Offseason to-do list for the Denver Broncos
Denver's historic defense has several free agents, and Peyton Manning's potential retirement looms.
Offseason to-do list for the Denver Broncos
They did it. To cap off a crazy season that saw them change starting quarterbacks multiple times, the Denver Broncos used an incredible defense to propel a lackluster Peyton Manning-led offense to a Super Bowl victory. While the Broncos will take some time to celebrate, soon they’ll have to focus on the offseason. There are close to a dozen moves Denver will need to take into account in order to defend their title next season.
First things first, there’s that quarterback named Peyton Manning. The Broncos can free up $19 million in cap space if and when he retires or is cut. Manning finished as one of the lowest graded quarterbacks this season, and as tough as it is to say, he won’t be missed by the Broncos. On the small chance he is still playing next season, it’s extremely unlikely it’ll still be in Denver. Manning is just the first of a couple moves the Broncos could make to free up some cap space. The aging (but still very effective) DeMarcus Ware could be cut or retire which would free up $10 million, and there’s also injured left tackle Ryan Clady, who would free up nearly $9 million in cap space if he were to be released.
The Broncos need all the cap space they can get because they have an unusual amount of key free agents. Denver has 13 players who played over 400 snaps this season that will see their contracts expire this offseason. For a team that just won the Super Bowl, chances are they’ll want to keep as many of them as they can. Roster turnover is never something that teams want, but that’s especially true when this 53-man unit is a Super Bowl winning roster.
There are plenty of things that the Broncos won’t have to worry about next season. Offensively, they’ll keep both wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, two of the better playmakers in football. On the defensive side, elite interior defender Derek Wolfe recently signed a contract extension and will be back next year. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. will return to anchor the secondary, and young linebacker Shaq Barrett looks to have a bright career ahead of him.
While there’s a lot to like about what the Broncos already have in place for 2016, there’s still a lot that needs to be sorted through this offseason. They won’t be able to keep everybody.
Let’s take a look at three of the most important things the Broncos will need to look at this offseason:
- Offensive backfield
It’s bizarre to think that the offensive backfield of a Super Bowl winner could look entirely different in a few months, but that’s exactly the Broncos are staring down the barrel. With Manning almost certainly not returning, Denver will have a new starting quarterback next season. It seems very likely their choice will be Brock Osweiler, who graded out as our 20th-best quarterback in 2015. Osweiler is a free agent, though, meaning the Broncos still need re-sign him. If they choose to go a different route, Sam Bradford may be available and would arguably be a slight upgrade over Osweiler. It seems unlikely that the Broncos will look for a quarterback early in the draft, perhaps taking someone in the later rounds to add training camp competition.
As for the other half of the backfield, both running backs Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson are free agents this offseason, meaning the Broncos will need to make a decision if they want both players back. Re-signing Anderson seems like a no-brainer, especially since he is a restricted free agent. He started slow this season, but from Week 9 onwards, he was our 14th highest-graded running back and led the league with 6.2 yards per carry. Denver may want to look for a better third-down back option, as neither Anderson nor Hillman were overly effective as receiving threats. There are some decent third-down options in free agency this year, such as Bilal Powell (Jets) or Lance Dunbar (Cowboys). An interesting name to keep an eye on in the second-or-so round of the NFL draft is running back Kenneth Dixon (Louisiana Tech).
- Re-signing the defense
It’s abundantly clear the Broncos don’t have a weakness on defense, so free agency for Denver becomes all about keeping this elite defense intact. GM John Elway will be given the tough task of dividing up his salary cap pie among core defensive players who deserve lucrative deals. The Broncos have six free agents that played over 400 snaps this season.
First on the priority list is edge defender Von Miller. This one is an absolute no-brainer. He’s an elite edge defender who just won a Super Bowl MVP, outshining Cam Newton on football’s biggest stage. It’s going to cost them a lot of money to keep him, but Miller is worth every single penny. With the money they’ll save from Manning’s departure, Denver will have more flexibility to work out a deal for Miller, or at the very least, ink him to the franchise tag.
Secondly, there’s the trio of 26-year old defenders in Brandon M. Marshall, Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson. It would take some serious cap finagling to find the money to sign all three of them. Marshall is a restricted free agent, so it seems likely that he’ll be tendered and return next season. Jackson was our 17th-highest graded interior defender, and seventh-best pass rusher, and the Broncos should try everything they can to bring him back. Trevathan seems like the odd man out. The Broncos could look to a guy such as Tahir Whitehead (Lions) as a potential cheaper replacement.
- Offensive line
The Broncos had some serious issues on the offensive line this season, and that’s something they’ll need to fix over the summer. Guard Evan Mathis was the only lineman who finished with an above-average overall grade this season, and he’s a 34-year old free agent. But the biggest issue that they really need to address is the offensive tackle position.
Ryan Harris and Michael Schofield finished as the 57th and 66th-ranked tackles in the NFL this season, out of 81 qualified players. That’s simply not good enough to continue to find success in the league next season, so look for the Broncos to address this head-on. If they surprisingly let some of their defenders walk and want to spend big, players like right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (Browns) and left tackle Cordy Glenn (Bills) were top-10 tackles last season could be available come free agency. If they go through the draft, keep an eye on guys like Jack Conklin (Michigan State) or Taylor Decker (Ohio State).
The guard position isn’t as pressing of a need especially if they decide to bring back Mathis. Right guard Louis Vasquez had some struggles with run-blocking, but ranked 10th in pass blocking among guards. Center Matt Paradis finished middle-of-the-pack, as the 16th-ranked center in football this season. Really, the tackle position is the only pressing spot that Denver needs to improve. If the Broncos can repair that spot, they’ll look much better next season.