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What are the Broncos biggest needs after the first wave of free agency?

Can the Broncos add any more outside help?

Denver Broncos Introduce Quarterback Russell Wilson Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos sent shockwaves around the NFL when they stole agreed to acquire Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks. Not to rest on his laurels, George Paton followed up the blockbuster deal with a splashy foray into the league’s legal tampering period. With a little time for the dust to settle, it’s time to once again take a look at the state of the Broncos’ roster. The rankings below are obviously subjective, but I hope they offer insight into what Paton has left to do.

Tier 4: Competition for the sake of competition

Paton could bring players in for competition, but I doubt anyone beats out the incumbents. The Broncos probably won’t spend significant money in free agency on any of these four spots.

15. Kicker

Brandon McManus

McManus signed a four-year extension with the Broncos in September of 2020 and will count for $4,231,250 against the 2022 cap. Cutting him would create a $3,693,750 dead cap hit. He isn’t going anywhere this year.

14. Long snapper

Jacob Bobenmoyer

Bobenmoyer became the Broncos long snapper in 2020 and has one year remaining on his current contract before he becomes a RFA. Barring some sort of meltdown, he’s not going anywhere.

13. Fullback/H-back

Andrew Beck

Beck signed a one year contract for $1,225,000 to return to the Broncos. He’s played 561 special teams snaps since the Elway signed him off waivers in 2020, but logged only 121 offensive snaps the last two years as Pat Shurmur only rarely utilized a fullback. That could change with Nathaniel Hackett.

12. Punter

Sam Martin

John Elway signed Martin to a three-year contract in 2020 and Paton did not add any significant competition last offseason, but he now enters the last year of his deal with a $2,733,334 cap hit. With the Broncos in a rather tight cap situation, there is a realistic possibility he becomes a cap casualty if Paton finds a cheaper alternative. Cutting him would create $2.25 million in cap space with a $483,334 dead cap hit.

Tier 3: Depth never hurt anyone

One thing to keep in mind with the positions below this tier: Paton is building the Broncos for 2022 and beyond. So long term questions will probably influence some decisions this year.

11. Interior offensive line

Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow, Quinn Meinerz, Netane Muti, Ben Braden, Zack Johnson

This looked like a strength of the Broncos’ roster heading into free agency and yet the first addition of the legal tampering period was to sign Braden to a one year contract. A former member of the Packers who never started any games, he could be surprise come training camp due to his familiarity with Nathaniel Hackett’s offense. The crowded interior could bode poorly for Risner, who enters the last year of his rookie contract. Should Paton elect to move on from Elway’s 2019 second rounder, he could create $2.79 million in cap space while the Broncos eat $803,597 in a dead cap hit.

10. Linebacker

Josey Jewell, Baron Browning, Jonas Griffith, Justin Strnad, Alex Singleton

Assuming Jewell returns to the form he showed before his season ending pec injury last year, the Broncos’ starting linebackers look set. Jewell is a steady hand who plays faster than he tests while Browning is an elite athlete who looked better than expected as a rookie. Griffith is a special teamer who held his own starting the last four games of 2022. Strnad looks like an early frontrunner for the player who most benefits from a new coaching staff after he was benched on Halloween last season.

On Friday the Broncos signed Alex Singleton, who started 19 games the last two seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles. The fact his $1.1 million contract is fully guaranteed with incentives for playing time suggests his spot on the roster is safe in 2022.

9. Running back

Javonte Williams, Mike Boone, Damarea Crockett

The Broncos traded up to select Williams in the 2021 draft and all signs point to him becoming the workhorse in the backfield in 2022. Boone will count for just over $2 million against the cap in the second year of his deal. Crockett spent last year bouncing between the practice squad and active roster as the fourth back. It does not appear as though Melvin Gordon will be re-signed, and I expect the Broncos to draft a back in April.

8. Wide receiver

Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Travis Fulgham, Seth Williams, Kendall Hinton

The first wave of free agency makes it look like the Broncos midseason extensions for Sutton and Patrick could be extremely team friendly if they produce as expected with a franchise quarterback. Two years into Jeudy’s career he continues to receive praise around the league for his separation quickness, and the hope here is a better passer and play caller unlocks his potential. Hamler’s a wildcard after landing on Injured Reserve each of his first two seasons.

Fulgham, Williams, and Hinton look poised to battle for roster spots, though I do expect the Broncos to once again load up on receiver prospects in and shortly after the NFL draft. Denver carried a dozen receivers into OTAs last year and the Vikings spent more draft capital on the position than any other during Paton’s time in Minnesota.

7. Safety

Justin Simmons, Caden Sterns, P.J. Locke, Jamar Johnson

Simmons is the leader of the defense, but there is some question about who will start beside him. I consider Sterns the frontrunner after a very promising rookie season where he carved out a role on sub packages and looked capable in his first start against the Detroit Lions. Locke could also become a factor with the new coaching staff. He has been a special teams ace the last two years and looked solid on defense last preseason. Johnson had a minimal impact his rookie season, but offers an intriguing blend of versatility and ball skills.

Kareem Jackson’s also on record saying the Broncos have been in contact with him about a return. The 33-year-old paired with Simmons to form one of the stronger safety tandems in the league the last three seasons.

Tier 2: Needs attention

The following positions look like potential problem areas on the roster. There’s an argument to chase an upgrade or a looming question when you look at 2022. Sometimes both.

6. Quarterback

Russell Wilson, Brett Rypien, Josh Johnson

There are two noteworthy questions hanging over this room at the moment.

  1. The state of a Wilson extension. The future Hall of Famer was reportedly seeking “Mahomes money” on a new deal before he was traded. 9News Mike Klis reported a “reworked” deal is coming while George Paton said that no talks are imminent. Right now Wilson is under contract for two years and $51 million. A long term deal could give Paton the ability to stretch out and even manipulate the Wilson’s cap figure each season.
  2. What’s the plan behind Wilson? Rypien was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent when Rich Scangarello was the offensive coordinator and won the only start of his NFL career under Pat Shurmur. Yesterday the Broncos signed Josh Johnson. The 35-year-old has played for 17 different teams across four professional sports leagues since he left San Diego State in 2008. For context: his head coach Jim Harbaugh hadn’t gone on to lead Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers to a Super Bowl yet.

5. Defensive Line

D.J. Jones, Mike Purcell, Dre’Mont Jones, McTelvin Agim, DeShawn Williams, Marquiss Spencer, Justin Hamilton, Jonathan Harris

Before the D.J. Jones signing, the Broncos had three defensive tackles who have played more than 71 snaps in the NFL a year after their rush defense ranked 21st by Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric DVOA. The $30 million contract gives them a top shelf interior run defender who lacks the length to thrive as an end in the Broncos’ base 3-4, which raises questionions about Purcell’s future. Purcell’s played in 19 of 33 potential games since the start of 2020 and will count for $4,347,695 against this year’s cap. The big wildcard to watch come training camp is Agim, who has only played 250 snaps since he was drafted in the third round of the 2020 draft despite a clean bill of health.

4. Tight end

Albert Okwuegbunam, Eric Tomlinson, Shaun Beyer

The Broncos traded Noah Fant to the Seahawks in order to acquire Wilson, which leaves Okwuegbunam as the only proven pass catcher in the tight end room. Okwuegbunam’s injury history suggests it’d be prudent to consider another. Tomlinson was signed for his prowess as a blocker and has just 18 career receptions across his six year NFL career bouncing with the Jets, Patriots, Raiders, and Ravens. Beyer spent his rookie season as a member of Denver’s practice squad and hasn’t played a regular season snap yet.

3. Edge

Randy Gregory, Bradley Chubb, Jonathon Cooper, Malik Reed, Andre Mintze, Aaron Patrick, Jonathan Kongbo

Denver’s pass rush fell off a cliff after Von Miller was traded to the Los Angeles Rams last season, so Paton signed Gregory from the Dallas Cowboys. The 29-year-old posted the only 40+ pressure season of his career alongside Micah Parsons, and pairs with Chubb to give the Broncos two talented edge rushers who have combined to play one 16+ game regular season in their careers. Cooper and Reed look like they’ll give the defense a pair of athletic, albeit undersized rotational rushers. Patrick logged 208 snaps on special teams after signing from the Jaguars. Mintze showed flashes during his first preseason. Kongo’s a former fifth overall pick from the CFL.

Given the way Chubb and Reed’s contracts expire after the ‘22 season it’d make a ton of sense for Paton to look to draft an edge rusher or even two from the 2022 class.

2. Offensive tackle

Garett Bolles, Calvin Anderson, Tom Compton, Cody Conway, Drew Himmelman, Casey Tucker

The Broncos haven’t drafted a tackle since 2017 and Bolles turns 30 in May while there’s no proven solution at right tackle, This time a week ago the Broncos had one tackle under contract who had played a snap in an NFL game. Since then Anderson and Compton both agreed to one year contracts worth between $2.25-$2.5 million with about $1.5 million guaranteed, which suggests they’re safe for the 2022 roster barring disaster. Considering where the Broncos are drafting and the steep learning curve rookie tackles face in the league there is a good chance Anderson is fighting Compton for a starting job this preseason.

Tier 1: Glaring need

This is a position group that remains completely unanswered since the start of free agency. How Paton addresses it could have a huge impact on Denver’s Super Bowl chances in 2022.

1. Cornerback

Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, Essang Bassey, Michael Ojemudia

Surtain II and Darby should give the Broncos one of the stronger duos in the league if they can stay healthy. Ojemudia and Bassey are mostly unproven after injury nearly wiped out the entirety of their 2021 campaigns. Every member of the cornerback room spent time on Injured Reserve or the Physically Unable to Perform list last year and Bassey is the only natural nickel.

Your Broncos’ News

Denver Broncos reportedly looking to add a CB ‘soon’ in free agency - Mile High Report

The Broncos are looking to shore up their defense again by pursuing some more help in the secondary

Busting the myths about Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos - Mile High Report

Tim Jenkins joined Cover 2 Broncos to dive into the narratives around Russell Wilson’s game and his fit in the Broncos’ offense.

Russell Wilson to Broncos fans: ‘I came here for one reason - to win’ - Mile High Report

The elite QB has his eye on another decade of playing and a handful more championships - as a Bronco!

Seattle Seahawks blame Russell Wilson for leaving to the Denver Broncos - Mile High Report

In a statement announcing the trade, the Seattle Seahawks spent a lot of time blaming Russell Wilson for leaving to the Denver Broncos.

Seahawks initiated contact with Broncos on a Russell Wilson trade - ProFootballTalk

So how did it all start? Who made the first move? Per a league source, the Seahawks initiated the communications with the Broncos. While it’s theoretically possible to harmonize Seattle making the first move with the stream of statements indicating that Wilson wanted out, the fact that the Seahawks called the Broncos suggests that, even if Wilson wanted out, the Seahawks weren’t trying to convince him to stick around for another year.

Jones expects ‘complete dominance’ from the Evero defense - Mile High Report

Broncos’ new defensive lineman is excited to get after the quarterback and stop the run.

Report: Broncos re-sign defensive lineman DeShawn Williams - Mile High Report

Broncos bring back the talented and versatile role player

Sources - Randy Gregory flips on Dallas Cowboys after agreeing to contract, to join Denver Broncos instead

The Dallas Cowboys announced on the team’s social media accounts Tuesday morning that Gregory had agreed to a deal to return to the team, but multiple Broncos sources later confirmed that he instead is joining Denver. The deal is the same in basic construction: five years, $70 million, with $28 million of guarantees largely coming in the first two years.

Randy Gregory’s rocky path - From 54 games missed to a leader on the Dallas Cowboys players’ council

PAYWALL: When the Cowboys drafted Gregory out of Nebraska in 2015, they gave him the No. 94 jersey, hoping he could evolve into the type of pass-rushing threat that Pro Football Hall of Famer Charles Haley and future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware did while donning that number. The cache of the number does not have the same franchise reverence as say the No. 88, worn by wide receivers Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin, Dez Bryant and CeeDee Lamb, but it is pretty close.

Randy Gregory: ‘I blame myself’ for failed NFL combine drug test

“I blame myself,” Gregory said. “And I know it sounds cliché, but there’s really no one else I can blame.”

NFL’s most intriguing free agent moves on defense: Chargers address needs, Broncos and Bills bolster pass rush - CBSSports.com

They thought they’d have an elite pass-rush duo in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, but the two of them could never get on the field at the same time. Now, they get to try again with Chubb and Gregory. Oh, and they got to steal another edge rusher from the Cowboys, after they did the same with DeMarcus Ware a bunch of years ago. As I recall, that worked out pretty well. Jones is a graduate of the 49ers Defensive Line Academy, and his role grew with each passing season he spent in San Francisco. He’s primarily a run stopper, but has shown a little bit of pass-rush verve these last few seasons as well. Either way, he should be a good fit for Ejiro Evero’s defense.

In Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos get mentality that mirrors John Elway, Peyton Manning - Denver Broncos Blog- ESPN

“How fast can you process what you see, what you know and what you studied,” Wilson said when asked about day-to-day expectations. “I think that ability to process everything is really critical. So, guys got to be really on their stuff every day in practice; it starts with the meetings. It starts with offseason; it starts with the weight room. Will you show up on time and be ready to do this, ready to do that? There’s little things like that, and that’s a really critical part to it. I think that wild obsession with doing the little things right, it allows you to have the big things and the big moments as well.”

Russell Wilson’s recruiting helped Randy Gregory pick the Broncos - ProFootballTalk

“It’s beneficial when I can text a franchise quarterback and that night, he calls a guy eight times,” G.M. George Paton told reporters on Friday regarding the efforts of Russell Wilson to recruit Gregory. “That’s pretty special, especially when it’s someone like Russell Wilson. He has a busy life and a big family. He’ll drop everything, whether he’s at a children’s hospital or with his family, to FaceTime with Randy Gregory. It’s pretty cool. I know he did so with D.J. [Jones] and some of the other guys we’ve talked to.”

Broncos agree to terms with Alex Singleton - ProFootballTalk

The Eagles, though, did not tender him as a restricted free agent. Singleton was undrafted by the NFL out of Montana State, but he was a first-round pick in the CFL. He spent three seasons with Calgary before joining the Eagles in 2019. He played exclusively on special teams in 10 games that year before taking on a defensive role the past two seasons.

NFL News

When will the NFL take action regarding Deshaun Watson? - ProFootballTalk

One week ago, the football world watched and waited for a decision to be made by a Houston grand jury as to whether Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson will be charged with any crimes. Eventually, word emerged that he’ll face no criminal jeopardy. That opened the floodgates for interested teams to pursue Watson.

Source: Deshaun Watson deal carves out potential impact of suspension for pending allegations - ProFootballTalk

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Watson deal carves out the current situation, insulating Watson from having the remaining guarantees void or from owing any bonus money back to the Browns.

Deshaun Watson should resolve the 22 civil cases now - ProFootballTalk

Last year, 18 of the plaintiffs were ready to agree to terms. Four holdouts kept a global resolution from being reached, which would have facilitated a trade to the Dolphins. Now, with $10 million earned last year for not playing and a five-year, $230 million contract freshly signed, Watson should pay whatever it takes to turn the page and move on.

Report: Baker Mayfield informs Browns he wants trade to Colts - ProFootballTalk

The Colts, Saints, Seahawks and Panthers remain quarterback needy. Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo are available via trade, with Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Andy Dalton among the available free agents at the position. The Browns surely would prefer trading Mayfield out of the AFC, but like Watson, he might end up staying in the conference.

JuJu Smith-Schuster headed to Kansas City - ProFootballTalk

“I am going to play with a future Hall of Fame quarterback, . . . with one of the best to ever do it,” Smith-Schuster told Taylor Bisciotti of NFL Media. “My goal as a player is to win, so I’m going to Kansas City with the hopes of winning a Super Bowl.”