Von Miller is now a member of the Los Angeles Rams. Now that the Broncos have eaten almost the entirety of the 32-year-old’s remaining contract to turn the future Hall of Famer into a 2nd and 3rd round pick. Doing so before the NFL trade deadline at 4 PM Tuesday is an open admission by the Broncos’ first year general manager that he does not see the current roster as a true contender. If so, moving the best pass rusher in franchise history with nine games remaining is completely inexcusable. With that in mind, trading Miller now made a ton of sense if George Paton did not plan to re-sign him in 2022.
Had Von Miller left as a free agent in March, the Broncos wouldn't have received a compensatory pick before the end of the 5th round because he has at least 10 accrued seasons. Appendix V of the CBA.— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) November 1, 2021
Instead, the Broncos get a 2nd and 3rd.
Now that Miller’s gone, attention ought to turn to where Paton and the Broncos go from here. At 4-4, the Broncos are not mathematically eliminated from the postseason, though realistically their chance at the dance suffered a mortal blow when Von departed. Which brings us back to the question that’s hung over Paton since he took the Broncos job last January: What’s the plan?
With five more seasons on his six year contract, it’d make a ton of sense for Paton to look at a lame duck coaching staff and a roster that can’t compete with anyone but the dregs of the league and start to collect draft capital. Roughly a third of the current roster is playing on a contract that expires after 2021 comes to an end. Some of them will draw interest around the league. The Broncos should take calls on any player they do not intend to bring back in 2022. Let’s take a look at the big names.
It took 33 minutes for the former Bear to sign with the Broncos, in no small part because of the belief that reconnecting with Vic Fangio would help the 29-year-old rediscover the All Pro form he showed in 2018. Unfortunately such a resurgence wasn’t in the cards and the Broncos mercifully benched him as soon as Ronald Darby returned from his hamstring injury in week six, with the rookie Patrick Surtain II taking his spot at left corner.
Since he was benched, Fuller’s played four snaps, two on the boundary when Surtain came out of the Raiders game, and two in Hail Mary situations. Nate Hairston and Caden Sterns play ahead of him in nickel and dime personnel. With Michael Ojemudia set to return from Injured Reserve, there’s a realistic possibility Fuller ends up a healthy scratch if he remains a Denver Bronco.
With the numbers at corner and the state of secondaries around the NFL, it would be a surprise if Paton doesn’t find a way to part ways with Fuller. His play early in the season was bad enough that they may not receive much in return, and the Broncos may need to eat a portion of his contract like they had to with Miller, but they ought to be able to move him.
Fangio on Kyle Fuller not playing: “He’s not happy, but he’s not a malcontent either.” #9sports— Mike Klis (@mikeklis) October 27, 2021
Gordon had to have seen the writing on the wall when Paton traded up in the second round of the 2021 draft to select Javonte Williams. In the last year of a two year contract worth $16 million, the former Charger entered training camp with eyes on free agency in 2022. Since then he and Williams have been in what amounts to a 50-50 timeshare.
By and large, the veteran’s done his part to make the most of his touches. He still has very good vision, reliable hands, and the kind of contact balance to thrive on an running game that emphasizes inside zone and duo. All told, he’s the most consistent runner in the Broncos backfield. Trading him isn’t any sort of indictment on his performance, even if the fumble to end week eight was an ugly one.
Derrick Henry’s season ending injury makes Tennessee an obvious suitor. Gordon’s ability to take over as a primary back and play on all three downs makes him a potential option all around the league. The Broncos may have to eat some of his remaining contract, but he should be moveable. What’s more, his age and injury history creates a significant risk that he does not net Paton a compensatory pick down the road.
Bridgewater hooks up with Melvin Gordon for a Broncos touchdown! pic.twitter.com/Wov5M4TZmh— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) October 31, 2021
Teddy Bridgewater and/or Drew Lock
I’ve already written about why the Broncos should try to deal Bridgewater and stand by those words. If Paton does not intend for the veteran to serve as a mentor type in 2022 and potentially beyond, he’s more valuable to Denver as a draft pick than what he’ll do over the remainder of the season. What’s more, because the Broncos acquired Teddy in a trade from the Carolina Panthers, he does not count towards the compensatory pick formula, which means if he walks in free agency next season the Broncos get nothing in return.
It may be a bit of a surprise to see Drew Lock here, but it really shouldn’t be. The third year pro lost his job to Bridgewater and his mental processing, mechanics, poise, and subsequent ball placement make him a longshot gamble if a team’s hoping for a starting quarterback. However, he’s got the kind of arm talent to potentially entice one of the would-be QB whisperers around the NFL. If the Paton can turn him into an early day three pick they ought to jump at the opportunity.
Trading the 33-year-old with put a noteworthy dent in the Broncos pass defense. It’d also open the door to playing time for Caden Sterns, who looks as if he deserves more playing time in what’s shaping up to be a lost season. Trading Jackson does not carry any dead money, either.
Long story short, if Paton’s making deals the former Texan should be on the move.
Kareem Jackson still has it. Saves what could've been a massive play. pic.twitter.com/KHbFcaD9ec— Joey Richards (@JRDrafts) September 21, 2021
Tim Patrick and/or Courtland Sutton
Let me just say that I would hate if the Broncos traded either one of their 6’4 receivers. When healthy, Patrick, Sutton, Jeudy, and Hamler have the kind of complimentary skillsets to make them an absolute nightmare for any secondary in the league. The problem lies in their upcoming contract situations, and the cold reality that Paton probably isn’t going to re-sign both.
If the Broncos were going to try and make a go of things in a cloudy AFC, it’d make sense to hold onto Patrick and Sutton. After the Miller deal, you can’t make that argument, which means the justification for keeping them lies in the fact whoever leaves will probably receive a big enough payday in 2022 to factor into the Broncos’ compensatory pick formula. There’s only one problem: if Paton is active in free agency next year, it will cancel out those compensatory picks.
Signed shortly after Ja’Wuan James’ torn Achilles ended his time in Denver, there’s a decent chance Denver can’t receive any significant value for the 32-year-old. If the Broncos do decide to move him, his injury history and adequate play means anything more than a late day three pick is a huge get for Paton. With that said, he’s played well enough to potentially draw interest from one of the teams in the league desperate for a right tackle. He’d be a decent pickup for a contender that leans heavily on inside zone because he’s a functional pass protector with solid feet.
Bobby Massie gets beat by Oweh and the Broncos opening drive stalls out.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) October 3, 2021
23rd straight opening drive without a TD. Dates back to the Scangarello era. pic.twitter.com/A4ZkPkdkGw
Dalton Risner and/or Graham Glasgow
There’s been a clock ticking on the interior offensive line since Paton drafted Quinn Meinerz in the third round of the 2021 draft. Immediately after the draft it looked as if the former Warhawk would eventually usurp Lloyd Cushenberry as the Broncos center. Following a preseason where Meinerz struggled at pivot, but looked competent at guard, it looked murkier.
When Risner could play in the Jets and Ravens games, we got a chance to see what the 6’3 320 lb. rookie could do. I’ll admit he exceeded my expectations with his savvy, hands, and the way he made use of his play strength to both anchor in pass pro and pave the way as a run blocker.
As Denver heads towards yet another shakeup this offseason, there’s a decent chance whoever Paton hires tries to remake the offensive line. If that occurs, both Risner and Glasgow could be miscast. With that in mind, either or even both could make sense as potential trade chips before the deadline. It’s debatable who would draw more interest.
Risner is currently playing on the third year of his rookie contract, which makes his cap figure easy to fit into just about every payroll in the league. He’s also been pretty durable in his career, missing his first start this season. One big thing could hurt him on the market: he’s only every played left guard in the NFL and his issues with quickness in pass protection makes it unlikely he’d survive long at tackle.
If Glasgow’s heart checks out with a team’s medical staff I suspect he’d be a valuable addition to a few teams around the NFL. He brings guard/center versatility and his anchor and hands make him a quietly reliable pass protector. What complicates matters is that the Broncos are on the hook for dead money if they move him as he’s in the second year of a four-year, $44 million contract. His cap figure is big enough Paton would probably have to eat more money, as well.
There are surely other names that could make a ton of sense if Paton is taking a blowtorch to Elway’s last roster. While a new 3-year contract makes a Shelby Harris trade unlikely, the dead money is pretty forgiving if Denver elects to move the 30-year-old at any point. Ronald Darby’s in a similar situation. Heck, the new general manager may not see Noah Fant as the mismatch weapon I do and choose to unload him before he’s forced to pick up a fifth- year option. Before his week eight injury, Bryce Callahan looked like a prime candidate for the trade block. If not for injury, both Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson would also make sense.
Should the Broncos decide to blow it up, few are truly safe. With that said, Paton may not make any huge moves after the Von Miller trade. I do expect to see Kyle Fuller dumped before the deadline, but the Broncos could decide to stand pat and “do right” by Vic Fangio and the coaching staff by holding onto the majority of the remaining roster.
4-4 ain’t 0-8, after all.