After a perfect September, October has been a house of horror for the Broncos thus far. Dropping two straight games to AFC North opponents leaves Denver at 3-2 with the meat of their 2021 schedule ahead of them. If the season ended today, the Broncos would squeak into the playoff by the hair of their teeth as a seventh seed, but there’s 12 games to go. The grim reality is dropping the game against Pittsburgh puts Denver’s at about a coin flip’s odds at the postseason with the entire AFC West slate ahead of them.
As we mosey towards the middle of the month, it’s time to start the uncomfortable conversation about the trade deadline. George Paton was reportedly fielding calls about trade offers for cornerbacks in the lead up to week one, and if he’s going to make any sort of move he’ll have until November 2nd to pull the trigger. There are three games before the deadline, the Raiders and Browns within a four day span followed by a matchup against Washington. With the mini-bye after the trip to Cleveland, the Broncos are well positioned to weather a big transition if that’s Paton’s plan.
Let’s take a look at the roads ahead of the first year general manager.
Super Bowl or Bust?
If the Broncos come out of the Cleveland game with a 5-2 record, odds are they’ll find themselves in good shape for a wildcard spot. If Kansas City’s defense continues to serve as a 50-ton anchor around Patrick Mahomes’ ankles, they could even find themselves in a position to battle the Chargers for the division. It may seem unlikely, but it is possible.
In such a situation, it could make some sense to aggressively chase the window. The Broncos current roster has 27 players on one-year contracts, after all, and with players like Jerry Jeudy, Bradley Chubb, and Mike Boone set to return as we rumble towards the playoffs it could make sense to shore up the depth chart to compete with the heavyweights in the postseason.
There’s definitely some veterans who could make sense for the Broncos in this scenario.
While Paton only just signed John Brown to the practice squad after acquiring David Moore, it could make sense to look for more pass catchers. If Pat Shurmur is adamant about utilizing 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) on 70+% of the offensive snaps as he’s done the last two weeks, the Broncos may want to beef up their wide receiver room. A player like New England’s N’Keal Harry, Houston’s Brandin Cooks, New Orlean’s Michael Thomas, or even Chicago’s Allen Robinson could draw some interest.
Unless Fangio is confident in Micah Kiser or Baron Browning, it could make sense for the Broncos to pursue veteran help at linebacker as well. With the Jaguars on a road to nowhere, it might make sense to call about Myles Jack. Denver’s edge room is Von Miller and four late round or undrafted players, so chasing a vet. like Detroit’s Trey Flowers or Houston’s Whitney Mercilus could also hold some appeal.
Time for a Fire Sale?
On the other side of the coin is a scenario I really hope the Broncos don’t find themselves in. If they drop both games against the Raiders and Browns, Denver will be 3-4 with some rough matchups like the Cowboys, and upstart Bengals ahead of them. They’ll also have five more games against the AFC West. At that point it could make sense to look ahead to 2022. Stripping the roster down probably does little to impact Paton’s own job security. With both John Elway and Joe Ellis gearing up to walk away after the season and the likelihood the franchise is sold to a new owner, Paton could find that a cache of draft picks helps him endear himself to a new boss.
Those 27 veterans on expiring deals? Some of them could probably fetch a pick or two from another team chasing a title. It could make sense for the Broncos to turn them into assets if Paton doesn’t plan to bring them back. And if the Broncos continue to lose there’s going to major changes, which puts all the looming free agents orange and blue future in doubt. Paton may decide the vets are more valuable for the picks they bring than the wins they help secure in 2021. There’s also a few big contracts the Broncos GM may want to turn into cap relief while he can.
In short, Paton could completely reshape the roster ahead of the trade deadline if he wants to:
- Von Miller
- Melvin Gordon
- Tim Patrick
- Courtland Sutton
- Teddy Bridgewater
- Kyle Fuller
- Bryce Callahan
- Graham Glasgow
- Kareem Jackson
- Alexander Johnson
- Sam Martin
- Dalton Risner
- Mike Purcell
- Drew Lock
- Shamar Stephen
- Cameron Fleming
Some won’t draw more than a late day three pick, while others may not have much of a market at all because of performance or health questions. With that said, each player above has a contract that creates a notable amount of space if traded without the pain of a lot of dead money.
Gut check for George?
If the Broncos go 1-1 over the next week, we probably don’t see the Broncos do much. At 4-3 it’d be tempting to stay the course and see how things play out, with perhaps the one exception being a cornerback move as Ronald Darby steps back into the starting lineup. While Kyle Fuller’s issues in one on one coverage downfield has been a problem all year, there are contenders that could use his help.
It’s hard to predict what the Broncos will do at the moment because every door is in front of them, which means the call comes down to Paton’s priorities. Does it make sense to chase the playoffs with everything he has in his first year? Or should he acquire capital to make a play for a veteran quarterback, or begin another rebuild in 2022? Or maybe it’s best to simply let the chips fall where they may?
At the end of the day, the biggest question facing the 3-2 Broncos is the same question that hung over training camp: What’s Paton’s plan?