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Who should the Broncos chase in free agency?

With the 6th most cap room in the NFL, George Paton has a chance to add talent to the roster.

The NFL never sleeps. With Super Bowl 55 in the rearview there’s only 33 days until free agency begins on March 17th. When the Broncos cut A.J. Bouye they created an additional $13,218,750 in cap space in cap space to help in their efforts to resign Justin Simmons and Shelby Harris. George Paton has a number of additional moves he can make to create additional cap space.

With a new general manager and a coaching staff facing a do-or-die 2021, there’s every reason to believe the Broncos will be active this offseason. Depending on how the salary cap shakes out there could be cap cuts around the league that Paton could capitalize on. There’s also the unrestricted free agent market.

Some big names will receive a franchise tag. I don’t expect Jerry Jones to let Dak Prescott leave Dallas without receiving something in return. Others will hit the market. Shaq Barrett made it clear he wants to be fairly compensated, and that could put Tampa Bay in a tough spot with other mouths to feed.

Here’s a look at few prospective free agents that intrigue me with 33 days to go.

Defensive backs

Justin Simmons

Desmond King

Ronald Darby

Jason McCourty

Troy Hill

Chidobe Awuzie

Brian Poole

Xavier Rhodes

Patrick Peterson

Cameron Sutton

Marcus Maye

John Johnson

Xavier Woods

Will Parks

Jahleel Addae

  • Cornerback looks like the deepest position group in free agency this year.
  • A.J. Bouye’s release only confirms what’s been obvious for months: boundary cornerback is the Broncos biggest defensive need.
  • While Bryce Callahan was outstanding in 2020, he’s also turning 30 having never played a full season in the NFL. With his contract set to expire after this season, there’s some reason to believe Paton could add multiple corners this offseason.
  • If the Broncos elect to cut Kareem Jackson and/or lose Justin Simmons there is a huge need at safety. The Fangio pass defense depends on reliable play from the third level.
  • Prior to John Elway’s departure, I took an early look at what Brandon Staley’s defense with the Rams says about traits that stand out when evaluating potential Bronco defensive backs.

Linebackers

Lavonte David

Matt Milano

Jayon Brown

Nicholas Morrow

Reuben Foster

Todd Davis

  • I would be surprised if Alexander Johnson doesn’t receive a second or first round tender.
  • Josey Jewell outplayed expectations in 2020. There’s still reason to believe the Broncos will pursue another starting linebacker. It’s impossible to forget that the Broncos had rumored interest in free agent Joe Schobert and tried to trade up or Patrick Queen last season. A linebacker with athleticism and strengths in coverage currently could be a priority.
  • The veteran linebacker market isn’t as exciting as the upcoming rookie class. Things could change if Nick Kwiatkoski is released from the Raiders or Lavonte David leaves Tampa Bay, but I hope Paton waits for the Draft to address linebacker.

Edge

Shaquil Barrett

Leonard Floyd

Melvin Ingram

Aldon Smith

Matthew Judon

Trey Hendrickson

Ryan Kerrigan

Romeo Okwara

  • Von Miller’s age, 2020 injury, and contract status make this a position to watch this offseason. Even if Paton picks up the future Hall of Famer’s option, it’s no guarantee we’ll see 58 in orange and blue again. Declining his option would cost $4,125,000 in dead money while freeing up $18 million.
  • The Broncos will pick up Bradley Chubb’s 2021 fifth year option.
  • The looming question about Von Miller means there’s a number of potential scenarios at edge this offseason. Paton’s Vikings prioritized edge talent during his time there, and it’s an instrumental pat of Fangio’s defense.
  • Fangio asks his outside backers to drop into coverage as past of his simulated pressure scheme because it will both impact the offensive line’s protection scheme and clutter passing lanes. It’s one reason why Leonard Floyd was a valuable member of the 2018 Bears even if his stats didn’t suggest it.

Defensive Line

Shelby Harris

Ndamukong Suh

Johnathan Hankins

Derek Wolfe

Maliek Collins

Mike Daniels

Margus Hunt

DeMarcus Walker

  • What George Paton decides to do with Jurrell Casey and Shelby Harris will dramatically impact how the Broncos approach the line this offseason.
  • Mike Purcell’s contract extension is very team friendly, which means another nose tackle will always remain a possibility.
  • I’m bullish on Dre’Mont Jones in 2021. He has Pro Bowl potential.

Offensive Line

Zach Banner

Ty Nsekhe

Ty Sambrailo

Mike Remmers

James Hurst

Demar Dotson

Calvin Anderson

Elijah Wilkinson

  • It would cost the Broncos $19 million against the 2021 cap to cut Ja’Wuan James which means his return is imminent. Let’s hope he can deliver on the promise Elway saw in him.
  • James’ contract becomes more flexible in 2022, so it’s entirely possible that the Broncos draft and groom a replacement this year. They could also sign a swing tackle or familiar face and hope for the best.
  • Outside James the Broncos return their starting left tackle, left guard, center, and right guard as well as the promising Netane Muti. If Munchak isn’t as optimistic on the Bulldog as I am they could add an experienced interior player. I don’t think it will be a priority.
  • Neither here nor there, but the Steelers drafted Zach Banner when Mike Munchak was their offensive line coach in 2017.

Running backs

Aaron Jones

Chris Carson

James Conner

  • I expect Phillip Lindsay to receive a second round tender.
  • If Lindsay is tagged he, Gordon, and Freeman will all play 2021 on expiring contracts.
  • Melvin Gordon’s potential suspension from his October arrest gives the Broncos a wide range of outcomes at running back. If the veteran is released, Paton could elect to sign a prospective RB1 or split duties with Phillip Lindsay in a larger role. He could also prioritize a running back in the draft in this scenario.

Quarterbacks

Dak Prescott

Cam Newton

Ryan Fitzpatrick

Andy Dalton

Mitch Trubisky

Jacoby Brissett

Tyrod Taylor

Colt McCoy

  • Paton’s decision at quarterback will define his first year as general manager. If the Broncos enter 2021 with Drew Lock as the presumptive QB1 it would make sense to upgrade on Jeff Driskel. In addition to their role as a backup and potential parachute if Lock is ineffective, the ideally veteran quarterback will also serve as a sort of second offensive coordinator.
  • If Dak Prescott somehow becomes a free agent he should be the top priority this offseason.

What do you think Broncos Country?