The Denver Broncos just compiled a 13-3 regular season record and represented the AFC in the Super Bowl. It would seem that making significant changes would not be necessary for another run at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.
John Elway has stated several times that it is his philosophy to build through the draft. That is ideal, but the Broncos will need the draft and free agency to fill several holes on both sides of the ball. The defense left a lot to be desired last season and is in need of upgrades at all three position groups. The defense accounts for two of the top three offseason needs.
The top three needs are cornerback, middle linebacker and wide receiver, for next season and beyond.
Priority #1: Cornerback
Cornerback is the number one priority due the uncertainty with almost every player at the position and the need for better depth players.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Quentin Jammer are unrestricted free agents. Chris Harris and Tony Carter are restricted free agents. Champ Bailey’s large contract makes him a huge question mark for next season. In short, it is possible that Kayvon Webster will be the only CB on the roster when the dust settles. Webster did well as a rookie and will be even better in his second season. Hopefully, he will win the #2 cornerback spot.
Even if DRC, Harris and Bailey return, cornerback is still a significant need, especially for the future. How the Broncos fill this need really depends on which of these players return. If only Webster remains on the roster, the Broncos will be forced to go after free agents to fill the void and still must draft at least one CB. Preferably all three return and the Broncos can focus on the draft to add a future starter and depth at the position.
To retain DRC the Broncos will have to pay him big money, making it doubtful they will attempt an additional big splash free agent signing at cornerback. Two possible lower tier free agents they could bring in are Walter Thurmond and Captain Munnerlyn. These two are slot corner type players and could fill the void if Harris needs more time to heal from his ACL tear. Another option could be Terrell Thomas. He has an injury history, but came back to play a full season last year. It is possible they could bring him in on a one year deal. He can contribute on the outside as depth or as a starter if Webster does not progress as expected.
Finding a cornerback in round one of the draft carrying a first round grade will be highly unlikely as those players will be long gone by the 31st pick. The Broncos could find a solid prospect in round two or three. Loucheiz Pourifoy and Pierre Desir are two candidates, but patience with both would be necessary as they refine their technique and develop into quality starters. Either would be solid selections to build for the future.
Priority #2: Middle Linebacker
Wesley Woodyard is not going to be on the Broncos’ roster next year. Furthermore, he was out of position playing MLB. Paris Lenon is not the answer either. The Broncos had hopes that Nate Irving would win the starting MLB job, but has failed to do so because he has trouble working through all the traffic in the middle to make plays.
Steven Johnson is one intriguing player on the roster. The undrafted linebacker made a great goal line stop in the Chiefs game and a few other good plays when he got his chance, but for whatever reason he doesn’t earn more playing time. Maybe he just needs more development. He may step into the MLB role, but that is far from certain.
The Broncos need to use a draft pick on a three down MLB. In the second round of the draft they should take Yawin Smallwood if he is there at #63. He has the look of a three down middle linebacker with the potential to be an impact player. If the Broncos would rather use free agency they should go after Karlos Dansby on a short-term deal.
Priority #3: Wide Receiver
Eric Decker is as good as gone. A big payday and a different jersey are inevitable. Andre Caldwell could fill in to replace some of Decker’s production, but he too could follow Decker out the door via free agency this offseason. Wes Welker has one year left on a two year deal and I doubt the Broncos will extend his contract.
Gerell Robinson has spent time on the Broncos’ practice squad and has the look of a possession-type receiver to replace Decker. He has not made the active roster in the past two years, but his best opportunity to do just that will be in 2014. His lack of top end speed hurts him and he must learn to get off the line of scrimmage. This may be why the Broncos have recently listed him as tight end instead of receiver.
Whether Caldwell comes back or not, the Broncos should look to the draft for the future at this position. They need a #2 receiver to replace Decker and a slot receiver to learn behind Welker. Wide receiver is not a high enough priority to grab one in the first round of the draft and an impact player for the defense makes more sense for that selection. Two players who could fit the bill in the later rounds are Donte Moncrief (#2 receiver) and Michael Campanaro (slot receiver).
With more than 50 unrestricted free agents at WR, the Broncos can find someone to produce for a year or two if they decide to go that route.
The Broncos other needs are guard, center, defensive end and defensive tackle.