Denver Broncos: Re-Grading Their Key 2013 Offseason Signings
To the casual NFL observer, the Wes Welker signing seemed to be the only splash the Denver Broncos made in the 2013 NFL offseason.
However, this season, we have learned just how important the team's other offseason moves were.
The Welker signing was the main storyline of Denver's offseason, but new additions Louis Vasquez, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Terrance Knighton and Shaun Phillips have also made impacts. Denver signed these players to low-risk, high-reward contracts, hoping for these players to turn into major steals.
Have they? Here are grades for all of Denver's key offseason signings.
Note: All links and advanced stats from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Kevin Vickerson—2 years, $5 million
The Broncos didn't break the bank with the Kevin Vickerson signing, and they locked up a solid player. Vickerson is out for the year with a hip injury, and the run defense has suffered because of the defensive tackle's absence.
This year, Vickerson has 22 tackles and a sack. He is the 56th-rated defensive tackle in the league, but those grades don't do him justice. He's never been a pass-rushing monster or an every-down player, but he's a solid run defender, a good clubhouse presence and a solid player coming at a nice price.
Chris Clark—1 year, $1.3 million
Chris Clark signed a restricted free-agent tender, and while the news didn't make headlines at the time, it's actually proven to be extremely important.
With Ryan Clady down, Clark has stepped up and done a remarkable job. He is rated as the 18th-best tackle (right and left tackles), and he is coming at a great price. Clark is likely the best reserve tackle in the league, and because of the importance of quarterback Peyton Manning's health, having him is absolutely necessary.
He will be around for two more years as well, thanks to an in-season extension he signed in September.
Ryan Clady—5 years, $57.5 million
Clady held out for a while, but he ended up signing a lucrative extension. He is one of the best tackles in the league, and he needs to be around to protect Manning. The Broncos realized this and gave him a hefty deal to stick around.
However, he has been hurt, and the Broncos have been fine. Because Clady only played in one full game, his first year has basically gone to waste, but it will still be great for the Broncos to have him in the future. This was a good signing, even if it was a bit expensive.
Terrance Knighton—2 Years, $4 Million
Terrance Knighton isn't well-known, but he might have been the steal of the 2013 offseason.
Knighton signed for two years and $4 million, and he continues to prove that he deserves much more. He has played at a Pro Bowl level this year in all facets, as he's the 10th-rated defensive tackle in the league. He's in the top 11 in both run defense and pass rushing.
He has three sacks and 24 quarterback hurries, providing a pass-rushing presence in the inside of the defensive line. With Elvis Dumervil now in Baltimore and Von Miller out for the rest of the year (and having missed time earlier), Knighton's solid pass rushing has been vital.
Against the run, Knighton has also been solid. He has 21 stops and 30 tackles, and he has made a plethora of big plays. The Broncos have been solid against the run (opponents have a poor average of 3.9 yards per carry against Denver), and Knighton has been key.
With Vickerson out, Denver has needed Knighton to step up. He's answered the bell, as he has a cumulative grade of plus-12.4 in the four weeks Vickerson hasn't played. This has been integral in Denver's run defense staying intact.
Denver had a mediocre interior line last year, but Knighton has transformed the unit. The fact that Knighton is getting paid an average of just $2 million per year and is under contract next year speaks volumes to executive John Elway's tremendous work.
He made some great moves this offseason, but this one could have ended up being the best. Knighton has been phenomenal in all aspects this year, and without him, the defense would be much worse.
Louis Vasquez—4 Years, $23 Million
The Broncos committed to Louis Vasquez with a four-year deal, and they committed to him with $23 million.
However, despite the decent sum of cash, this deal has paid dividends.
Vasquez hasn't given up a single sack this year, and he grades out as the second-best guard in the game. He also has a positive grade in his last 14 games, demonstrating remarkable, unmatched consistency.
For that reason, he's earning his paycheck. Also, thanks to Manning's immense value, the offensive line is more important in Denver than it is in other places. Vasquez has stabilized it with incredible pass blocking and run blocking. He's been the best, most consistent player on the line, and he has demonstrated his value in multiple ways.
Firstly, when Orlando Franklin went down in Week 6 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Vasquez slid in at right tackle and performed fabulously. His versatility is extremely valuable, and it allowed the Broncos to avoid a steep drop-off in production at right tackle.
Additionally, against the Houston Texans, Vasquez showed an ability to handle a great player and carry a struggling unit. The line struggled against the incredible J.J. Watt, but Vasquez posted a plus-3.1 grade and helped it hold up.
Thanks to Vasquez, Manning has stayed relatively clean, and there have been ample rushing lanes for Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball. He's been a huge factor on offense and is certainly earning his pay.
Wes Welker—2 Years, $12 Million
Wes Welker has helped the Broncos offense make the leap from very good to great.
Welker has 10 touchdown receptions and has been a reliable target for Manning. He has had his share of drops, but he has also made tough catches and has proven to be trustworthy.
In just 13 games (11 full games), Welker has 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 scores. He has had two scares with concussions, which have held him out for the last two games. However, when healthy, Welker has been hard to stop and has undoubtedly made the whole offense better.
His impact has been felt most in the red zone. The Broncos have scored a touchdown on more than 76 percent of their red-zone possessions, which is largely due to Welker.
He hasn't been perfect, though; he has a mediocre drop rate of 12.05 percent. In addition, the Broncos have been able to survive without him. In his 2.5 games out, the Broncos have scored 88 points. That's still a whopping average of 35.2 PPG.
So, while Welker is valuable, he isn't irreplaceable because of the abundance of receiving weapons and depth.
Still, the Broncos made a nice move by getting him. They will have him for one more year, and they won't have to pay him a ton. There were more cost-effective moves the Broncos made, but the Welker signing was important.
Shaun Phillips—1 Year, $1 Million
Shaun Phillips was supposed to come in and try to make up for the loss of Dumervil at a monumental discount.
He hasn't completely replaced the departed Dumervil, who is having an amazing season in Baltimore. However, he has done a great job and has completely exceeded all expectations.
Phillips has 10 sacks this year, and he has been solid against the run as well. Also, he is coming at an amazing price; the Broncos are paying him a minuscule $1 million. The deal was for just one year, so Phillips might not return, but it has helped the Broncos greatly this year.
For instance, when Denver needed someone to step up in Miller's absence, Phillips came through with 5.5 sacks (in six games) and some critical performances. He hasn't been extremely consistent, but he has been decent as a pass-rusher and stout against the run.
Someone with his playmaking ability usually comes at a higher price, so it's clear the Broncos got a huge steal. Phillips is no Dumervil and can go quiet for long periods of time, but there's no doubt that he's been far better than the Broncos imagined he would be when they signed him.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—1 Year, $5 Million
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie entered training camp as a question mark. Now, he's one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
He ranks sixth among cornerbacks because of his amazing pass coverage. He has stepped up in the wake of Champ Bailey's absence and limited opponents' best receivers. Against the Texans in Week 16, Rodgers-Cromartie held star Andre Johnson to just four catches for 63 yards, and not all of those came against him. He also had a pick and helped Denver limit Houston to 13 points.
The Broncos gave him a "prove it" deal, as they only signed him for one year and $5 million. However, this upcoming offseason, he will sign a much more lucrative deal. He has been remarkably consistent and dominant against the pass, and his impact has been felt.
Against the New England Patriots, Denver was leading 24-0 at halftime. Rodgers-Cromartie injured his shoulder on the last play of the first half and didn't return. The Broncos surrendered 31 second-half points and lost in overtime, proving their star corner's worth.
Even though Rodgers-Cromartie is earning more than Knighton and Phillips, his contract might have been better for the team. That's because Denver has gone through many cornerbacks in Bailey's absence and has had no success. Without Rodgers-Cromartie, everything would be a disaster in the secondary.
In short, Rodgers-Cromartie has been integral to the team's success.