NEPD Staff Writer CJ Sousa
The sigh of relief from John Elway’s office once Peyton Manning announced he’ll make another go of it can be heard from the Rocky Mountains all the way to the East Coast.
Elway has done a nice job of building a formidable team behind Manning to compete for championships, but that would have all been for not after three Ring-less seasons and an abysmal showing in the divisional round vs Manning’s old stomping grounds Indianapolis.
The Broncos have been active players in the Free Agency market over the last few years, and have built a championship caliber team around Manning. To understand their offseason this year and beyond, you must understand their 2014 offseason.
Fans always scream for their teams to go “ALL IN BABY!” in the offseason, no matter the sport. For Denver, it seemed to make sense. Manning was 36 years old when the Broncos signed him, and they knew the window of opportunity for a Super Bowl was small.
After reaching the game’s biggest stage – Super Bowl 49 – and getting absolutely obliterated, the thirst for a Lombardi trophy was just intensified. Combine that with some cap space, and you essentially have a twelve year old managing a team’s roster on a Xbox.
Big money – and I mean BIG money – was dished out to help an already pretty good defense. Aqib Talib was poached from New England, but came with the Pretty Penny cost of 6 years $57 million with $25.5 million guaranteed. The 29 year old is not up for Free Agency until 2020, and most likely can’t be cut due to dead cap hits until 2017 or 2018 at the earliest.
T.J. Ward was brought in to help sure up the back end of the secondary. He inked a 4 year $22.5 million contract with over half – $14 million – guaranteed. He isn’t up for Free Agency until 2018.
And you can’t forget about my personal favorite – the once great and now expendable DeMarcus Ware. He signed a 3 year $30 million deal – and he is safe on the roster until at least 2016 due to his $10,333,334 2015 dead cap hit.
What proved to be their best signing last year by far was Emmanuel Sanders, and his modest 3 year $15 million deal. He proved to be a significant upgrade over Eric Decker, especially when you consider Decker’s 5 year $36.25 million signing with the Jets.
The Broncos seemed poised for a Super Bowl run. Elway knew the contracts of Demaryius Thomas, Pot Roast Knighton, Julius Thomas, Chris Harris, Orlando Franklin, Rahim Moore were all in the near future. He also knew Von Miller, Manny Ramirez, Danny Trevathan, Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson were all in the near distant future.
If they won it all last year, nobody would have cared about the risky spending. Elway would have been dubbed a genius while Peyton Manning would have gotten’ some G.O.A.T. talk and likely gone off to the sunset.
Those dreams crashed to Earth when Manning was clearly not 100% in the playoffs and the Colts beat down Denver at Mile High. Now we have a potential salary cap nightmare on our hands.
Demaryius Thomas received the franchise tag and rightfully so. After dishing out big money extensions to Ryan Clady ( 5yr/ $52.5M) and Chris Harris (5yr/ $42.5M) the Broncos simply didn’t have enough capital to pay the star wide out. Instead the plan is to franchise Thomas and when Manning retires, ink Thomas to a long term deal.
When thinking of the long term deal Thomas could receive, it could rival Calvin Johnson’s mega pact of 7 years $113,450,000. I would guess Thomas’ deal comes in at around 6 years $90 million in the future.
Past Thomas, the Broncos lost a lot of key assets this offseason. It simply is the product of pushing all of your chips in the middle, as Denver did last year. The NFL isn’t really about 11 v 11 of men trying to tackle, run, and score. It’s a numbers game – if you haven’t caught the common theme of this article already.
Pot Roast Knighton bolted for Washington. Julius Thomas will be paired with Marcedes Lewis to form one of the better tight end combinations in the league in Jacksonville. Orlando Franklin will be suiting up for division rival San Diego next year, and Rahim Moore joins JJ Watt and Vince Wilfork in Houston to help sure up their secondary.
TE Jacob Tamme will be playing in Atlanta next season. SS Quinton Carter and WR Wes Welker still remain a free agents.
The best free agent acquisitions thus far have been productive TE Owen Daniels, DT Vance Walker and OG Shelley Smith. I personally think Daniels is a great find and will be very productive next year given a healthy #18.
Draft Needs – RT, DT, QB, S, OG
I list five pressing needs for the Broncos. In most occasions, that would scream a rebuilding team or what not. However with Denver that certainly is not the case, as they expect to compete for a Super Bowl next season.
Why RT: I just don’t believe Chris Clark should and will be the starting RT for the Broncos. The team has one of the best blind side protectors in the game in Ryan Clady, so patching up the right side would be ideal for Manning’s last title quest.
Why DT: This is arguably the most obvious need on the team. With Wade Phillips and his 3-4 system being established, Pot Roast Knighton would have been a beautiful fit. As we know from the math lesson earlier, Pot Roast will be dining with Dan Snyder this year which creates a big need at the nose position.
Why QB: Peyton Manning, presumably speaking, will be playing the last year of his career this year. Best case scenario for football fans everywhere he plays two more seasons. The Broncos need to make a serious decision on the progress of Brock Osweiler – and soon. His rookie deal is nearing as he is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Ultimately, I believe it is in the Broncos best interest to seriously consider drafting one of the top 3-4 quarterbacks in this class.
Why S: Rahim Moore gets bashed by the fans, media and most writers such as myself largely in part due to his inability to knock a pass down late in the 2013 divisional round match up with the Baltimore Ravens. It was a horrid mistake, but past that Moore has been one of the most consistent defensive backs in the Broncos secondary in recent years. I believe he will be missed next year by those Broncos fans still angry about the 2013 Ravens game, especially if a solid safety isn’t taken this year.
Why OG: The least pressing of the five needs, but a need nonetheless. I believe it is possible to upgrade over Jon Halapio and Shelley Smith in this draft. As I said earlier, if this is Manning’s last hurrah, Denver should do everything in their power to solidify the offensive line and keep #18 upright.
With the 28th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft…
Denver can go a lot of different ways here. Overall, the Broncos own 10 picks (a pick in every round – 2 5’s 3 7’s) which allows them to be aggressive with one of the top available players other than a specific need.
Oklahoma DT Jordan Phillips is a pretty nice fit in my eyes. His tape isn’t overly impressive to say the least, so I understand the criticisms. This could turn out to be one of the biggest boom or bust picks in the entire draft however, so I think Phillips is worth the risk. Great mobility for his massive 6’5 330 lbs frame. Shows great ability to bull the centers backwards as well as quick feet and hands to slide by interior linemen. He’d be very intriguing to me.
Iowa DT Carl Davis is another interesting guy for me as his tools and traits will translate nicely into Wade Phillips’ system. Similar to Phillips, Davis is a massive individual at 6’5 320lbs. I would say he’s even better at shedding lineman then Phillips as he shows outstanding athleticism. He struggles when he gets too high off the line, which I think can and will be corrected.
To me, OT T.J. Clemmings might be the most ideal scenario for Denver. I believe he can play right away as he is one of the most athletic lineman in this draft. He may not be around when Denver is on the clock, but if he is I think the former Pittsburgh Panthers’ star would be a great fit and should be deeply considered.
Another athletic OT I like as a solid fit for Denver is Florida LT D.J. Humphries. He’s a little more raw in my eyes then Clemmings but certainly could fit the bill as the next Denver RT. Humphries is quick off the snap and highly athletic for his size compared to other OT’s. He is another one who may not make it to the Broncos pick, but would be a solid choice if he did.
This would be a shocker to most – not to me. QB Brett Hundley, first round pick, future of the Denver Broncos. Hear me out before you throw the fruit my way. Hundley – clearly – has all of the physical traits you want in a quarterback going forward. He struggles with consistency and the overall mental aspect of the game, and isn’t ready to be a NFL starting quarterback. With a year of learning under Manning, who knows, Denver could get the ultimate steal of the first round. Denver could even get a stop-gap quarterback after Manning until Hundley could be ready as he is still just 21 years old and is one of the youngest players in the draft. Obviously, this doesn’t help them win right away, which is why this pick is unlikely.
Past the first round, a few names stand out to me as targets for the Broncos. Ohio State TE Jeff Heuerman would be a nice middle round fit. Don’t look at last year’s stats for him as they are worthless to me. Heuerman is going to be a good solid pro and would make an immediate impact in both the run and pass game.
Virginia Tech versatile safety Kyshoen Jarrett could fit the billing as the mid-round safety the Broncos are looking for. Asked to play a variety of roles at Va Tech, Jarrett is well rounded and an underrated prospect in this draft. Two other safeties I like as potential prospects here are TCU’s Chris Hackett and Virginia’s Anthony Harris.
At some point, some linebacker help will be needed as well. Look for a mid to late round fix at this position. A pair of Georgia backers in Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera could fit that billing. Another late round guy I would like here is Alabama ILB Trey DePriest.
If you read my Chargers piece a few weeks back, the ending has been spoiled for you. I believe San Diego – with Phillip Rivers at quarterback – will win the AFC West this season. Denver should be one of the two wild card teams at the very least.
It will be interesting to see if Peyton Manning can recapture some of that 2014 magic where the passing offense was near unstoppable before the Super Bowl, or if we will see more of the same from the porous effort against the Colts last winter.
If Denver has any aspirations of a Super Bowl, Peyton Manning will have to be an MVP caliber quarterback again to hide the flaws caused by massive free agent spending recently.
The Patriots travel to Denver for Sunday Night Football on November 29 – following a Monday Night tilt with Buffalo.
Next on Eyes on the Competition – those New York Jets
This article would not have been possible without the phenomenal work done by the guys at spotrac. I encourage you to take a peak for any salary cap questions.