Despite major free-agent departures, Broncos earn average offseason grade

Ben Stockwell breaks down Denver's free agency and draft results, assigning a grade for the offseason thus far.

| 1 year ago
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Despite major free-agent departures, Broncos earn average offseason grade

The offseason following a Super Bowl victory is rarely an easy one, and the Broncos have certainly been living proof of that in 2016, with the added complication of a backup quarterback cashing in to leave for good measure. The Broncos knew their price for their departing free agents, and weren’t going to budge to “keep the band together.” Another in-season extension (becoming a trademark of John Elway’s style of contract management) helped cushion the loss of Malik Jackson, with Derek Wolfe extending his stay in the Mile High City. Extensive losses in free agency saw the Broncos needing to recoup some of those hits in the draft, which they went some way toward doing, but with three starters owning PFF grades of 80 or higher lost, their work was cut out for them. A solid draft helps earn the Broncos a C+ grade for their post-Super Bowl offseason efforts thus far.

Offseason grade: C+

Free agency/Trades

Acquisitions and retentions

OLB Von Miller, LB Brandon M. Marshall, OT Russell Okung, RB C.J. Anderson, QB Mark Sanchez, RB Ronnie Hillman, S Brandian Ross, S Shiloh Keo, WR Jordan Norwood, TE Garrett Graham, DI Jared Crick, OT Donald Stephenson

Free-agent losses

QB Peyton Manning (retired), DE Malik Jackson, LB Danny Trevathan, G Evan Mathis, OT Ryan Clady (trade) S David Bruton, QB Brock Osweiler, OT Tyler Polumbus (retired), TE Vernon Davis, LS Aaron Brewer, OLB Lerentee McCray, S Omar Bolden, WR Andre Caldwell, OT Ryan Harris

The departure of Malik Jackson and two quarterbacks who started during their championship run was tough to counter. The Broncos added to their difficulties by giving running back C.J. Anderson a low-restricted free-agent tender, forcing them to match an offer sheet from the Dolphins to retain his services for 2016 and beyond. At offensive tackle, the Broncos shipped out Ryan Clady and brought in Russell Okung; both have had problems with injury since they entered the league, with Okung’s form suffering in the last couple of seasons, even though he hasn’t missed much playing time. Ultimately, the prize of this offseason for the Broncos in free agency will be hammering out a long-term deal with Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. A game-winner on the biggest stage, Miller is the centerpiece of a defense that carried the Broncos to glory last season, and a long-term deal is essential.

Draft recap

  • Round 1 (pick No. 26) (from Seattle) Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
  • Round 2 (pick No. 63) Adam Gotsis, DT, Georgia Tech
  • Round 3 (pick No. 98) Justin Simmons, S, Boston College
  • Round 4 (pick No. 136) Devontae Booker, RB, Utah
  • Round 5 (pick No. 144) (from Baltimore) Connor McGovern, G, Missouri
  • Round 6 (pick No. 176) (from Cleveland) Andy Janovich, FB, Nebraska
  • Round 6 (pick No. 219) Will Parks, S, Arizona
  • Round 7 (pick No. 228) (from San Francisco) Riley Dixon, P, Syracuse

Entering the draft, the Broncos were facing a quarterback battle between Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian in training camp, so you knew they had to make an aggressive move to get a QB. They did just that, moving up five spots to get Paxton Lynch at the end of the first round. Lynch’s offense at Memphis may make for a tough transition to the NFL, but throws like this with the game on the line against the University of Cincinnati is what make the Broncos believe they have their quarterback of the future.

Paxton Lynch vs Cincy

The Broncos’ strong draft wasn’t all about their quarterback though; the acquisition of Booker in the fourth round was a highlight, adding a natural fit for the Broncos’ zone scheme on the ground, while adding skills in the passing game that aren’t quite the strength of C.J. Anderson or Ronnie Hillman. Booker may yet carve himself a role as a rookie to augment the Broncos’ offense.

Where the Broncos stand

Denver’s offense will be a work in progress as a new quarterback is brought along and a new offensive line is patched together, but in spite of the loss of Jackson and Trevathan, the Broncos’ defense still looks suffocating. Whether in base or in dime, the defense is still stacked with talent at every level, and will once again ease the burden of the offense.

| Director of Analysis

Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.

  • Michael Geer

    Bwa-haha .. in your ear, Ben. 2016 is Elway’s best draft yet, and he had to work from the unenviable position of Super Bowl World Champion winners.

  • Leanne Harrington

    Wow, one analyst who realizes that losing Malik and Danny doesn’t spell doom for the defense. Have to give him props just for that!

    Most of the FA losses/cuts were guys the team chose not to resign, not because of money, but talent. Half of that list aren’t “losses” at all, but conscious decisions to upgrade.

    • crosseyedlemon

      So your saying Elway approached the free agents and said “Your not being let go because of money but because you have no talent….and by the way…thanks for helping us win the championship”. That’s funny!

    • Jason W

      I agree, Malik fumble recovery would have been Ware otherwise, defensive line was that good cause of backfield and backers,

      • Ken Wall

        You’re exactly right. Also, even though I’d seen it a thousand times… about a month ago was the first time I noticed EXACTLY how close Von came to scoring on that play. Obviously, I knew he ripped it away from Newton, w/the idea of keeping it(like he did to Carr). But I hadn’t realized that he actually HAD the ball w/both hands and pinned against his chest, and Newton’s right hand ripped it BACK back out of his control. After that, though, DeMarcus had about two more yards of penetration than Malik did, but he tripped over Newton. And the great teammate that he is, he gave one quick go at recovering it, and then covered Malik, to ensure the TD, instead of selfishly fighting over it, and maybe losing it. I’d love to have been able to afford to keep Malik, but the night of the Super Bowl, I figured that he and Trevathan were goners. I think Malik probably has a LITTLE higher ceiling than Wolfe; but he also commits too many stupid penalties, and occasionally takes plays off. Wolfe plays smart as hell, and his engine NEVER stops. I’m also hoping that somebody steps it up, and fills Trevathan’s shoes. He’s not getting near the ink Malik is, but his speed, and his nose for big plays was damn solid.

        • Doc Bear

          Keep in mind – Wolfe ended the season w/ 8.5 sacks in 10 games. That outplayed Malik. I liked Malik (not 62 million’s worth), but Wolfe has out-produced him.

          I agree with you – Malik’s biggest weakness is between his ears. You gave a nice set of reasons why Wolfe was signed early and Malik moved on. Kubiak has said that he plans to move Brandon Mashall down to the ‘Mo’ position that Danny T played last year – it’s a tackler’s position and Brandon is our best. Todd Davis, Zaire Anderson (who the team is said to be high on) and Corey Nelso will compete for the LILB or Mike slot.

          • Ken Wall

            I’m happy, and happily surprised, that someone actually read the entirety of one of my painfully long comments. You’re exactly right. His consistency is awesome. I’d be curious to see how many times a 290+ pound defensive lineman has had a 10 game streak where only one game had a zero in the sack column(particularly in the home stretch of a playoff run, through the Super Bowl). The way he carries his weight… if you didn’t have a reference point around him, you’d think he was one of our overachieving undersized(God bless you, Greg Kragen) lineman of the past. He’s a beast. Hadn’t heard about moving Marshall. I think it’s a good idea. Just my own observations… I think Marshall is not QUITE as fast as Trevathan(which is no sin. Trevathan can fly), although he’s plenty fast. But he’s also got a little more heft/pop behind him, and he’s smart/reactive as hell. Can’t wait.

          • rodrigo

            Gotta remember Malik IS NOT worth 62 million for us.
            He is worth for that for the Jags.
            Who are not the team that drafted him,who are not the SB champions,who don’t have the players that will make his job easier like he had here and who are not likely to make him work until february 1st.

    • DragonPie

      I don’t know if they’re decisions to upgrade. I mean, I appreciate the losing Malik and Trevathon doesn’t spell doom, but I don’t think we upgraded as much as avoided overpaying and trusted our developmental coaching talent.

  • Ron

    Denver’s defense won’t be nearly as good,stay off the crack…

    • DragonPie

      I’d say that their personnel is good enough for them to repeat their performance, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to see their play drop off from other worldly to very good. It happens to most great units.

      • Ron

        Great?… Hilarious,denver barely beat a brown less Pittsburgh team in playoffs and barely beat a NE team by. 2 point conversion..Idiot loon

        • DragonPie

          Oh, I see. You’re not actually an intelligent person interested in a real conversation. You’re a troll looking to talk smack. Well, I’m sure there are plenty of fans to indulge you at the bar. Personally, I’m interested in some genuine analysis of football.

          And by all objective measures that Denver defense was great. I didn’t say the team was because the offense was very poor.

        • Jody

          They smothered two teams, start to finish, that were both in the Super Bowl conversation – with anemic QB play. If you actually watched the game and understood what was happening, you’d have experienced the feeling that Denver’s wins were inevitable. Just like the Super Bowl game. Buzz off, Mo-Ron.

  • DragonPie

    As a Broncos fan, I am not afraid of missing Peyton or Brent. Their play last year was poor and the team won in spite of them, not because of them. Repeating would be difficult, but in grading their offseason, I wouldn’t count letting Brent walk against them.

    Losing Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathon is a much greater hit (And they lost some good depth players in Bruton and Bolden), but I think that they weathered the storm of effective losses well. I wouldn’t dock a team from not overpaying for highly rated, expensive players.

    Now, where I would dock them is for their handling of the CJ Anderson situation and for not having finalized a contract with Von Miller.

    • Jody

      Who is ‘Brent’ again?

  • bobrulz

    Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan will be losses, but not crippling ones. There’s promising depth on this team. Bruton was solid depth, and I’ll miss Omar Bolden’s hustle on ST. But again, they’re certainly not crippling losses. Retaining Wolfe/Ware/Miller/Marshall/Ward/Harris/Talib leaves Denver with the best core group of defenders in the league, with promising young talent waiting in the wings. I don’t expect the defense to be as good as last season, but it would be nearly impossible to repeat that performance, even if Denver hadn’t lost any pieces. Even with some drop-off, dropping from “one of the best defenses in recent NFL history” to “a really great defense that’s still at or near the top of the league” doesn’t sound bad to me at all. :-)

    I think the offense will see strides as well, with an additional year of Kubiak’s system being in place. I would’ve liked to have seen what Osweiler could do with a chance to start in Denver from the beginning of the season, but I’m glad they didn’t try to match Houston’s ridiculous contract. Sanchez is a backup quality QB, but so was Peyton Manning last year. I don’t think it will be as much of a drop-off as people think. Peyton was terrible last year. I have my doubts about Paxton Lynch being the long-term answer, but at best he could end up being Matt Schaub (and he was pretty good once, if you guys remember!) Russell Okung should hopefully give them average LT play, and I imagine Anderson/Booker/Hillman should give them a solid RB rotation, as well. Offensive line is still a bit of a question mark, and Denver still doesn’t have a TE, but this team could be as good as they were last season overall with some offensive improvement to balance out the inevitable defensive regression.

  • Brian

    The thing Noone realizes is that while philipps is one of the best defensive coaches in football in EVERY single stop of his coaching career his defenses start out strong but fizzle out quickly. He did get smarter and took a page from new England’s handbook and played more of a game to game game plan defense especially in the postseason, but I’m still unsure if he will continue to evolve as a coach.on top of that it’s extremely rare for a great defense with an average at best qb and offense win a super bowl. Happens about once a decade. Let alone the same team repeat.