In his regular segment on Broncos Country Tonight, the Hall-of-Fame safety argued that he previously said no to Watson based on hearing that the 25-year-old star was not interested in Denver. But after new reports that the Broncos may be on Watson’s short list, Atwater is willing to listen to the prospect.
“If he’s legitimately interested in coming here, you got to explore it, but I don’t want to give up the farm for anybody,” he said.
But that’s the problem, right? It would probably be the farm for a high-caliber quarterback like Watson. The question would be - is the ROI for one star quarterback worth the losses across many areas on the rest of the team.
For Atwater, most likely not.
“Football is not like basketball where you can get a superstar and he can take you far,” Atwater noted, pointing out that the Bucs and Tom Brady were an exception because Tampa Bay already had most of the pieces there. “We still need to add some pieces to the puzzle, so we can’t give up that much.”
And if it’s going to cost a lot in the draft, Atwater is still a no-go.
“If it’s going to cost two, three first-rounders, I’m out, I’m out,” he said.
Atwater was singing Benjamin Allbright’s song who is also not sold on the cost to the team, especially since he sees too many moving pieces on the defense that will have to be replaced.
“When you look at this team, it’s closer to defensive rebuild/reload than most people think,” Allbright said. “Look at Von Miller and his age, Kareem Jackson and his age. They just got rid of A.J. Bouyé. Alexander Johnson will be a restricted free agent and coming up on a big deal and 30 years old. Jurrell Casey, once he clears IR, won’t be here. Not sure if they’ll re-sign Shelby Harris. They’re trying to re-sign Justin Simmons but not sure on that. You start looking around and there’s a bit of a reload needed.”
But Atwater doesn’t think a lot of those guys will be gone. In his experience, most guys come back to the team despite all the talk in the offseason.
“I’d love to have Shelby Harris back, love to have Justin Simmons, love to have Von Miller, ...have KJack back,” he said, noting that he hopes new GM George Paton can work some magic. “If we can have a majority of those guys back, we’re looking good. Pick up a corner in the draft, another inside linebacker, maybe another guy for that interior line as well. But I think we’ll have more guys back than most people anticipate.”
Given the fragility of the defense, Atwater and Allbright aren’t willing to sacrifice what is there for one player, as elite as he is.
To Allbright, unless you see Watson as better than Patrick Mahomes, you’re giving up too much to still be second in the AFC West at best.
What about the CORNERbacks?
But alas, it was not only QBs, that Atwater spoke about in his segment. What to do about cornerback - possibly the second most-important question on the Broncos’ roster (or first depending on your stance) - was on tap too.
The question of the day was whether Caleb Farley, a cornerback at Virginia Tech who had a great first year but sat out last year for COVID-19 concerns.
“He’s a great kid. I love his game. Without a ton of film, he had a knee injury early, but he’s physical, he’s long, 6-foot-2, about 200 pounds. He can run, gets in great position and can do all the things you want him to do,” Atwater said. “But man, you’re talking about an early- round pick on someone who sat out a year ... and will have to knock some rust off to play at an elite level.”
Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay recently debated on “ESPN First Draft Podcast” whether Farley or Patrick Surtain II would be the highest corner taken in the draft. Depending on the type of corner needed, either could be an immediate starter. But Kiper was also concerned about the lost year.
“I went back and looked at [Farley] in 2019, he was so good. I mean, Caleb Farley really had a good year. And he’s got length, a former wide receiver. Doesn’t tackle well. That’s something he’s gotta show a little more toughness, and tackle and be more consistent in that area. But in coverage, he located, he was getting those late pass breakups. I mean he was really a lockdown cover corner in 2019. So I look at Farley, had he played this year, I think he could have been a top-five pick.”
McShay had noted Surtain’s experience playing three years at Alabama while also having a father in the NFL for more than a decade, but he, too, was impressed by Farley, who in two seasons with the Hokies had 56 total tackles, 43 solo tackles, one tackle for loss, six interceptions, one touchdown and 19 pass deflections.
“(Surtain’s) got basically everything you look for, but Farley he’s not the tackler. He’s not quite as tough and physical, but I would say, if you gave one one-on-one against a No. 1 receiver, Farley I would probably choose over Surtain. But if you said in a game in the right system, Surtain may be the guy that you want because he brings a little bit more in terms of the whole package that you need at corner. Especially now in the league with so many screens, and RPOs and the quick slants, you’ve got to be able to tackle and be right there when the ball gets there.”
Fortunately for us, next Tuesday Atwater will be giving his critique of Surtain on Broncos Country Tonight as well as Ryan Edwards’ favorite corner in the upcoming draft, Jaycee Horn.