The pilot episode of the new-look Denver Broncos, starring new QB Joe Flacco, hasn’t exactly gone as planned. While the Broncos were a tough team last year, they were expected to make the leap towards the playoffs this year under new head coach Vic Fangio and with Flacco’s addition.
The team’s 0-4 start has gone on to haunt them, though. That is despite them winning 3 of their next 5 and currently sitting at 3-6 in the tough AFC West. With Kansas City and Oakland both having at least a .500 record, and the Chargers finally playing good football during a two-game winning streak, a top 10 draft pick seems more likely than a miraculous finish and first playoff berth since 2015.
Joe Flacco’s campaign is finished as he is now on the IR list, while a torn ACL has put an end to LB Bradley Chubb’s second season in the NFL. Fangio, whose position may be safe for now, doesn’t have the deepest of rosters even considering Brandon Allen’s impressive rise to the occasion. However, with most of the credit going to the defensive unit, the Broncos need very little to become a factor in the AFC again. General manager John Elway awaits a crucial offseason, and here are some moves he could consider:
Re-sign Chris Harris and Derek Wolfe at all costs
Denver’s payroll situation is very favorable for a team that might plan an aggressive approach in the market. The Broncos have $70 million available for 2020 with very few of their key pieces leaving. The most notable players with expiring deals are CB Chris Harris, DE Derek Wolfe, DT Shelby Harris DE Adam Gotsis.
It’s of great importance that the Broncos get back as many pieces from a strong defense as possible. Denver’s D is top 10 in least allowed yards per game and least allowed points per game, with their passing defense leading them down that path – only three other teams allow less through the air than Denver’s 202. That’s without offseason acquisition cornerback Bryce Callahan.
That’s why Chris Harris is top re-signing priority next summer while Derek Wolfe is most worth a big paycheck out of the three D-Line starters that are slated to become free agents. The 29-year-old end has accumulated 5 team-leading 5 sacks. If they are able to get them both back, that probably means goodbye to Shelby Harris and Gotsis, but keeping Von Miller, who returns on a possible club option, and Wolfe minimizes the losses.
Acquire O-Line reinforcements
A struggling offensive line, which has allowed 30 sacks, has some good news to hear next year as it will have RT Ja’Wuan James healthy (fingers crossed) for a full season as he last played in Week 2 against the Colts. Meanwhile, guard Ron Leary has a club option that the team could exercise.
But overall if there’s something that Elway needs to fully rebuild, that’s not the team – it’s pretty obviously the offensive line. The draft has some pretty good opportunities in that field, and we’ll get to that later. Redskins guard Bradon Scherff would be a real steal in free agency, but the two-time Pro Bowler has made it clear that he wants stay in America’s capital beyond his rookie contract.
Another eye-opening asset is Colts LT Anthony Castonzo who, if Indy lets him go, would fix a problematic place at left tackle where former first-rounder Garrett Bolles has struggled. He’s played better as of late but Castonzo would bring a turnaround as opposed to what Mile High fans have gotten used to this year. Bolles isn’t necessarily losing his starting position – he could move to right tackle but it’s likely he will be benched whatever direction the Broncos head into.
Draft prospects that suit Broncos’ needs
The 2020 Draft, apart from 3 very dynamic QBs and a trifecta of potential first-round running backs in De’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor and Najee Harris, consists almost fully of players that would suit the Broncos’ two biggest needs the best – offensive linemen and wide receivers.
If the Broncos indeed stay in the range of 10th overall pick, they might be able to land Stanford OT Walker Little, with two other tackles projected to go with the first ten picks. If all three are off the board, a plethora of wide receivers is available, particularly Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb.
The draft pool also includes many tempting defensive line options, so it might be good for the Broncos to draft O-Linemen and D-Linemen early on, and get a “cheap”, yet productive receiver such as LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase in the middle rounds.
Spend big on AJ Green
The Broncos need wide receivers. After Emmanuel Sanders’ trade, Courtland Sutton is the only reliable option left, and that obviously needs to change even with a prolific running game. A.J. Green is surely not going to return to the Bengals, and could settle for something in the range of $20-$25 million a year. With at least $70 million available, that wouldn’t be a problem for Denver.
Even if Green has to work with a QB he has no chemistry with, and even if Flacco never returns to his former self, Green has made a living being a playmaker for a guy like Andy Dalton who, for the most of his career, has been solid but not great. His injury history is the only concerning part of the equation.
Get Lock ready to take the field
And after we mentioned that Flacco wasn’t at his best while healthy in his 7 games, there’s no guarantee he won’t break down in his second year. The Broncos need to get Drew Lock, a 2019 draft pick out of Missouri, ready to relieve Flacco as they continue to believe they have something special in Lock.
What happens if Brandon Allen absolutely shacks everyone this season and wins 4-5 games? Does he get to stay over Lock? That’s very doubtful, despite John Elway being stubborn about him not being ready for the pro game. One think’s for sure – if Brandon Allen continues to win, and the Broncos somehow are alive in the playoff race again – we won’t see Drew Lock take the field after he’s activated from the IR.