This spring and summer, the Broncos can ensure a more successful 2013 campaign—one that lasts deep into the playoffs—by owning the offseason. By using a smart free-agency approach, re-signing the right players, executing on draft day and implementing schemes that fit the team, the Broncos can dominate the offseason, setting them up to dominate in 2013 (beyond just the regular season).
To have a successful offseason, the team will have to set its priorities straight.
Denver's top priority should be ensuring that fifth-year Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady does not leave in free agency. Whether locking him up long term or slapping him with their franchise tag, the Broncos cannot afford to lose Clady.
A 6'6", 315-pound tackle out of Boise State, Clady has started all 80 games the Broncos have played since the team drafted him in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft. Last season, he allowed just one sack while quarterback Peyton Manning broke everyone of the franchise's major single-season passing records.
It would cost the Broncos about $9.6 million to place a one-year franchise tag on Clady this offseason, according to NFL.com (via BT). Tagging Clady seems to be the team's most likely play at this point.
Last month, Clady had to skip out on the 2013 Pro Bowl to have right shoulder surgery (which was first reported by the Denver Post). With Clady due to undergo rehab throughout much of the team's offseason program, the team may not be comfortable with committing to him long term.
"Shoulder is doing well guys," Clady informed fans on his Facebook page Tuesday morning before adding, "Thanks for all of the prayers!"
Placing the tag on Clady would ensure that he would stay in Denver for at least one more season; signing him to a long-term deal would help prevent a logjam of star players—including Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller—all becoming free agents at the same time in the coming years.
Either way, the Broncos need to get Clady locked away for the 2013 season. His presence on the offensive line is invaluable and the Broncos do not have another tackle on the roster capable of stepping in and playing at the same high level.
In addition to Clady, the Broncos will have a host of other players due to hit free agency. Over a dozen players will have their contracts expiring at season's end, and Denver has around $18.5 million in cap room to work with.
The notable names include receiver Brandon Stokley (who wants to come back), center Dan Koppen and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. (More on those players and how Denver can go about signing them can be read in our Blueprint for a Denver Broncos Super Bowl Run in 2013-2014 piece.)
In addition to re-signing players with expiring contracts, the team may also consider restructuring quarterback Peyton Manning's contract. According to Rotoworld, Manning is due about $20 million next season.
If the team can work out a cheaper deal with Peyton, they'll create more cash to spend on other players.
Another subject that was addressed in our Broncos 2013-14 Super Bowl run piece was how the Broncos made smart—not splashy—free-agent signings last offseason.
The team simply doesn't have the cap room to sign Wes Welker, Reggie Bush and Dwayne Bowe in the offseason. The Broncos do, however, have enough room to make quality signings that will improve the team.
The best way to build a team is through the draft. The Broncos, while plugging holes through free agency, should ultimately build around quarterback Peyton Manning through the draft.
Manning, of course, was brought in through free agency, but the team can't count on buying their way to a Super Bowl by bringing in a multitude big-name free agents (isn't that right, Philadelphia?).
There will be a host of offensive weapons available when the Broncos select 28th overall (if they don't trade down), and even if they go defensive with the first pick, there will still be talented skill players left in the later rounds of the draft. Some of the Broncos' offensive targets may include Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope and Arkansas State running back Michael Dyer.
A few defenders that may be available at No. 28 include LSU linebacker Kevin Minter, Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.
Draft day will be exciting, as always, and the Broncos currently have six selections to use.
Last month, the San Diego Chargers hired away Denver's former offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, to be their next head coach. To replace McCoy, the Broncos promoted quarterbacks coach Adam Gase as the team's new offensive coordinator.
When it's all said and done, McCoy's departure may have actually been a blessing in disguise, especially if Gase is given the power to implement the plans he has for Denver's offense.
“Philosophy-wise, (I will be) putting our players in the best position to succeed," Gase said last month. "Our offense is really looking to dictate what the defense does and not react to what they’re doing. The pace of the game, we’re looking to play as fast as possible and put Peyton Manning in a position to play as fast as he can play.”
Last season, the Broncos offense often suffered from conservative play-calling, which some argue ultimately led to them being knocked out of the playoffs. This offseason, executive John Elway should inform coach John Fox to let Gase have full control of Peyton and the offense.
Under Fox's ultimate authority over the offense, the Broncos often punted on 4th-and-1 situations inside an opponent's 50-yard line, chose draw plays on 3rd-and-long downs and ran in obvious passing situations last season. In 2013, Fox's influence on the offense should decrease.
Gase wants to run a fast-paced, aggressive offense. Let him!
The Broncos don't have to tell us (and their future opponents) who will be the running back next season, but they need to start planning who will be competing for the job right now.
Will the team bring back veteran Willis McGahee? What about Knowshon Moreno?
Both McGahee, who fumbled often last season before suffering a serious knee injury, and Moreno, who played well to finish the season, are under contract for 2013. But McGahee is quickly aging and Moreno has never fully lived up to his expectations in Denver.
Second-year running back Ronnie Hillman will provide a nice option in the backfield, but he is not yet ready to be an every-down back. The team needs to decide soon if McGahee or Moreno (or both) will be coming back next season.
If one, or both, McGahee and Moreno are going to be cut or traded, the team needs to bring in at least one more running back this offseason. No matter what their plans are for the running backs currently under contract, the Broncos could use another back.
Having a good idea of who their RB of 2013 will be will help the team when making transactions this summer.
Denver's front office has emphatically stated that second-year quarterback Brock Osweiler is their quarterback of the future. OK.
But if Peyton Manning went down during the regular season, would the team go with Osweiler as the starter? How far away do the Broncos think the future is?
If Peyton had been injured last season, the Broncos, especially under experience-loving coach John Fox, probably would have brought in a veteran to replace him. Osweiler was listed on the depth chart as the No. 2 QB, but Fox has never been a big fan of starting young quarterbacks (in 2009, Fox watched Jake Delhomme throw eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions through 11 games before finally starting Matt Moore for the final five games, in which he threw eight touchdowns against just two interceptions).
So, if the team really believes Brock is the No. 2 today, that's great. It still wouldn't hurt to bring in some more quarterback depth in the offseason, though.
And if the team wouldn't start Brock if Peyton were to go down, they should consider bringing in a veteran like Derek Anderson. Either way, the team needs to have a plan.
What do you think the Broncos' top priorities of the offseason should be? Share them in the comments below!