The Denver Broncos hosted John Abraham and Dwight Freeney on Thursday as options to replace Elvis Dumervil. It’s widely believed that one of the two will end up with the New England Patriots, leaving the other to sign with the Broncos or elsewhere.
Von Miller is amazing, but if the Broncos don’t bring in another pass-rusher he’ll be slowed down by constant double teams. Interest in two established pass-rushers makes sense because the Broncos know they have a small window of opportunity with Peyton Manning as their quarterback and with Miller playing on his rookie contract.
The Broncos are looking for immediate and dependable production, but Dumervil, Abraham and Freeney aren’t the only options. Dumervil will probably be the most expensive because he’s the youngest. Abraham might even be the best choice outside of Dumervil, but he’s also one of the oldest.
The Broncos are being thorough according to Michelle Beisner of NFL Network, which is the smart thing to do. There are more options than just Dumervil, Abraham and Freeney available to the Broncos. Even if Dumervil were to sign with the Ravens and Abraham with the Patriots, the Broncos don’t have to settle on Freeney.
Here are the five players the Broncos should consider signing to replace Dumervil (if they can't re-sign him).
Israel Idonije has only been a starter for the last three years, but he’s been with the Chicago Bears for virtually his entire career. In his three years as a starter Idonije has averaged seven sacks. Idonije was credited with 3.5 fewer sacks than Dumervil in 2012 in about 300 fewer snaps.
Idonije is also a solid run defender and even played some defensive tackle for the Bears. He’s not a pure pass-rusher, but he’s been extremely productive opposite Julius Peppers. Idonije will not cost as much as some of the other options and he’s also more versatile.
With the money saved by not signing a big-name free agent, the Broncos could add another player if they desired. The Broncos stayed very healthy for the most of last year, but every year is different and depth can be just as important as the starters.
Idonije is not a svelte speed-rusher, but that’s not necessarily what the Broncos need. It’s important to remember that the Broncos have Miller and are looking for a complementary rusher that isn’t a one-trick pony.
Idonije is a left defensive end, so playing him on the opposite side would be something new. However, it could the Broncos do go with more 3-4 looks if they also bring in another rush linebacker. If the Broncos are willing to have an open mind about how to replace Dumervil, they could actually increase the overall pass-rushing productivity of the defense.
At 6’2” and only 250 pounds, you would expect Juqua Parker to be a one-dimensional speed rusher and that’s exactly how he’s been used for the last few years. Parker hasn’t started a game since 2010, but he was a starter from 2008-2012.
Parker had 6.0 sacks in 2012 and has averaged over five sacks per season for the last seven years. Parker had a career-high 8.0 sacks in 2009 and a career-low 1.5 sacks in just 12 games in 2011. Parker has been a guy you can count on for five or six sacks each season.
Despite his role, Parker hasn’t been a total liability against the run. In a pinch and with the Broncos throwing the ball around and getting the lead, Parker can even be an every-down player.
The Broncos would probably want to pair Parker with another player, but if the focus is to replace the sacks they lost with Dumervil, then he fits for a reasonable cost. With all the attention paid to Miller, Parker could thrive.
It’s somewhat surprising Umenyiora wasn’t mentioned in the same breathe with Abraham and Freeney considering he’s been such a good pass-rusher for the last eight years. Umenyiora has 75.0 career sacks and 32 career forced fumbles, which is just a notch below Abraham and Freeney.
The biggest problem with Umenyiora is he thinks he’s worth more than he actually is worth. The same could be said of Dumervil or any other veteran pass-rusher, but Umenyiora might be an extreme case.
Umenyiora is seen as more of a situational pass-rusher by most teams, which makes sense given that he’s not a great run defender. Unlike Abraham who can stay on the field on rushing downs, Umenyiora and Freeney are guys that are much more specialized.
If the Broncos are okay with pairing a guy like Umenyiora with another player, it makes sense to bring him in because he can almost totally replace the sack production of Dumervil. There aren’t that many every-down defensive ends that can produce on first down and third down equally well, so Umenyiora isn’t a bad option.
Umenyiora is still on the wrong side of 30-years-old, but he’s also younger than Abraham and Freeney. Umenyiora helped the Giants win two Super Bowls with Peyton’s brother Eli and he’s motivated to have a good year. Umenyiora has a tendency to have great years after mediocre ones and his six-sack 2012 season would qualify as a one of the worst of his career.
Defensive schemes can always be tweaked to fit the skills of the players, which is why one unconventional approach to replace Dumervil is to sign 3-4 outside linebacker James Harrison. The Broncos have run a heavily modified 4-3 defense since drafting Miller, often using only three linemen so it’s not a huge stretch.
The only reason Denver’s scheme even resembled a 4-3 was because the Broncos had Dumervil with his hand in the dirt opposite Miller. What’s to say the Broncos couldn’t replace Dumervil with a rush linebacker? It wouldn’t be much of a transition for Kevin Vickerson, Derek Wolfe, Wesley Woodyard or Miller.
Harrison is still an extremely productive pass-rusher when he is healthy, but he’s struggled to stay on the field for the past two years. Harrison managed to record 9.0 sacks in 2011 in 11 games and 6.0 sacks in 13 games in 2012 despite playing through injuries.
Harrison is also a great defender against the run and has a knack for making big plays. Harrison could be the impact player on defense to pair with Miller that will take the Broncos to the next level.
It’s probably too unconventional for defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and head coach John Fox because they are predominantly 4-3 coaches. Despite their conservative nature, Fox and Del Rio can’t deny that it’s getting harder and harder to run a true 4-3 base defense with the way the game is changing at the NFL and college level.
The game is shifting to more sub packages that require more versatile linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks. Getting more linebackers on the field and fewer defensive linemen can only help the Broncos.
It doesn’t seem like the Broncos are content with sitting on their hands and basically handing the starting defensive end spot to Robert Ayers, but that’s certainly one of the unconventional options they have. It wouldn’t be one of the popular moves, but sometimes the best move isn’t the popular one.
Ayers was a starter for the Broncos in 2011 and played reasonably well. Ayers wasn’t a sack artist, but he wasn’t a total liability either. Ayers is just 27 years old and he’s a solid player that played about 30 percent of the time in 2012. The Broncos could easily pair Ayers with a rookie pass-rusher and still have a dominant defense.
Many people forget that the Broncos have plenty of draft picks to address the pass rush. Pairing Ayers with a rookie situational rusher wouldn’t be difficult. If the rookie progresses quickly and can be an every-down player they can simply bench Ayers later in the year. Derek Wolfe did just that last year.
The Broncos probably will end up signing a veteran player, but Ayers is going to be in the mix either way. Pairing Ayers with a rookie just makes good sense because there is no guarantee any veteran pass-rusher over 30-years-old is going to be able to stay healthy.