his future position is a question mark. He started 42 games at left tackle for the Hawkeyes but could be exposed by twitched up NFL edges. He’ll come to camp ready to fight for a spot and if all goes well we can let Wilk walk.

7.232 Brian Robinson Jr. - Running Back - Alabama

Phillip Lindsay is playing on an RFA tag while Melvin Gordon and Royce Freeman have expiring contracts. It isn’t a question of if the Broncos will take a running back, but when. Standing 6’1” and weighing it at 227 lbs., Robinson would give Shurmur another big back who can mash between the tackles and who enters the league little wear and tear after a lengthy career in a deep rotation.

7.234 Nick Eubanks - Tight End - Michigan

Health willing, Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam will lock down the top of the Broncos’ TE room for the next decade. In the short term Nick Vannett hangs around as the veteran insurance and a viable blocker. Throwing a dart at Eubanks gives the Broncos a year to develop a cheaper backup.

7.249 Tedarrell Slaton - Defensive Line - Florida

With Mike Purcell on a very team friendly extension it doesn’t hurt to take swings on athletic nose tackles. Slaton plays with leverage the belies his 6’5” height. Weighing in at 360 lbs. he’d give the Broncos a true 0-tech nose.

Locked in and ready to roll.

Final Thoughts

With the limited nature of this pre-draft season I believe the 2021 NFL Draft is going to be even more of a dart game than normal, so it pays to load up on picks and make extra throws. One thing I really love about this scenario is how I was able to move down the board and pick up two 2022 first round picks. With a window in the AFC West built around Patrick Mahomes cap number, the Broncos can afford to be patient if that’s what it takes to get things right.

This scenario means that if Lock does make the jump, the Broncos are in position to make five picks in the top 100 in the next draft. While impossible to say with certainty, it seems reasonable to expect the 2022 draft class to have less uncertainty than this one will. Extra firsts in the next draft cycle also ensures against Lock failing to impress because they should be adequate ammo to move up to grab a new passer if need be. These trades did sacrifice the opportunity to grab a player in Ojulari that I see as an ideal scheme fit for the Fangio defense.

As far as free agency goes: In this scenario I went with cost cutting and bargain chasing even while I had more cap space than a ton of teams. It’s worth a mention that if Shelby Harris receives a large enough offer and the Broncos are pretty quiet in free agency they could receive a compensatory selection in 2022. It’s worth looking into how things could shake out if the Broncos aren’t huge players in free agency, so I wanted one of these scenarios to reflect that. I did make a point to grab a couple veteran corners because I could see it as a priority if a player like Caleb Farley isn’t in the cards. Loading up on free agent corners could also address the hole in the secondary and protect against the opportunity cost if a trade up for someone in the 2021 QB class is deemed worthwhile.

While this scenario didn’t explore it, if the Broncos have extra cap space after the draft it could open an opportunity to chase players following cuts other teams deem necessary.

Poll

What should the Broncos do with Von Miller?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Nothing, let him play out his contract
    (526 votes)
  • 33%
    Release him (frees up $18m in cap)
    (664 votes)
  • 40%
    Get him an extension to retire a Bronco
    (797 votes)
1987 votes total Vote Now

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