Best and Worst Moves the Denver Broncos Made in Free Agency
With most of the big moves done in free agency, it’s time to look back on the job the Denver Broncos have done so far this offseason.
General manager John Elway uses free agency to add starters. This time of year, Elway is looking to fill holes on the roster with quality players. Elway uses the draft to select the best players available at each position in order to build quality depth.
Free agency is fast and furious. Players sign in a whirlwind of activity as soon as the period begins. When the floodgates are open, sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with all the moves that happen.
The Broncos had a plan before the start of free agency. They were willing to let all of their own players hit the open market. Allowing players to test the waters meant some tough decisions had to be made.
Denver then went to the open market with a plan to upgrade several positions. They’ve done that with all of their free-agent additions, but not every transaction has been a positive one.
Here’s a look at the best and worst moves the Broncos have made in free agency.
BEST MOVE: Adding T.J. Ward
The Broncos need more attitude on defense, and that’s exactly what T.J. “Boss” Ward will give them. To win in the NFL, a team needs to have a bully’s mentality on defense. Ward gives them swagger they have been missing at that position since Brian Dawkins retired.
Denver’s director of pro personnel Tom Heckert was the general manager of the Browns when Ward was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft. Heckert was a big reason why Ward decided to come to Denver.
“Mr. Heckert drafted me, so we have some history there. He’s a great person, good friend. He gave me my first opportunity coming out.” Ward said, “Going as high as I did—[No. 38]—people were saying that I was overdrafted and I wouldn’t go until later. He had faith in me and faith in my abilities. I thank him truly for that.”
Ward is going to replace fan-favorite Duke Ihenacho in the starting lineup. Like Ward, Ihenacho is a hard-hitting safety. However, Ihenacho struggled mightily in coverage last year and was exposed by good quarterbacks.
Having Ward roaming around in the defensive backfield will help the Broncos in multiple ways. First, Denver gets better run defense with a player who can intimidate an opponent. Second, the Broncos now have a player who can turn and cover receivers or tight ends downfield.
Ward won’t come off the field, and his impact could strongly resonate each week.
WORST MOVE: Losing Zane Beadles
An offensive line is a delicate piece of a football team. Linemen must gel together in order to understand each other’s tendencies. This comes through time, experience and chemistry.
Losing Zane Beadles to the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency will hurt.
Beadles was among the first moves announced when the free-agency frenzy opened up. He agreed to a five-year, $30 million contract with $12.5 million guaranteed. The average salary of $6 million annually proved to be too much for the Broncos.
He improved every year he was with the team, and Beadles was one of the best guys in the locker room. Teammates looked to him for guidance after wins and losses. Yes, Beadles struggled in the Super Bowl—along with every other member of the organization.
Bringing Beadles back would have steadied the chemistry on the offensive line.
The Broncos have not made a move on the interior line just yet. Their plan for left guard is unknown at this time. Moving right tackle Orlando Franklin to left guard is a popular idea floating around.
The Broncos have briefly tried Franklin inside at guard before in practice, and the results were not good. Now, they may be forced to try and fit a square peg in a round hole.
Yes, they could draft a center like Weston Richburg (Colorado State) in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, but then center Manny Ramirez would have to be moved to left guard. Any way you slice it, the Broncos should have found a way to keep Beadles around in 2014.
BEST MOVE: Adding DeMarcus Ware
Arguably the biggest move for the Denver Broncos, adding future Hall of Fame pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware was an incredible upgrade. Ware will give the Broncos an elite-level pass-rusher on the opposite side of the field from Von Miller. With Miller recovering from the Week 16 knee injury he suffered last year, the Broncos needed to add more pass-rushing talent.
Ware only had six sacks in 2013, but he spent most of the season playing through a painful elbow injury that limited his effectiveness. At his introductory press conference, Ware talked about the injury.
“The first few games it was fine. I had four sacks in the first two games. Then it started getting a little bit worse and it was more like an older nerve. Sort of like when you sort of hit your funny bone every single time. So going against a tackle, it was pretty painful, but I got through the season with it.” Ware continued, “Now, I had the surgery. I don’t have that feeling anymore. I feel really good about it and I’m just glad that it’s behind me now.”
Ware also shared his excitement for his new opportunity. "You’ve got to be ready for change, because that’s what this league is about. It’s about change. It’s ‘Not For Long,’ right? NFL. So now I’ve got an opportunity sort of for a rebirth. Now I’m part of the Broncos organization.”
He’s excited to be in Denver, and general manager John Elway is happy as well. “We feel like [Ware] has got a lot of football left ahead of him. He was really banged up last year. I always like getting guys that are future Hall of Famers with chips on their shoulder.”
WORST MOVE: Not Securing a Middle Linebacker
The Broncos haven’t had a quality middle linebacker since the days “Smoke Dog” Al Wilson roamed the field.
Entering free agency, the middle linebacker position was a glaring weakness for the team. The team’s intent became clear when before the start of free agency they worked out D’Qwell Jackson after he was released by the Browns.
When free agency opened up, Denver showed interest in guys like Daryl Smith (Ravens) and Jon Beason (Giants). Both of those players opted to sign elsewhere, which left the Broncos holding the (empty) bag.
The middle linebacker market dried up quickly, so that means the Broncos are going to have to look for an upgrade at the position in the 2014 NFL draft.
Mike Klis, from the Denver Post, reports the team will have a competition between Nate Irving and Steven Johnson in camp to determine who will win the starting middle linebacker job. However, Klis did say in a recent interview on C.J. and Les (ESPN Denver) that the Broncos would select inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (Alabama) if he fell to them in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
If Mosley falls all the way to the 31st overall pick, that would be a huge victory for the Broncos. The likelihood of that happening seems slim at this time, and if the Broncos miss out, then they’re back to square one at the position.
BEST MOVE: Letting Eric Decker Go
There are many Broncos fans who will disagree with this sentiment.
Yes, Eric Decker was a huge part of the offense last year. Yes, Decker had earned the trust of Peyton Manning and is an incredible red-zone target. However, Decker struggled to get open consistently against press coverage and he’s not as dangerous after the catch as Emmanuel Sanders.
The top free-agent target for the Broncos at wide receiver was Sanders. Adding him to this offense gives them a player who can beat the jam at the line of scrimmage, and it also adds another big-play threat after the catch.
Had the Broncos added a receiver like Brandon LaFell, then losing Decker would have more of a sting. Adding Sanders is an upgrade at the position, and catching passes from Manning could only help Sanders set career-best numbers in 2014.
Sanders enters this year with 11 career touchdown receptions. It’s not out of the question to think he could get 11 touchdowns in 2014 alone. The Broncos have one of the most high-powered offenses in the league, and with Sanders they could be even more dangerous.
Losing Decker hurts mostly in the personality department. He was a great interview, a strong presence in the locker room and in the community.
Earlier this offseason, Elway talked about the woes of free agency. “The hard thing is you’re dealing with people and personalities. That’s the hardest part.”
Seeing Decker in a Jets uniform is going to be tough for some Broncos fans. The sting of the pain will wear off quickly when Sanders does just as much (if not more) as Decker did in this offense.
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. All contract information for individual players is from Spotrac.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.