Offseason to-do list for the Denver Broncos

Denver's historic defense has several free agents, and Peyton Manning's potential retirement looms.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

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:

  1. 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).

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

| Analyst

Bryson has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, and has also been a contributor to 120 Sports.

  • Mike J.

    Hillman’s nickname should be ”drive-killer.”

    • The Mysteries of Bob

      Kubiak’s Super Bowl gameplan was ultraconservative as usual relying entirely on defense to win, but one thing he got correct, starting CJ over Hillman.

      Anderson might have had a mediocre season but he can at least break some big ones occasionaly, even considering the running game didn’t shine, averaging low 3s in YPC, he at least got a few big gains, Hillman carried 5 times for 0 yards, always killing drives with that early down carry for a loss.

    • Tim Lynch

      Yeah … it was painful to watch.

  • anon76returns

    Offensive backfield: Manning will either retire or be cut, I imagine. Hillman will walk- the Broncos have very judiciously kept Kapri Bibbs on the PS for 2 seasons, in spite of some very good work in the preseason. He’ll step into the rotational role to spell CJ (who will be tendered), and the Broncos still have Juwan Thompson as a power back/fullback who’s been pretty good as a receiving option. At QB the Broncos will likely try to re-sign Osweiller, and rookie Trevor Siemian looked very good in the preseason- he should at least be adequate as a backup.

    Defense: Can’t re-sign everyone, and Broncos shouldn’t try. Marshall will be tendered, Trevathan and Malik will likely walk. Todd Davis (end of 2014 season/playoff) and Kenny Anunike (past two preseasons) have looked very good in the same roles, and while they might not be as good, they will be a lot cheaper and Trevathan and Malik are likely to return a 4th round and 3rd round comp pick, respectively. Not bad for guys initially selected with 6th and 5th round picks. The questions come with Ware (who is indeed still very valuable), Bruton (would love to have him back if under $2M), and maybe Antonio Smith as a rotational pass rusher from the defensive interior.

    OL: Immediately after the injury, I said that Clady was absolutely done in Denver, but the way the season played out he might still have a chance if he re-structures. No way he can be kept for $10M, but if he’s willing to play for ~$5-6M, he’d likely be a best option, considering how well he fits a zone scheme. Schofield had some very bad games, but that’s expected of a first time starter. He and 2nd round pick Ty Sambraillo will compete for the RT spot. There’s some notion that Vasquez might be cut, and his contract $ offered to Mathis on a 1-2 year deal. That wouldn’t be a terrible idea, as Mathis also fits the scheme quite well, and given age/injury concerns might not have a football future extending much beyond 2017 in any case.

    All of this should be seen in the following context: the Broncos have 10 selections (counting comp picks) in the 2016 draft, and have players at LB (Todd Davis, Corey Nelson, Zaire Anderson), DE (Kenny Anunike), RB (Kapri Bibbs), WR (Jordan Taylor) and OL (Max Garcia, Ty Sambraillo) waiting in the wings after limited contributions this year. They need to stay young, they need to keep the cap down, and they need to maximize their comp picks because they pick late in every round. As such, they should not be going hog-wild in signing free agents, other than keeping some of their own, especially the guys who can be tendered.

    • AJ

      If Clady takes a serious pay cut, he could be an option at left tackle. Not that anybody expects him to get back to his previous highs, but even being serviceable would be an upgrade.

      Also, even though it was a long time ago (2008), he already showed back then that he can have success in this Shanahan/Kubiak offense. Not that it holds any truth in 2016, but it’s still something to consider, pending health.

      • Leanne Harrington

        Heck, if he’s the 30th ranked tackle, he’ll be a huge upgrade…lol

    • SpringsGal

      They have to find a way to re-sign Malik. He is so versatile and I don’t think Broncos have an adequate replacement for him. Trevathan is expendable (even though I want him back also…just to keep the team chemsitry).

      • anon76returns

        Malik is fantastic, but he’ll cost around $10-12M. The Broncos already have 2 CBs pulling in $8-10M each, 2 edge rushers pulling well in excess of $10M each, and just signed Wolfe for $9M.
        At his price he’ll bring in a 3rd round comp pick, and Kenny Anunike is very much in the same mold as a penetrative disruptor on the DL. I’d love to be proven wrong, but at this point the equation is like this:
        Cap space+Comp pick+Anunike >> Malik
        With Malik walking we’ll be in much better cap shape, we’ll be younger overall on defense, and we’ll have more draft picks to continue trying to replenish the talent level on the team.

        • ScoobyDude

          Cut Ware, save $10m, give it to Malik. Malik and Barrett/Ray is a better starting pair than Anunike and Ware. It’s a tough business.

          • anon76returns

            Nope. Ware’s contract runs out after the 2016 season. Letting Malik Walk after 2015, and Ware walk after 2016 nets the Broncos two 3rd-4th round comp picks, and frees them up from having a 6th mega deal for a defender (after Ward, Talib, CHJ, Miller, and Wolfe) after the 2016 season, freeing up $ for the offense.
            Cutting Ware and extending Malik probably gets a better player at DE, but costs the team two draft picks and a ton of cap space. Anunike+2 draft picks+ ~$12M in cap space + Ware in 2016 >> Malik + Ray + Barrett.

          • ScoobyDude

            I disagree. I think Malik is special enough to be worth all that. He’s a cornerstone player, for me. If you have Miller/Wolfe/Malik you’re a dominant D for years. The rest of the spots you can fill. The picks are fine, but mid-round picks in 2017 and 2018 are not worth busting up what they have.

          • ScoobyDude

            To add to that: what makes the Broncos front-7 so special is Wolfe/Malik. There are plenty of teams that have a pair of great pass rushing Edge Defnders who can also play the run well. There is no one else who can combine that with a pair of interior linemen capable of pushing around pass blockers while creating tons of negative run plays. It makes it impossible to account for everything because of the volume of mismatches. And I don’t trust Anunike as a starter coming off a serious injury. Hell, I would rather sign Malik and cheap out at QB than lose Malik. The Broncos could probably get by using a low #1 on a Christian Hackenberg or get a bargain price on a Drew Stanton and still call it, all told, an upgrade over what Manning offered them for most of 2015.

          • anon76returns

            Malik’s a great player. I actually would have preferred keeping him to keeping Wolfe, although Wolfe considerably narrowed the gap this year. But I don’t think great defensive fronts are as dominant as you think, or else Miami with Wake, Suh and Vernon, or NYJ with Wilkerson, Richardson, Harrison, and Williams would have absolutely dominated the AFCE.
            What serious injury do you think Anunike had that you’re so worried about? He was put on the IR this year because we needed an emergency QB while Manning was out- there was no injury. It was just a roster move used to make sure nobody could nab Kenny when he was buried 7 deep in a 5 man rotation. Similarly, the season before that he suffered a relatively minor elbow injury and placed on IR rather than risk him being poached off the practice squad.
            And it is great to have two great edge rushers and two great interior rushers. KC had that same formula with Hali/Houston and Poe/Howard (and to a lesser extent DeVito and Bailey). Again, it’s good, but not a panacea. The rest of the roster needs to be able to compete.

          • Leanne Harrington

            Hevhad a knee scope near end of TC remember? And was slow getting back to the field. I thought they put him on IR before Manning was hurt/benched. But I could be wrong on that.

          • Dan333

            Beyond his pass rushing skills, Ware is also important to motivate and keep Von from getting in trouble. I don’t see how they can keep Jackson; just hope he doesn’t go to the Raiders.

        • SpringsGal

          Understand your point of view and it is probably the most likely outcome. I think this defense is so special and I hate to lose a couple of players and it affect the team chemistry.

          Julius Thomas was offered a contract by Elway and he rejected it. Then in free agency, chose to sign with Jaguars for more money. I wonder if that was worth it for Thomas. He could have been part of a Super Championship team right now instead of years of losing for a few extra dollars.

          I hope Malik will agree to a 4 year 40 million dollar contract (similar contract as Wolfe). You maybe lose 4 to 10 million dollars (over those 4 years) by resigning with Denver. But you get an opportunity to compete in big games, play for championships and make a name for yourself in the league. That is worth taking a paycut. Like what Chris Harris Jr. did.

          • anon76returns

            The team can’t afford the long term commitment on a $10M contract right now, unfortunately. On defense there’s already big contracts for Ward/CHJ/Talib/Ware/Wolfe, and the biggest one will be for Miller. That’s over half the starting D on a big contract, and with a likely 1st/2nd round tender, Marshall won’t be all that cheap either (and Sly/Ray/Roby all get first round $, too). There’s just not room to keep him, and the team needs to bring in new young talent or risk what happened to the Pittsburgh/Baltimore defenses.

      • Leanne Harrington

        This upcoming draft is deep with DEs. Likely will draft a replacement for Malik. They already offered him a contract and he turned it down. My guess is they’re not close enough to negotiate, or Malik wants to test FA. He wants a big deal and Elway doesn’t over pay. He’s likely gone.

  • Lane Trujillo

    Tackle will hopefully be filled up by Ryan Clady with a new lower cost deal. Put him on the left side and put 2015 Rookie Ty Sambrailo on the right side. Ty started on the left side this season until he tore his ACL. He should be back and healthy next season and for a rookie he played well on the left. Ty played all three positions on the line in College, he will be a starter somewhere on the line. I know Mathis graded out well, but early in the season he was horrible. He has played great later in the season and into the playoffs. He could be a cap causality. I’d like to see him stay for the right price. If not, we can move up Max Garcia from backup duty and make him the starter. He needs to work on his pass blocking but I believe he outperformed Mathis in run protection. Harris is also capable of playing Guard, place him opposite side (or even Ty) inside. Paradis will work with better end pieces.

    • anon76returns

      Mathis was actually the highest graded run-blocking guard in 2015- not just on the Broncos, but in the entire league. He had a poor game against Baltimore in the opener, but that was literally his first game action of any kind with his new teammates or in Kubiak’s system. I believe after that he graded positively in every single game, and certainly had a grade of 2.0+ in 7 games counting the SB. Other than being old, he’s probably the best OG in the entire league for the type of system Denver is running.

    • Tim Edell

      Max Garcia did definitely not outperform Mathis in the run game – simple turning on the All-22 for 10 minutes and you can figure that out.

    • Leanne Harrington

      Slight correction, Ty hurt his shoulder, Clady tore his acl. I’d like to see both Clady and Mathis back on reasonable deals. Our tackle play was so marginal, Clady could be an upgrade even not his former self. Then Schofield or Harris could be the swing tackle.

      To anon’s point, Mathis was signed right before the season, had to learn the playbook in a hurry, then had a nasty calf tear…supposedly his whole calf was red/bruised. Likely from not going through training camp. I think he’d be fine talent wise. It’s just a matter of what he wants…the most money, or stay with a contender. He could get more money from another contender, too, like Seattle who’s OL was even worse than Denver’s.

      Lots of teams need tackles, there’s a dearth of them, so if we can keep Clady, I think we should.

  • The Mysteries of Bob

    QB: draft class is poor, team will likely overpay Osweiler, even considering he will be percevied on free agency as a backup, day 3 draft pick for competition. Manning retires.

    RB: tender Anderson, let Hillman walk,

    Defense: tag Von, tender Marshall, someone will overpay Trevathan, let him walk for a compensatory pick, Demarcus Ware might be a cap casualty. Wolf resigning means Jackson will likely walk.

    OL: after he tore his ACL, I considered Clady all but gone since he has been overpaid to miss games and get mediocre production (over 40 pressures allowed in 2014), Mathis was a one year lease and is the oldest guard in the league, he is either gone or retires, Garcia will replace him, still needs a RT, can’t trust Schofield after the Khalil Mack beatdown and Sambrailo was below average and overmatched playing LT, albeit rookie tackles as usually really bad.

    • Leanne Harrington

      This is considered one of the deeper QB classes. If you think this is poor, then none will ever be “good”. Not many Andrew Luck’s around, unfortunately.

  • Rodrigo

    Im not sure if you guys ignore reports,but form what i know:
    Clady will take paycut
    Malik Jackson already declined an offer
    Trevathan wants the money and the Bears is a huge possibility.

  • NYG Fan

    How come the Giants don’t have an offseason to do list?

    • Mike J.

      I don’t think PFF has gotten to every club yet. I reckon Denver & Carolina were just,er, topical.

  • bobrulz

    I would love for them keep Malik Jackson, but I just don’t think the Broncos can afford to pay him. I guess it will come down to choosing between him and Trevathan. Hopefully they don’t lose both, but if they get huge offers, it might be for the best. Von Miller should obviously be re-signed for whatever they can pay him. I really don’t want to see Ware go, he obviously still has plenty left in the tank…if he can stay healthy.

    Offensively, it’s going to be trickier. They need to tender Anderson and let Hillman walk, and vigorously explore the position in the draft and . Offensive line is obviously the big question mark here. I think Mathis could be available for cheap given his age – and even last year he wasn’t in particularly high demand. Broncos might be able to get him on a very team-friendly 1 or 2 year deal. I don’t know what to do about Clady – he obviously hasn’t contributed, but given their struggles at tackle this season, it might be worth seeing if he’s willing to restructure. Then again, they could save a lot of money by cutting him.

    Peyton Manning should be gone either way. I would be shocked if he didn’t retire, but even if he doesn’t, Osweiler deserves a chance here. It’s probably worth somewhat overpaying Osweiler given how difficult it is to find a legitimate QB and the offers he’s likely to receive from teams like Houston and Cleveland. Siemian had a good preseason, but I think the Broncos still need to explore other options – perhaps a mid-round pick or a cheap, clear back-up veteran QB (perhaps somebody like a Drew Stanton or Tarvaris Jackson).

    I would really like to see a high pick for a receiver. There’s some legitimate questions about where Demaryius Thomas is at mentally right now, and Cody Latimer hasn’t developed at all.

    • Leanne Harrington

      Denver should be stocked at receiver next year. Fowler will have a year under his belt, and Jordan “Sunshine” Taylor on the practice squad got tons of extra work with Manning during his rehab. He looked promising at the beginning of TC but was just too raw. DT, Sanders, Latimer (who had rapport with Os), Fowler, and Taylor would be a nice stable of tall, fast WRs. Hopefully Heuerman is all that as a pass catching TE.

      I would hate to see Denver over pay for Osweiler, esp. guaranteed money. If he’s resigned, 2016 will tell whether he has it or not. If not, need to cut bait. I have concerns about his accuracy. That isn’t something that’s easily improved, especially after three to four years of practicing.

      Haha if Denver wants to sign a backup QB, they could target that guy on the Chiefs. He’s looked good in preseason and it would irk Chief fans to no end.

  • Tim Edell

    Would love to see Malik Jackson in a Bears uniform right next to Goldman!!

  • Matt

    I foresee Brock weighing his options and taking less money to win in Denver. CJ and Von will be back. Marshall will return as well. Then there’s a difficult decision of Malik or Danny. It’s hard to find defensive linemen who can rush the passer AND stuff the run. Sign Jackson and take a guy in the draft to replace Trevathan.

    I predict Elway will mastermind a trade to bring Joe Thomas in which means Clady’s gone. Possibly cut then resigned at a cheaper price. He’s athletic enough to play guard. Thomas, Mathias/Clady, Paradis, Vasquez/Garcia, Sambrailo/Clady.

  • ME

    I WANT CJ ANDERSON BACK!!! ONE OF MY FAVORITE PLAYERS!!!! I HOPE THEY RESIGN HIM¡¡¡

    • ME

      !!! not the upside-down ones ugh

  • Matthew

    Manning may agree to stay with Denver as a backup. I know that seems unfathomable, but he enjoys being in the locker room and the football life more than sitting at home. I think Denver will sign him for the veteran minimum with large incentives if he has to start.

  • Dan LaFontaine

    Let Manning retire/cut him by March 8th. Let Danny Trevathan test the waters and let him walk if the bids get too high to match (we develop inside linebackers in-house, Davis will be fine and much cheaper). Let Malik Jackson test the market and leave if the bidding gets over $12M/yr (if Malik leaves, start Kilgo at NG and move Sly Williams over to DE). Try to restructure Clady’s contract to no more than $4.5M/yr, if he and his agent are realistic they will take that offer due to his health history (if they do not take the offer, cut him). Try to restructure Ware’s deal, but do not get to crazy with it (Keep him even if it is at his current price). Resign Antonio Smith at a similar deal to last year (he is a very good veteran backup). Let V. Davis, D. Bruton, A. Caldwell, R. Harris, R. Hillman and O. Bolden walk. Now that you have created enough cap space… Sign Osweiler to no more than $12M/yr for 3 yrs ($10M/yr probably won’t do it due to the market – If he wants more, let him go and either sign a vet or go with Siemian – a simple no big mistakes game manager can win with this defence). Sign Von Miller to a long term deal and sign your other RFAs. Head into the draft with only one concern… Take the best guy available when we are on the clock (obviously within reason and need – top of draft board).