clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How can the Broncos win from now on?

The Broncos have a QB question until they don’t.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

The last couple of weeks have been rife with news that there will be proven franchise quarterbacks available this off-season. Even the most ardent supporters of Drew Lock can surely understand why Broncos Country has their eyes on what they perceive as greener grass. If you want to check out a scenario where I traded for Deshaun Watson, it’s here. If Matthew Stafford is your type of quarterback, I dug into the scenario here. Lastly, I built with patience in mind here.

This time we’re taking the approach I’d favor if the direction of the Broncos were up to me: turn every stone and use every avenue available to try to improve the odds that Denver can fight their way out of the AFC West for the next decade. With Justin Herbert, Derek Carr, and Patrick Mahomes in the division, it isn’t an easy ask, but let’s hope George Paton’s stated vision for the Broncos is up to the task.

“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.

What could an off-season built around turning every stone look like? 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?

In this scenario I will explore every single option before the JoRo Broncos. If Deshaun Watson can be had for three 1sts, three 2nds, and one player, I am all for it. If Matthew Stafford can be had for a second and change, I’m certainly interested, though I hesitate to overbid. If John gave me the keys to the franchise I’d also make calls to Green Bay, San Francisco, Miami, New York, and Chicago to feel out the situations with their passers. If Jerry World burns to the ground from their shortsighted stupidity, we’d swoop in to save Dak Prescott.

Price matters, but we’re feeling out every option.

Quarterback is simply too valuable a position to act with blind faith towards improvement on. There is little question Drew Lock improved over the course of the 2020 season, but when you start from the bottom, it’s hard not to. Even the ardent believers in Lock will admit this is his make-or-break off-season. Do you risk wasting a year with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Garett Bolles, and Dalton Risner hoping he puts it together?

I hedge.

Cut

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

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

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)

Von Miller - Edge (option $22.125 million)

Without speculating beyond his on-field impact, it’s easy to see why the Broncos’ decision with Von Miller has been controversial among fans. He is going to be a 32-year-old with just 8 sacks in the last two seasons thanks to a freak injury that completely derailed what was supposed to be a bounce-back 2020. He also notched 63 individual pass pressures on the 2019 roster, almost triple the next closest Bronco.

When I’ve put on Miller’s last tape, he still looks like a game-wrecking Hall of Fame force, but is he still that player? Picking up the team option buys me time to test that and work out a potential extension in good faith.

Negotiate with Shelby Harris and Jurrell Casey

Thanks to the fact I began watching film in the summer of 2018 for Mile High Report, I’ve now had the chance to watch Shelby Harris develop since he first joined the roster in 2017. Last year I was adamant for making every effort to retain him only to seemingly find his market evaporate after the DeForest Buckner trade. This season I haven’t made as big a fit about the effort to resign him because I do hope Harris can find the best possible deal for himself in free agency. I have no idea what happened last year, but I do know he’s been a productive interior pass rusher, reliable run defender, and has the versatility to play up and down the line of scrimmage. He’s played significant snaps as a nose, 3 technique, and 5 tech defensive end while also displaying the lateral mobility needed to be a weapon on stunts.

Harris’ market would dictate my plans for Jurrell Casey. Cutting him frees up $11,874,750. If it is at all possible to fit Harris and Casey into that number for 2021, I’d explore it. Because Casey was acquired via trade he currently has no guarantees, which means it could be possible to add them in exchange for a lower total cap cost. Outside of the 2021 fit, the big thing to aim for with Harris’ extension is that it provides some flexibility when Dre’Mont Jones’ rookie deal expires because he has Pro Bowl potential.

What about the rest of Free Agency?

If everything listed above works out, the Broncos could enter free agency with $14,911,103 in available cap space. That Dak Prescott situation I laid out before would probably require either a tough decision on Von Miller or multiple moves involving Bouye, Harris, Casey, and Kareem Jackson. It’s almost fortunate Jerry Jones comes to his senses because the Cowboys won’t be trading up for a rookie quarterback.

There are a few moves the Broncos can make to create room at the margins if necessary, but we’re attacking the market with a budget in mind. The good news is, only ten teams in the NFL currently have more than $17 million in cap space. There are currently more teams in the red than that.

It makes projecting the contract numbers pretty tough because some deals may require creative structures. Instead of getting too hung up on that, I want to give you some names I’m currently intrigued by. Keep in mind this is not necessarily an exhaustive list since teams will still need to cut players to comply with whatever the cap lands at.

Offensive Line

Ty Nsekhe

Ty Sambrailo

Mike Remmers

James Hurst

Demar Dotson

Calvin Anderson

Elijah Wilkinson

Thanks to Ja’Wuan James’ contract, tackle is probably going to be a position we throw a draft pick at. His cap hit is too onerous to move him, which means we almost have to plan on him being the day one starting right tackle in 2021. I’d kick around to see if we can turn up a swing tackle or utility linemen, but guys with that type of versatility tend to become pricey.

Defensive Line

None during the competitive wave of FA

One reason I’m so keen on the idea of holding onto both Shelby Harris and Jurrell Casey is that it’s probably more affordable to do so than chasing the premier names in a shallow defensive line market. After Leonard Williams, teams will be jumping for grey beards like Ndamukong Suh or swinging health luck for Sheldon Rankins.

Edge

Shaquil Barrett*

Leonard Floyd*

Romeo Okwara*

If Von Miller remains on the roster, edge is another position where there’s little need to spend premium dollars in free agency. Barring injury, the rotation will heavily feature Miller, Bradley Chubb, and Malik Reed. I’m definitely open to a return for Jeremiah Attaochu, but we’re probably throwing a dart or two at pass rushers in the draft.

Defensive Back

Desmond King

Troy Hill

Chidobe Awuzie

Brian Poole

Xavier Rhodes

Patrick Peterson

Cameron Sutton

Marcus Maye

John Johnson

Xavier Woods

Will Parks

Deon Bush

Jahleel Addae

Davontae Harris

Boundary corner is arguably the biggest need on the Broncos. Bryce Callahan was far better than anticipated on the outside, but he’ll turn 30 in October and has yet to play 16 games in an NFL season. Michael Ojemudia showed enough promise that I would pencil him in as the left corner, but ideally there’s another corner who can push Callahan into the slot or create a situation where there’s two corners who can play inside and out.

At safety, the names are mostly a pipedream because it makes more sense to give Kareem Jackson a third season in the Fangio defense. With depth a huge question behind him and Justin Simmons, it makes sense to try to find a backup. Odds are this is a position that is addressed with draft capital.

Linebacker

Lavonte David

Matt Milano

Jayon Brown

Kamalei Correa

Todd Davis

The Broncos showed interest in both Joe Schobert and Patrick Queen last year. There was also talk about their interest in Corey Littleton. If we’re connecting dots, I would bet the linebacker Fangio wants to pair with Alexander Johnson is strong in coverage. This free agent class currently has a few big names and thins considerably. The names listed above are either players with strengths in space as well as the mental processing, or versatility to draw interest or they could sign as depth due to their previous experience in the system.

Quarterback**

Dak Prescott

Cam Newton

Ryan Fitzpatrick

Andy Dalton

Mitch Trubisky

Jacoby Brissett

Tyrod Taylor

Colt McCoy

Nick Mullens

In this scenario I’m exploring every and all opportunity to move up in the Draft, but in real time, it’s no certainty a trade will present itself. The best course of action is to treat the QB room as if it will be Lock in the near term, and if that’s the case, I believe it necessary to find quality depth behind him. Ideally this player can fill what is asked of a QB2 while also serving as competition to hedge against Lock’s own play. If that’s not possible to due the price, competition for Brett Rypien is the bare minimum requirement. Lock has missed significant time in each of his two seasons in the league to this point, so it is necessary to have multiple quarterbacks who can start games.

My goal is to at least add a veteran to the room who has experience starting in the league. Outside of free agency, I would also make a call to Jacksonville to see about the pick cost for Gardner Minshew. While some are cool on his play, his contract status makes him an ideal cost-controlled backup+ for Drew Lock.

What about the 2021 Draft?

For this scenario I went with The Draft Network’s Mock Draft simulator. Any complaints about the picks should be directed at them. Like the rest of this scenario, my plan for this draft is to explore every avenue to improve the Broncos.

T1.3 Zach Wilson - QB - BYU

Baited breath as Joe Douglas and the Jets run their pick in. I’ve already called Chris Grier about the potential move up. After weeks of speculation about their faith in Sam Darnold, Joe Douglas picks Ohio State’s Justin Fields. A quick call and we’re moving up the board. Trading this high is necessary to get ahead of the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions. It costs me a first this year and next, as well as a boatload of 2021 Draft Capital, but Wilson will wear orange and blue.

I spoke on this week’s Cover 2 Broncos why I have such faith in the Cougar. He has top tier arm talent to go with very good ball placement. His ability to attack every corner of the field out of structure is as intriguing as any quarterback prospect I’ve watched in recent years. He’ll need to refine his footwork and do a better job with some of his decisions, but I see a franchise quarterback.

T3.66 Baron Browning - LB - OSU

As a way to make up for the loss of 2021 capital, I work my way down the board, this time with a call to Douglas and the Jets. New York takes 41, 233, and 235 in exchange for two third rounders and a 2022 6th. Justin Fields will throw to Rondale Moore. The trade costs me TCU’s Tevon Moehrig, but with the way every level of the defense could use young talent or depth, I prefer the extra capital.

Our first third rounder comes down to a slew of linebackers and UCF’s Richie Grant. Chazz Surratt lands with Kansas City at the end of the second, but I’m left with Jabril Cox, Cameron McGrone, Pete Werner, and Browning. I go with the Buckeye in part because Fangio tells me he’s optimistic on Strnad and Jewell, as well as questioning Alexander Johnson’s contract in the long-term. A little patience could give Fangio a chance to turn Browning’s freaky athleticism and size into a dynamic three down force.

Unfortunately the choice costs me a chance at Cox and Grant, so when Green Bay’s Brian Gutekunst offers me another chance to move down, I take it. The Packers receive 86 and we get two picks in 2021 and a 2022 5th.

4.113 Joe Tryon - ED - Washington

Bradley Chubb’s fifth year option is a no brainer and I’m not in a rush to run Malik Reed out the door, but Miller’s long-term status is a question and Derrekk Tuszka is no guarantee. I’m not about to give away an opportunity to draft a high upside edge fit for Fangio. Tryon never put it all together for the Huskies, but has all the tools. Some have talked about him as a potential top 50 pick, but the fact that he opted out may cause a slide.

T4.133 Ar’Darius Washington - DB - TCU

Kareem Jackson will turn 33 before the Draft and Trey Marshall isn’t a surefire replacement. Washington is diminutive at just 5’8”, 179 lbs, so he could fall farther than his mental processing and ball skills suggest he should. Fangio has found a use for smaller players time and again, and the Horned Frog’s play in coverage and physicality buy him a chance.

T5.172 Alaric Jackson - OL - Iowa

Everything I’ve seen out of Mobile is that the Hawkeye has struggled at the Senior Bowl. Odds are he’ll be available on day three, and while he may be as exciting as a pair of new socks, it isn’t every day you can draft such an experienced former left tackle. His versatility at the next level should carry some value, and I trust in Munchak to polish his roughest edges.

Final Thoughts

Ready to win from now on.

In an effort to provide as open a scenario as possible, I did not choose free agents during the listing process. This was done in part to allow readers to build the Broncos roster as they see fit. It also reflects the fact that no one currently knows for sure what the 2021 cap will be, and this will have a significant impact on any free agent decisions. To counteract this, I made an effort to lay out how I see each positional need, and the final depth chart reflects this.

My goal for this scenario was to address what I believe is the Broncos’ biggest question: quarterback. I chose to go with a route where there is three potential 2021 starters after the offseason. A free agent could come in and win the job if Drew Lock and a presumptive quarterback of the future are not prepared to do so. Competition should make everyone better if the locker room is managed correctly, and I have faith Vic Fangio can do this.

It cost me a 2021 first and second, but I came out of the draft with my presumptive quarterback of the future. While expensive, acquiring a franchise quarterback either costs multiple first round picks or a lost season. Some will balk because of faith in Drew Lock, but I’m dubious as to his long-term ceiling and believe Zach Wilson’s is significantly higher. In this scenario I did not look to trade Lock. Barring a demand from his camp, he would enter camp with an opportunity to prove himself capable of starting. Best case scenario, Lock and Wilson would completely solve the need for a QB1 and we would have to eventually choose between one of two great options and recoup draft capital down the road.

To try to make up for the loss in draft capital where I could, I turned around and moved down Day 1 and found a way to recoup two 2022 Day 3 picks. I favored future draft capital in part because I see this upcoming class as a riskier bet than any in NFL history.

None of the previous scenarios I’ve worked on have addressed what the free agency could eventually look like after various cap cuts are made. I also did not look at what could happen post-draft as of yet. Keep in mind teams will need to make cuts to comply with the cap and draft picks could push more established veterans out the door. If possible, the Broncos should be competitive in this arena.

Your Broncos news

Denver Broncos capology 101: 2021 edition - Mile High Report

Warning: this post contains a lot of arithmetic plus educational stuff that you may already know or not want to know, and is presented in a manner that some may find to be boring and pedantic. Read at your own risk, or skip to the final paragraph that will tell you my best guesstimate of potential Broncos’ 2021 cap space available for free agency after making some unpopular roster moves including cutting Von and other high dollar veterans is about $51M.

What could a patient offseason look like for Denver Broncos? - Mile High Report

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

The myth of Pat Shurmur, quarterback whisperer - Mile High Report

Does Pat Shurmur’s influence and tutelage improve the play of the QBs with whom he works?

How the Denver Broncos should address their right tackle situation - Mile High Report

Can the Denver Broncos believe that Ja’Wuan James is the immediate answer at right tackle? We discuss their options here.

Denver Broncos are set along the interior of their offensive line - Mile High Report

They could use a little more depth, but the rotation set of the guys currently signed looks pretty solid for the Denver Broncos in 2021.

Denver Broncos uncertainty at quarterback could push them to make trade - Mile High Report

Ryan and Ben discussed the QB options on Broncos Country Tonight.

Why a trade for Deshaun Watson isn’t a “mortgage” against the future - Mile High Report

When you are looking at cost, you should look beyond the short-term and look at the long-term. Deshaun Watson’s long-term value vastly outweighs any cost in a trade for him.

AFC unsung heroes: Naming one under-the-radar stud on each team

It’s time for the 29-year-old Callahan to receive some love. The former undrafted free agent compiled his third straight solid season in terms of passes defensed (five) and interceptions (two), and his Next Gen numbers describe a player who made a significant impact on the defensive side of the ball. Callahan took away 25.6 points from opponents in 2020 (based on targeted expected points added, a player’s per-target impact on the outcome of the game in terms of points added or taken away based on play), the third-best mark among all defenders in the NFL, and he allowed a 46.9 passer rating when targeted. His completion percentage allowed was 5.2 percent below expectation, and he didn’t allow a touchdown as the nearest defender all season.

All-time Super Bowl QB rankings: Patrick Mahomes already cracks top 20

Peyton lands at 4, Elway 9

NFL News

Mike Pettine out in Green Bay - ProFootballTalk

Mike Pettine’s contract is expiring and he will not return to Green Bay in 2021, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

Packers DC Mike Pettine not returning for 2021 season

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Friday, via an informed source, that Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s contract is expiring and the team does not intend to retain him for the 2021 season.

Report: Rams, Lions explore possible Matthew Stafford trade - ProFootballTalk

It will be very difficult to find a trade partner for Goff, who has a cap number of $34.625 million in 2021. With the salary cap expected to be in the range of $180 million — and with Stafford making $20 million in 2021 (he could want more than that as part of a trade) — the Rams would have a hard time putting a team around a pair of quarterbacks who consume more than $50 million in cap space.

Young offensive players who deserve early extensions: Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield eye big paydays | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF

The most notable example of an early extension that immediately turned into a steal is the five-year, $72 million contract Minnesota Vikings edge defender Danielle Hunter signed before the 2018 season. The extension runs through 2023, and his $14.4 million average per year (APY) is almost half of Joey Bosa’s $27.5 million APY.

Here’s who stood out during the final day of Senior Bowl practice

Alabama QB Mac Jones was generally steady and accurate Thursday until tweaking his ankle on a scramble during the team period. Prior to that, his day wasn’t all smiles and sunshine.. During the seven-on-seven red-zone period, he took off and ran at the end of one repetition — generally considered a no-no in that drill. During that period, he was also intercepted when he failed to get the ball over LSU linebacker JaCoby Stevens, the type of turnover that is inexcusable.

2021 Senior Bowl: Daniel Jeremiah’s top 10 NFL draft winners from week of practice

Which players helped their 2021 NFL Draft stock the most during the week of practices at the Senior Bowl? Daniel Jeremiah reveals 10 prospects who are on the rise heading into Saturday’s game.

Will Dak Prescott Leave Dallas? — Coast to Coast Scouting

Dak Prescott is a free agent once again this offseason after playing last season under the franchise tag. Like most of you, I have simply assumed that the Dallas Cowboys will ensure that he continues to play for “America’s team”. However, I recently took a deeper look at their salary cap situation, and realized they may not have the ability to retain Dak’s services.

Rob Gronkowski likes the “freedom of being yourself” in Tampa - ProFootballTalk

“Coming here, it’s is a complete 180, for sure, totally different,” Gronk said. “I mean, I feel like the biggest difference is just having the freedom of being yourself in this organization.”

Friday’s injury and roster news: Ravens sign TE Nick Boyle to two-year extension

The Baltimore Ravens and Nick Boyle have agreed to a two-year contract extension, keeping the tight end with the team through the 2023 season.

David Culley says he took the Houston Texans’ head-coaching job knowing Deshaun Watson was the team’s quarterback

“He is a Houston Texan. And I wanted to be a Houston Texan. And the reason I’m in this position today is because I knew he’s going to be a Houston Texan. The outside stuff that was being said is irrelevant to me.”

Houston Texans CANNOT trade Deshaun Watson; three fits for Matthew Stafford

In this edition of the Scout’s Notebook, Bucky Brooks explains why the Houston Texans simply CANNOT trade Deshaun Watson. Plus, three potential fits for Matthew Stafford and a look at Detroit’s unique rebuilding approach.

Texans GM Nick Caserio: ‘Zero interest’ in trading Deshaun Watson