The 2017 NFL season was an utter failure and disappointment for players, coaches and fans alike. Despite their being no easy way to sugar coat such a year, the way to success has been shown through the mistakes made this season. The first changes to the team have already started with the firing of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and picking Bill Musgrave to replace him. Former head coach Gary Kubiak who is a senior personnel adviser , will now take a hand into the free agency period and the upcoming draft. Kubiak over the years has a real eye for player talent and could certainly improve the team. Between the draft and free agency only being two months away; the Broncos, with the help of GM John Elway and Kubiak could find themselves poised to make another run next year at a division title.
Until next season starts however, its time to take a look at the teams immediate needs:
It all starts with the offensive line, plain and simple. With a great offensive line, a running game will go from decent to incredible. Also with an offensive line, a quarterback can get more time in the passing game. The offensive line was improved last year over the previous year. This was largely in part to picking up Ronald Leary during free agency from Dallas; as well as drafting Garett Bolles. Leary was incredible and a complete stud the entire year despite having some nagging injuries. Bolles has been a true improvement at left tackle. Yes he has had some trouble with false starts and other penalties; but this is primarily due to his inexperience at the position. With another year under his belt this should change.
Two years ago the Broncos tried to fix their right tackle position by signing Donald Stephenson in free agency. He was not the solution and after a bad season, the Broncos decided to keep him while also signing Menelik Watson. This past season has been an embarrassment at the right tackle position. Its shown that neither Watson nor Stephenson has what it takes to be the starting right tackle. The best option for the Broncos is to look to the draft for the solution. In previous articles I have mentioned the possibilities of the Broncos drafting either Orlando Brown out of Oklahoma or Quentin Nelson from Notre Dame. I still think these guys would be great options, however Nelson would have to switch from the guard to the tackle position which could be challenging.
No surprise to anyone who has been following the team in recent years; Denver needs a franchise quarterback who can lead the team for years to come. The Broncos have struggled to find someone since Peyton Manning announced his retirement following the 2015 Super Bowl win. In the 2016 draft, the team selected Paxton Lynch in the first round from Memphis. So far, this pick has not panned out in any way. He has the size and arm but seems to lack the knowledge that it takes to transition from college to the NFL. I’m not sure if the Broncos will move on from him, but I look to see the team keep him on the roster just in case.
The problem left with Denver is what to do with Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian. Both have had good and bad games last season, but Siemians year seemed to have been 2016. The good news is that all three players salaries are under a combined total of $4 million. Osweiler is a free agent once the new league year starts though. Denver also has rookie Chad Kelly on injured reserve as well. The next question is do the Broncos go for a free agent veteran quarterback in free agency?With a number of big name players up for grabs, the odds would be in the Broncos favor but only if the price is right. Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum are a few names that have contracts up. First off I think Brees is off the board automatically. He is 39 and will either retire after this season or stay with the Saints on a team friendly deal. Although Cousins has been rumored to be a suitable landing spot for Denver, I feel this won’t happen. He simply will cost too much and it is highly unlikely that Elway will put all his money into one player when other people on the team need deals as well.
As with the right tackle issue, it seems to me that the best option for QB look to be in the 2018 Draft. In a previous article I wrote about three options in the draft and they were Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen. I will choose to change my picks for the Broncos given how the college bowl games played out. The best prospect of the bunch appears to be Baker Mayfield. The kid has talent and a certain swagger about him that would do the Broncos a lot of good. Despite his size and hands, it would appear that the Broncos are interested in him. They will get a good chance to interact with him in this years Senior Bowl. The other player they may target is Josh Allen. Elway traveled to Boise Idaho to watch the Idaho Potato Bowl in person. He also went to see Darnolds Lackluster game as well. Rosen is out of the contention because he did not play in his bowl game due to injury. I would think they try and snag Mayfield in the first round of the draft depending on how he performs in the Senior Bowl and at the NFL Combine as well.
Currently the Broncos have an issue at tight end. They haven’t had a playmaker at the position since Julius Thomas left for Jacksonville in free agency a handful of years ago. While they let AJ Derby go this year, he was their most productive player which was a head scratcher for many fans, Denver still has Jake Butt, Austin Traylor, Jeff Heuerman and Virgil Green. Green has been their predominantly blocking tight end and is set for free agency in March. Heuerman hasn’t really panned out so far as a player so his future is unsure. Butt was placed on injured reserve and has yet to see the field yet.
The Broncos may get rid of a few of their tight ends between now and the start of the regular season in 2018. It would make sense to keep Butt and wait to see how he plays once fully healthy. Green may be kept given that he could be on a team friendly deal. Traylor may be used as depth, while the other solution could be in free agency. The biggest name in free agency would be Jimmy Graham. It would be unwise for the Broncos to pick him up simply due to his price tag he carries from Seattle as well as not having a suitable quarterback to throw to him. Who knows crazier things have happened though.
The Denver Broncos were dreadful in 2017 and finished at 5-11 which was good enough for last place in the AFC West and a 5th overall draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The good news is that from the fiery failure of the season, the teams needs have become very well known. With these needs met between free agency and the draft, this once Super Bowl team can rise from the ashes and yet again fight for the AFC West title spot. The areas of concern with this team are the offensive line, specifically right tackle; quarterback and tight end as well. With new coaching staff and the combined powers of GM John Elway and advisor Gary Kubiak; the future of this team looks bright for 2018.