Moves the Denver Broncos Will Regret Not Making This Offseason
The Denver Broncos have been quite active this offseason. They’ve arguably made the biggest splashes in free agency, and they’ve made more than one.
The first move they made, adding strong safety T.J. Ward, will give the team improved play from the secondary. It will also give them added toughness on defense.
Adding cornerback Aqib Talib is an upgrade over last year’s top cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Talib is a better tackler than Rodgers-Cromartie, and he is a true shutdown corner who can eliminate a team’s top receiving threat.
With the addition of defensive end DeMarcus Ware, the Broncos get a future Hall of Fame player with a chip on his shoulder. After a 2013 season that saw him register only six sacks and struggle playing with an elbow injury, Ware is looking to have a bounce-back year in 2014.
The offense also saw an upgrade this offseason.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is faster and gets better separation in his routes than Eric Decker. Sanders could have career-best numbers in 2014 catching passes from Peyton Manning. Going from a Todd Haley offense to an Adam Gase offense is the equivalent of going from a Yugo to a Lamborghini.
The Broncos have to get an “A” for their additions in free agency so far. However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few moves that could have been different—and better.
Here’s a look at moves the Broncos will regret not making this offseason.
Signing a Free-Agent Middle Linebacker
Smith would have been a fine fit for the Broncos, as he has experience playing under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio from their time together with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Ravens were able to sign Smith to an affordable four-year, $13.5 million deal this offseason. He has a cap number of only $2.4 million in 2014, and there’s only $3.5 million guaranteed in the entire contract.
Jackson visited with the Broncos, but he then decided to sign with the Colts instead. Jackson was arguably the best middle linebacker on the free-agent market, and he was compensated as such. He signed a four-year, $22 million contract with $11 million guaranteed and a cap hit of $4.75 million in 2014.
His deal was out of the price range the Broncos wanted to spend at the position.
Now, the Broncos will likely look to the 2014 NFL draft for help at the position. A guy like C.J. Mosley (Alabama) could be their primary target in the first round of the draft. If they miss out on Mosley, then players like Chris Borland (Wisconsin) and Shayne Skov (Stanford) could be options in the next two rounds.
We’ll see veteran Nate Irving compete with Steven Johnson for the starting middle linebacker job in 2014. A rookie may also be thrown into that mix.
The Broncos don’t have an answer at middle linebacker right now, but that could have been solved in free agency.
Renegotiating Champ Bailey's Contract
Champ Bailey’s time in Denver came to a close this offseason. The writing was on the wall with the structure of his contract with the Broncos. Bailey was set to count $10 million against the cap this year, and there was zero dead money in 2014.
Instead of renegotiating his contract to a lower number, the Broncos instead decided to release Bailey on March 5th. Per Lindsay Jones, of USA Today, the Broncos didn’t even ask him about taking a pay cut.
Bailey has now signed with the New Orleans Saints. The official numbers of his deal are not known, but per Mike Triplett of ESPN.com, it’s believed to be a two-year deal worth a maximum of $7 million.
That’s a price the Broncos could have made work for a player who has more left in the tank than some think.
Bailey’s 2013 season was disappointing because of a Lisfranc injury he suffered in the preseason. He tried to come back too soon from the injury and played in a career-low five regular-season games.
Sure, Bailey’s not the player he used to be, but he’s worth bringing back for his veteran leadership and ability to play multiple positions.
Although he was cool to the idea last year, Bailey could have been asked to play free safety for the Broncos in 2014. At the very least, Bailey is a quality nickel corner who could be a spot-starter on the outside if necessary.
The Broncos secondary lacks depth right now. Bailey would have helped that, and he likely would have stuck around for the chance to get back to the Super Bowl with the Broncos.
Keeping Zane Beadles
The offensive line was weakened when guard Zane Beadles signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars at the start of free agency. Beadles is now the third-highest-paid player on the Jaguars' roster, and he has an average annual salary of $6 million. Included in his new contract was $12.5 million guaranteed.
This was obviously too rich for the Broncos to match. Like all Broncos free agents, Beadles was allowed to explore the open market before Denver ever looked into keeping him. He wouldn’t have taken a huge hometown discount, but Beadles might have signed a more team-friendly deal to stay in the Mile High City.
Beadles grew up in the region, is a huge outdoorsman and is actively involved in the community through his charity ZanesParade.org. Moving to Jacksonville will see him undergo a huge change to his lifestyle.
The Broncos now have a question mark at left guard. They recently signed veteran free-agent center Will Montgomery to compete with Manny Ramirez for the starting job in the middle. If Ramirez loses the job at center, he could be moved back to his more natural position of guard.
That’s the best-case scenario for the Broncos. If Ramirez retains the job at center, perhaps Montgomery plays at guard—but that answer isn’t as clear.
With a team in a Super Bowl window, these kinds of question marks on the offensive line could become problematic. Chemistry is a big concern with a reshuffled line. Keeping Beadles around would have eliminated the need for tryouts on the line.
Waiting for Darrelle Revis to Be Released
The Broncos made a big move in free agency when they signed former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib. He gives Denver an upgrade over last year’s top cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Talib is a true shutdown corner, and he will be an impact player from day one.
Simply put, Revis is better than Talib.
Only a few hours after being released by the Buccaneers, Revis signed a one-year $12 million contract with the New England Patriots. This deal pales in comparison to the six-year, $57 million contract the Broncos gave Talib—with $26 million guaranteed. This is a huge deal for a player who has yet to play a full season in six years.
Had the Broncos been a bit more patient, they could have made a run at Revis.
Tom Pelissero, from USA Today, reports the Broncos have an “out” in Talib’s contract. The financial commitment by the Broncos could be as little as one year for $12 million. Only $11.5 million of Talib’s deal is truly guaranteed, and it will all be paid in 2014. The rest of the guaranteed money comes in the form of annual salary provided that Talib is on the roster at the beginning of the new league year.
The math is pretty simple here. Talib and Revis signed deals that are incredibly similar in 2014. Revis is the superior player, and he doesn’t come with the durability concerns that Talib has.
Jeff Howe, from the Boston Herald, reports that Revis is fully recovered from the ACL injury that cost him most of the 2012 season. The fact that Revis signed with a conference rival makes the lack of patience sting even more.
The AFC representative in the Super Bowl could very well come down to Denver and New England. Revis is an upgrade over Talib for the Patriots, and that move could come back to haunt the Broncos.
Trading for Darren Sproles
Last year’s starting running back, Knowshon Moreno, has taken his talents to South Beach. He signed a one-year, $1.7 million deal in free agency with the Miami Dolphins, leaving the Broncos with Montee Ball as their lead back.
The Broncos are expected to turn the reins of the ground game over to Ball. The second-year runner out of Wisconsin had a rough start to his rookie season, but as the year went on, his play drastically improved. The Broncos are hopeful he can carry that momentum over to 2014.
Behind Ball, there’s nothing but question marks.
C.J. Anderson is a talented back with little experience. He’s a true power back, and he makes his living between the tackles. Anderson also has a good initial burst which helps him get to the second level of the defense in a hurry. He should be the primary backup, but he’s not a speed change-of-pace back.
Ronnie Hillman is that speed back, but he’s lost the trust of the coaching staff after fumbling problems plagued him in 2013. After Hillman’s fumble against the Colts in Week 7, Hillman was only active for two more games. If his fumbling woes are cured, Hillman could be a decent change-of-pace back behind Ball as he’s arguably the fastest player on the team.
However, trading for Darren Sproles would have been a better answer.
Sproles was traded from the New Orleans Saints to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this offseason for a fifth-round pick. He was underused during his time with the Chargers at the beginning of his pro career, but the Saints figured out how to use such a dangerous weapon. It’s a certainty that offensive coordinator Adam Gase would have used him effectively.
The Broncos set records with their high-powered offense in 2013. By adding a dynamic change-of-pace back like Sproles, the team would have been even more dangerous. Sproles can attack the edges of the defense and make plays in space that no other runner on the team back. He’d be especially dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield, and Sproles could even line up in the slot if need be.
We should see the team address the running back position at some point in the draft. There are several backs to choose from with all sorts of skill sets. Denver could be looking to add more speed to the running back corps behind Ball and Anderson. A draft pick is nice, but Sproles is proven and would have been a fantastic addition for the Broncos.
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Contract information provided by Spotrac.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.