Denver Broncos: 5 Offseason Stories to Watch
We're literally weeks away from free agency beginning on March 12, with the NFL draft beginning on April 25.
It's safe to say the NFL offseason is almost in full swing.
The Denver Broncos have been preparing for their offseason since mid-January, when they unexpectedly lost to the fourth-seeded Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs. Since that loss, former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy left to go coach division rival San Diego, while John Elway and company have scouted and studied college players since season's end.
It's up to the 2013 Denver Broncos to do what the 2012 Denver Broncos could not do—finish the job.
Here are five offseason stories to watch as we enter the thick of the NFL offseason in the coming weeks.
How Do the Broncos Rebound from Losing to Baltimore?
This is the biggest question to ask as the Broncos enter the offseason with one of the most heartbreaking losses in NFL history on their minds for the next seven months before they finally take the field again for an NFL game that matters.
Denver lost to Baltimore 38-35 in double overtime on January 12. It might have been the worst loss in Broncos history, simply because nobody really expected the Ravens to actually beat the Broncos. Denver had won 11 straight games to finish the regular season, and they won each of them rather convincingly—Denver won each of those 11 games by at least a touchdown.
Compound that with the fact that the Broncos were the betting favorites for Super Bowl champions entering the postseason, along with the fashion in which Denver lost the game—Rahim Moore's boneheaded play, for example—and you have the makings of a game that ranks right up there with the divisional round playoff loss to the second-year Jacksonville Jaguars in the '96-97 playoffs.
Luckily, the Broncos don't play in too tough of a division, and as mentioned before, they are already the popular betting favorites yet again as we look forward to 2013.
The question is, will the loss to the Ravens weigh heavily on the Broncos' minds, or will they be able to move on from it with ease?
Will the AFC West Improve from Prior Seasons?
It seemed like the rest of the AFC West improved, and the offseason hasn't even really begun yet.
We have no idea what will take place through free agency and the NFL draft that could change the landscape of the AFC West.
However, with these two hires of coaches with solid resumes—especially in the case of Reid—it isn't far-fetched to expect both the Chiefs (2-14 record in 2012; worst record in the NFL) and the Chargers (7-9 in 2012) to improve in 2013 and provide more of a challenge to the defending AFC West champions.
Having said that, the question is, will these teams improve enough to the point where they can compete with the Broncos for AFC West supremacy?
It'll be a story to watch during the offseason as the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders all look to improve from recent seasons of mediocrity.
How Will the Broncos Make Their Mark Through Free Agency?
With the Broncos likely placing a $9.6 million franchise tag on Ryan Clady any day now, Denver will have $5 million in cap space.
Knowing how NFL teams operate, expect the Broncos to cut a few veterans and restructure a few contracts in order to free up more cap space so they can sign a couple of impact players through free agency.
Who has popped up on the Broncos' radar this offseason?
Safety Ed Reed, who recently won his first Super Bowl with the team that he's played for for the past 11 seasons, is due to become a free agent. With the Ravens having virtually no spending money this offseason and with their priorities being focused on re-signing Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, expect the Ravens to allow Reed to walk.
The question is, will the Broncos want to sign a soon-to-be 35-year-old player to replace the soon-to-be 32-year-old Mike Adams?
Or would Denver prefer to sign a younger alternative, such as Bills free agent safety Jairus Byrd?
Names such as Wes Welker have also popped up, but don't expect the Broncos to set their sights on Welker with their current salary cap situation. The Broncos will likely re-sign slot receiver Brandon Stokley rather than go after the big name.
It should be interesting to see just who Denver decides to target when free agency begins on March 12.
Which Position Will Denver Address with Their First Overall Pick?
The Broncos will draft with the 28th overall pick during the first round of the NFL draft on April 25.
Denver traded away their first-round draft pick to New England in 2012 before trading New England's first-round draft pick to Tampa Bay to drop down to No. 36. With the 36th overall pick, the Broncos drafted Derek Wolfe, who wound up becoming Denver's starting left defensive end for the entire 2012 season.
The Broncos have pressing concerns—mainly concerning depth.
They have issues at running back, defensive tackle, offensive line and safety.
The two most glaring ones are probably running back and defensive tackle.
Denver has three running backs under contract for next season, and those three running backs are Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman.
The problem is, nobody knows if any of those guys are capable of being Denver's starting tailback for 2013.
McGahee is 32 years of age and added another serious knee injury to a career of serious knee injuries in 2012. Moreno has never proven to be a go-to-guy. And Hillman was never drafted with the intention of making him a full-time running back.
However, defensive tackle could also become an issue, as both of Denver's starting defensive tackles from 2012—Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan—are set to enter free agency.
Mock drafts have the Broncos going defensive tackle with their first overall pick, with the names varying from Jonathan Hankins of Ohio State to Sylvester Williams of North Carolina to Sharrif Floyd of Florida.
The Broncos can't afford to use a pick for the sake of contributing in the future as they did with Brock Osweiler in 2012.
With their first overall pick in 2013, the Broncos need to draft a player—whether that's defensive tackle or running back or any other position of need—that can contribute right away as Peyton Manning's career comes to a close.
Peyton Manning's Legacy
Speaking of Peyton Manning, after Denver's gut-wrenching loss to Baltimore in the playoffs, there were many questions that were brought back from the dead about Peyton Manning's "legacy."
Manning is a four-time NFL MVP winner—the only one in NFL history—and is second in every major statistical passing category. He also has one Super Bowl trophy to go along with a Super Bowl MVP award.
However, Peyton does sport a 9-11 career record in the postseason, which is tied for most losses in NFL postseason history by an individual quarterback.
It was Manning's eighth one-and-done playoff loss. And it might have been the most painful of all considering the way that it happened.
There will be different arguments and viewpoints whenever this topic is brought up. Some people will defend Manning by attributing his losses to other factors such as the defense or the kicker on his team; some will blame him by pointing out his less-than-impressive track record and resume in big games.
One thing is for certain, and that one thing is that Manning's legacy—even though he has already won a Super Bowl—is up for debate yet again after this latest shortcoming in the postseason.
The question is, will Manning further add to his legacy, or will he further damage it as we enter the twilight years of Peyton's football career?