The Denver Broncos may not have any gaping holes to fill, but ultimate success—winning the Super Bowl—comes from the top-to-bottom strength of the roster. If they want to finish what they started this year and get over the one hurdle that they have left, they must pick the ideal free agents to plug into the spots that they have open.
Part of it is for depth. The 2013 season showed just how much that mattered. The team has decent depth already, and it was able to survive a rash of injuries, but it certainly would have helped to have players like Von Miller and Wesley Woodyard in the Super Bowl.
Part of it is also to upgrade at certain positions. Being adequate is not how you win the Lombardi Trophy.
It's you how get into the playoffs and lose.
To excel, you need top-tier talent across the roster. Having it only in certain places makes it easy for an opposing offense to avoid those players or for an opposing defense to key on whom they have to stop.
With just a few key free-agent moves this offseason, the Broncos can reload and get ready for a spectacular 2014.
If they make mistakes, they could burn out early or find, as they did against the Seahawks, that they just do not have the talent to match up when they come up against other elite teams.
Of course, the first thing to do is to give Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie a long-term deal, but there are some significant moves to be made after that.
The safety play for the Broncos has been suspect at times, whether you look at Rahim Moore getting burned against the Baltimore Ravens or Mike Adams playing decently, but never standing out. Never inspiring the kind of fear and intimidation that you want your safeties to inspire.
One player who would do that in a heartbeat is Jairus Byrd. The Bills could not get him to agree to a contract last year, so they hit him with the franchise tag and made him stay a year longer. They're now trying to get a long-term deal worked out, but it's clear that the team is at a disadvantage.
It may be as simple as Byrd wanting to play for a winner. No offense to the Bills, but the organization is rebuilding around a young QB, and it's not really set up to win soon. Especially not with Tom Brady still in New England.
If that's what Byrd wants, Denver is the perfect fit. He would instantly upgrade the secondary, which could have really used help on third down in the Super Bowl. He has never replicated his rookie season, when he got nine interceptions, but he's posted five and four the last two years.
Of course, part of that is that quarterbacks now know what he can do and they stretch the other side of the field if possible.
The huge downside here is that he'd probably be expensive. If the Bills can't work out a deal for a number that they like, Denver, with more high-caliber players to pay, probably can't either.
If the Broncos can't bring in Byrd, another option could be Cleveland's T.J. Ward. The Browns are also rebuilding, perpetually, so he may want to move on.
This guy is mean. When he hits you, you feel it. You get up and look around for your mouthguard. Maybe your shoes.
He would bring that aggressive mindset that the Broncos really lack. It fits in perfectly in the AFC North, going against teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and it could shred the AFC West.
He's also got a nose for the ball, but it's the hitting that would really help. He'd light people up and make receivers think twice about crossing the field.
Denver has enough finesse players. It needs a safety who can lower his shoulders and knock someone out.
In a lot of ways, he could bring that mentality to the Broncos the way that Kam Chancellor brings it to the Seattle Seahawks. And that wouldn't be a bad thing at all.
This would be a huge gamble. But, as with any type of gambling, the payoff could be incredible.
Of course, it also depends whether or not Eric Decker leaves, but it's looking like he's at least going to test the free-agent waters, according to Colorado's 9news, and see what he can get. Odds are that he can get more than Denver is willing to give him, so it comes down to what he wants: Wins or money. If he leaves, Kenny Britt could be a great replacement.
The gamble is that he looks about as bad as any free-agent wide receiver in the class.
Kenny Britt fell apart this year. The Titans wanted to play younger receivers, the front office knew that Britt was on his way out and it looked like neither Britt nor the Titans cared what he did.
He only caught the ball 11 times. He didn't break 100 yards. He didn't score.
Those are numbers that are just as terrible as they sound, but it would mean that Britt could be brought to Denver for almost nothing. That helps a lot when the Broncos need to sign guys like Demaryius Thomas and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to big contracts.
The reason Britt would be a great steal is because, just two years ago, he looked like one of the best receivers in the game. He's only 25 now, and he was already the clear top receiver in Tennessee at about 23. He's huge and strong, the kind of guy who can go up for any jump ball and fight off smaller defenders.
You have to go back to 2011 to see what he can do.
In the first game of the season, he caught five passes for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
In the second game, he caught nine passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. And that was against Baltimore's defense when it was good.
In the third game—against Denver, ironically—he caught three passes on three targets, put up 18 yards, and then blew out his knew and watched his season come to an end.
He's now more than two seasons removed from that injury.
There have been issues off the field, so the Broncos would need to have some assurance that those would stop. That shouldn't be overlooked after the mess with Von Miller last year, but it shouldn't be a deal-breaker.
Replacing Decker with a guy who could command double coverage or shred a defense for over 100 yards on his own would be a home run. Defenses could only roll coverage toward Britt or Thomas, giving Manning all sorts of matchups that he would love.
If Britt wants to rejuvenate his once-promising career, there is no better place to do it than Denver.
He's also not going to draw too much attention, so Denver could give him a low-risk contract for a single season—much like it gave to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. If he gets in trouble off of the field or doesn't produce, it can get rid of him without losing too much.
Low risk, high reward. That's what you like in any gamble.
Even if the Broncos want to keep Wesley Woodyard on the field—which would be a very good idea—he could move back to the outside and be productive, giving the team room for another middle linebacker to command the defense. This would help the Broncos upgrade both outside and inside at once, and the linebacking corps could use it.
Jon Beason may be the perfect fit if the Giants do not give him a new contract—though they are expected to—because he played for John Fox in Carolina. He's terrific at stuffing the run, putting up 104 tackles for a Giants team that was horrible.
He is getting up there in age, at 29, but he could be good to help Denver, a team that is built to win right now. Denver could still keep the younger linebackers as depth, rather than starting them, and Beason could be that anchor in the middle for two or three years.
Younger players like Brandon Spikes could also be attractive here, but Beason doesn't come with the same baggage. Spikes was benched for a reason in New England. He is tough and mean and aggressive, but it comes with a price.
Beason would be far more likely to avoid any trouble, and the Broncos do not need a player like Spikes for 10 years. They could use Beason for the next few seasons and draft a player like Shayne Skov for the future, filling that defensive hole for a decade.
If Moreno leaves in free agency, the Broncos will be settled on Montee Ball as the starter. They took him high in the draft for that reason, and he should put together a great campaign in 2014.
However, most teams use committees to run the ball these days, rather than a feature back, and Denver still needs someone who will not fumble as much as Ronnie Hillman to put into the rotation. Adding a back for depth would be wise.
An ideal fit may be a back that Denver stuffed in the playoffs, holding him under 10 yards, without a score: LeGarrette Blount.
On top of all of that, the Patriots are projected to offer him little over $1 million a year. The Broncos could lure him out of New England without having to fork up too much cash, saving the real money for other players.
Blount is a great rotation back because he's the type of player who can break out and have a huge game, even on only 10 carries. You are going to get some duds from him as well, but that won't matter as much since Ball will pick up the slack.
Blount would be both cheap and athletic, and you'd never know when he was going to storm out of the gate and win you the game.
Just ask the Colts about that.