Denver Broncos' Biggest Needs as Free Agency Approaches
The Denver Broncos finished at the top of the mountain in 2015 by winning Super Bowl 50. With their magical championship season over, the team must turn attention to free agency.
General manager John Elway is putting a plan in place for the Broncos offseason. As Elway always says, the team wants to win now and win from now on. Since taking over the team in 2011, Elway has had a vision of what he wants this team to be—contenders every year with championship aspirations.
The Broncos have 16 unrestricted free agents they will need to consider re-signing. There are also several free agents from other teams who could be of interest to the world champions.
What are the five biggest needs for the Broncos as we enter the offseason? Let’s break it down.
This is arguably the biggest need the Broncos will face this offseason. At this time, the future of Peyton Manning is unknown. He may retire, or he may be done with the Broncos if he wants to continue playing.
Brock Osweiler has been groomed as the heir apparent behind Manning, but he’s set to be an unrestricted free agent.
In a quarterback-desperate league, there might be a few teams interested in throwing a big contract at Osweiler to lure him away from the Broncos. He might be in line to make anywhere from $10-$12 million annually in 2016, but we don’t know if the Broncos would be willing to pay that price. If some team were to offer Osweiler more than that annually (and perhaps even more guaranteed money), then he could be enticed to move on.
Osweiler deserves to be the next quarterback of the Broncos. They wouldn’t have made it to the Super Bowl without his help leading the team to crucial victories in the second half of the season. The language of the NFL is money, and Osweiler will have to fit a proper price tag so things don’t get lost in translation.
Running Back Depth
With Ronnie Hillman an unrestricted free agent, the Broncos could be looking for better depth at the running back position. C.J. Anderson started in Super Bowl 50, and he should be the lead back for the Broncos when training camp begins.
Behind Anderson, the Broncos have a need that should be filled through free agency or the draft.
Juwan Thompson has the ability to provide the Broncos with a power element to the ground game. He’s big, strong and difficult to bring down when he builds a head of steam. Thompson is a decent receiver out of the backfield, and he can be trusted when it comes to protecting the quarterback. Even though he was inactive for all three games in the postseason, Thompson could see his role grow in 2016.
The Broncos have a back in Kapri Bibbs, who might be able to surprise some. Bibbs, an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State in 2014, spent the last two seasons on the Broncos practice squad patiently waiting for his shot. He’s a good fit for the zone-blocking system, has a nose for the end zone and Bibbs has proven to be a better receiver in camp than his eight receptions in college showed.
The Broncos need to make sure they have proper depth behind Anderson. That’s why they’ll be monitoring free-agent backs or perhaps even considering late-round backs in the 2016 NFL draft.
An Actual Fullback
The Gary Kubiak system usually features a fullback to blast open holes for the rushing attack. The Broncos played this year without a fullback for most of the year. Even when they had a fullback listed on the roster, the Broncos really didn’t have a true fullback.
Remember guys like James Casey and Joe Don Duncan? While both are good players in their own right, neither was really a true fullback. Both were mainly tight ends who were trying to play in a different position. Duncan failed to make the final roster, and Casey was released in early October.
The Broncos could pursue a real fullback this offseason.
John Kuhn, longtime Packers fullback, might be the best available on the free-agent market. While the Packers should bring him back, there’s a chance he could get lured away by the Super Bowl champions. In the draft, guys like Devon Johnson (Marshall) or Glenn Gronkowski (Kansas State) could be options in the later rounds.
There will be multiple moves the Broncos make this offseason, and at least one of them should address the fullback position.
We might have seen the last of Malik Jackson with the Broncos. A team like the Oakland Raiders, led by former Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, could pursue one of the Broncos' best interior players on the defensive line. With over $75 million in cap space, the Raiders are going to have plenty of money to throw around—and Jackson would be a fine target for them.
In addition to Jackson, the Broncos have another unrestricted free agent in veteran Antonio Smith. He made a few plays for the Broncos in a part-time role, but there’s no telling if he did enough to warrant sticking around for another season.
There are some big-name defensive tackles who should be available via free agency, but the Broncos might choose to go through the draft to add talent at the position.
The Broncos could select a defensive tackle like Jarran Reed (Alabama) in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft. They could use a premium pick on a rookie and have him compete with second-year pro Darius Kilgo for rotational snaps in 2016.
The Broncos had to shuffle their offensive line multiple times this past season. Things began to go downhill when Ryan Clady was lost for the season in minicamp due to a knee injury. It didn’t help later in the year when rookie tackle Ty Sambrailo was knocked out with a season-ending shoulder injury. Throw in various smaller injuries to other players, and you can see how the offensive line was just a big headache for the Broncos in 2015.
Clady is on the books for about $10 million in 2016, and we could see the Broncos ask him to take a pay cut in order to keep his roster spot. The veteran might be willing to take such a deal from the Broncos since they’ve shown loyalty to him through other injuries—and the fact that he may not be able to find a friendly free agent market.
Sambrailo will return from his injury, and he’ll return to his rightful spot on the offensive line. He’s best suited to play right tackle in the NFL, but the Broncos had to move him to the left side after Clady’s injury. The experience will do him some good, but in 2016 it’s best if he’s back at right tackle.
Matt Paradis seems to be locked in (for good reason) at center. The guard positions should be manned on the left side by Max Garcia and on the right side by Louis Vasquez.
What the Broncos need here is quality depth up front. That’s where free agency could come in. They were able to find players like Ryan Harris and Evan Mathis in the free-agent pool last year, and both veterans played key roles for the Broncos offensive line.
The Broncos would be wise to try to find similar veterans who could come in on one- or two-year deals to be emergency starters and valuable depth.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos media department unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats via ESPN's employees-only database.