With the NFL season showing only one full week of games left to play after this historic Tuesday night game, the vast majority of teams are out of playoff contention and looking towards next season.
The Denver Broncos have suffered through a miserable, train-wreck of a 2010 season.
This team has more than one or two holes in the hull, so there are many changes ahead. Necessity supersedes preference in these changes.
Let's dust off the crystal ball to see what 10 potential changes could most impact the Denver Broncos in the upcoming off-season.
John Elway brings fire, focus...and a reminder of past success
Yes, we all know John Elway is going to take a front office position for Denver. Here, however, the "Devil is in the details."
What title he is given will tell so very much about what power "Old No. 7" will wield.
I think it is clear he will be much like what Bill Parcells is for the Miami Dolphins, or like Mike Holmgren is for the Cleveland Browns. He will run the team, with final say on everything from coaching hires to player personnel.
It was his leadership on the field that helped this team to the pinnacle of NFL greatness. His presence assured that Denver was regarded as one of the most well-regarded franchises, and one players sought to play for, for almost two decades. Fans were in awe of the miracles he produced every time he stepped on the field
His presence in the front office is a direct message to fans that Bowlen believes that it was much more than physical attributes that made John great. He believes John will be able to work similar miracles when he takes to the task of re-shaping this team and its overall mentality.
Perrennial Pro Bowls are not enough. Champ wants a ring.
For almost his entire career, and especially the last seven years played in Denver, perennial Pro Bowler and future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey has taken away half of the field from opposing offenses.
He is, perhaps, the best overall cornerback of the last 20 years. He is, however, in the twilight of his NFL career at corner.
He knows it.
He has voiced his lack of desire to be part of yet another franchise overhaul and, with the power of free-agency upon him, he is going to shop his services to a Super Bowl contender.
Denver has seen the writing on the wall here, drafting and signing cornerbacks in each of the last two drafts. Although now a Detroit Lion, the selection of Alphonso Smith in the second round of the 2009 draft was the first shot across Bailey's proverbial bow.
The addition of 2010 draft and post-draft acquisitions Perrish Cox, Syd'Quan Thompson and Cassius Vaughn furthered the clear message that Denver is prepping for life without Bailey.
In the AFC, I look for New England, Baltimore and Kansas City to be amongst the most interested.
In the NFC, I see a Georgia homecoming appealing to Bailey, so Atlanta will be in the mix. I think Chicago and Philadelphia also might get a look.
The will is there. The body is just finally telling him what the calendar says
Much like with Champ Bailey, the last two drafts have said much about Denver's plans at safety.
Darcel McBath and David Bruton where high picks in 2009, and Kyle McCarthy has been impressive despite being an un-drafted addition from 2010.
More so than that, the game is getting too fast for Brian "Weapon-X" Dawkins. Evidence was seen as early as week one in Jacksonville when he was beaten for a touchdown on a 24 yard slant route by Kassim Osgood for a touchdown. It was Osgood's only touchdown of the season and one of only six catches on the season.
Where he used to blow up opponents, he bounces off of them or is simply leaping to catch them.
We saw this same thing in 1998 with Steve Atwater. The body and mind simply do not agree as to what's left to put on the field. Ask the New York Jets what they got out of Atwater in 1999.
He can be an asset for a team somewhere in the NFL in 2011, but it will not be with Denver.
Man's game! Brandon Lloyd making the tough look effortless.
To say Brandon Lloyd has outplayed his contract is putting it lightly.
He presently leads the league in receiving yards and leads in plays over 20+ yards.
His acrobatics have helped ease the Orton-to-Tebow transition and allow the play-action pass to be effective despite an anemic rushing attack lead by the talented, but glass-made Knowshon Moreno.
He will be 30 next summer, but basically has one year without wear, as he sat 14 games in 2009.
Having handled it in workmanlike fashion, he is the perfect mentor for immensely talented young 2010 draft picks Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and a three year extension, front loaded, would be the perfect reward and ease the transition into the younger corps.
Electrifying? Yes. Hard working? Yes. Reliable? Yes/ Underused? Definitely!
Eddie Royal exploded onto the NFL scene with over 90 catches and almost 1,000 yards receiving his rookie year of 2008 under then-head coach Mike Shanahan.
Under Josh McDaniels? Not as much. After a 2009 that saw only 37 catches, he has bounced back with 59 catches for over 600 yards as the second or third read in Orton/Tebow's progressions.
He is also flashed elite kick and punt return ability. In an upset win in San Diego in 2009, it was Royal's 93 yard kickoff return for touchdown in the first quarter, coupled with his 71 yard punt return for touchdown in the second quarter that helped win the game.
He became only the second Bronco ever to return both a kickoff and punt for touchdown in the same game and was awarded AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
I think we will see the man that brought him into the league, the aforementioned Mike Shanahan, make a play to acquire Mr. Royal and make him Washington's lead receiving option. Shanahan has not been shy of his perception that Washington lacks play-making wide receivers, and in resurrecting running back Ryan Torain has shown he believes in his former pet projects.
There will be a call to Dove Valley before or on draft day from a '202' area code. Let's face it, Denver needs more draft picks to fix that gaping maw they call a defense than it does the production Eddie brings.
Kyle Orton was on an NFL record setting pace earlier in 2010, when he was leading the league in passing yardage.
Though the season crumbled and he now sits behind Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn, Orton would make more than a few NFL franchises very happy were he to line up under center for them.
I expect Orton to be dealt this off-season for something along the lines of a conditional fifth round pick (escalating as high as a third, with escalators in the trade terms) to a QB-hungry team.
Arizona, San Francisco and Cleveland all jump to mind, but Minnesota seems ideal.
Tarvaris Jackson is unpredictable at best and takes too many risks. A quarterback who will play within the system, hand off to Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart more often than not, and throw to Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Visanthe Shiancoe from behind that offensive line? I am sure Orton would not complain all too much.
That he would see Jay Cutler and the Bears twice a year? A bonus, I would imagine.
Same logic here as in the case of Eddie Royal. Draft picks are needed to fix the defense and special teams depth.
Daniel Graham is good at what he does...but what he does is not worth what he is paid.
Tight end Daniel Graham is one heckuva blocker! Everyone who knows the NFL knows this.
What they also know is that he is immensely overpaid. In his four years in Denver he has averaged 25 catches, 258 yards, and less than 2 touchdown catches per season.
Former 2009 second round draft pick Richard Quinn, while himself overpaid in terms of selection slot and pay, can do what Graham does and may possesses better hands. Someone needs to throw to him to find out, but from what Graham has shown this year, it is not a bar set too high.
Five years, $30 million dollars? Generous payment for blocking and recent problems holding onto the ball when it is thrown to him. The Denver Broncos could save the better part of $4 million in 2011 to cut bait and find help for Tim Tebow in the form of a receiving tight end.
Or better yet, a defensive play-maker.
A hard runner like White could be one of Tebow's best friends
Many people forget that running back LenDale White is a Denver Bronco, who was on Injured Reserve for all of 2010.
White signed a two year deal and is expected to return healthy. I think he will be out to prove something and will provide a bit of a "boom stick" to a "pop gun" running game.
A healthy LenDale White would make veteran Correll Buckhalter expendable. I know he had a good game against the Houston Texans in Tebow''s first comeback victory, but ginger running, dropped passes, lackluster blocking? All of this can be fixed with the insertion of LenDale into Denver's running attack.
I bet Tim Tebow would appreciate having a man or two less up in the box, so he could get a solid complimentary running game and open up the play action even more.
LenDale White is a back who could still produce 600+ yards with a healthy Moreno...and some goal-line force too.
Denver's defense has been in the bottom half in three out of the last four years. 2009's unit started off hot, but was ultimately unraveled in the last 6 weeks.
I predict as many as seven new starters for this unit in 2011. This is not to say some of those here now won't remain, but the starting line-up will change.
I believe the only defensive lineman that will hold his starting job will be Justin Bannan. This is mainly because of his fresh contract, but also as he is a high motor, high character guy who never quits. I make this prediction under the assumption that Denver will stick to a 3-4 scheme,
I think nose tackle Jamal Williams and defensive end Kevin Vickerson are both out or put into rotation. That is two new starters on the line alone.
As for the linebackers? D.J. Williams and Robert Ayers will hold their positions, but I think Mario Haggan will ultimately be replaced, if he is even kept on the squad.
The other new starter? Well, he is an old one—Elvis Dumervil. He was on Injured Reserve for all of 2010, so he will be a new starter for the 2011 coach and his new regime, thus qualifying for this prediction. That makes two more new starters from the linebacking corps.
The defensive secondary? Only one 2010 starter will remain.
Rookie Perrish Cox will return as a starting cornerback for Denver in 2011. Cornerback Andre Goodman? Playing with too much cushion, gambling too much and out of position too often. Gone. Champ Bailey? See slide two, entitled "Champ Bailey Goes Ring Shopping". Safeties Renaldo Hill and Brian Dawkins? See slide three, entitled "Broncos Pull The Plug On The "Weapon-X'" Experiment, Release Brian Dawkins."
Three more new starters in the defensive secondary alone.
That equals my predicted seven new defensive starters for 2011.
I know the scuttle-butt lately is that former Denver Broncos quarterback and offensive coordinator (and soon-to-be former head coach of the Houston Texans) Gary Kubiak is a sure bet, but I just think that the problems mentioned in the previous slide, entitled "The Denver Broncos Will Have As Many As SEVEN New Starters On Defense," make bringing a defensive mind to guide this team on the field essential.
They will need someone who can work with a strong front office presence like John Elway. This is why I think three particular men are up to the challenge—both on the field and behind the scenes.
First is recently fired San Francisco 49er head coach Mike Singletary. He himself is a Hall of Fame former player like Elway. He was the heart of the 1985 Chicago Bears defense that is still considered to be (arguably) the best the NFL has ever seen.
He has shown an ability to bring egos (Vernon Davis) and head-cases (Michael Crabtree) and under-achievers (Alex Smith) together and get the best out of them. He would use well those qualities here.
Then there is soon-to-be former Carolina Panthers' head coach John Fox. He has coached in a Super Bowl twice. Once as defensive coordinator for the New York Giants in SB XXXV, then as Panthers head coach in SB XXXVIII—albeit in a losing effort on both occasions.
That aside, he knows how to run a team that is based first on defense, second on running the ball. Both are well needed here.
Lastly is interim head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Leslie Frazier. He was the Special Assistant to the Head Coach/Defensive Backs Coach for the Indianapolis Colts when they won Super Bowl XLI. He has put together one of the best defenses in the NFL over his four years in Minnesota as their defensive coordinator. He has dealt with a media circus in Minnesota ("Thanks Bret!") this season that makes even McD cringe for its complex ugliness.
Perhaps most importantly? He was a finalist for this very job in 2009, so Pat Bowlen knows well what this man brings to the table.
So my biggest "reach" prediction for this off-season for the Denver Broncos is found above. The next head coach of the Denver Broncos will not be Gary Kubiak.
The next head coach of the Denver Broncos will be either Mike Singletary, John Fox or Leslie Frazier.
For more of my thoughts on all things Denver Broncos and assorted other football happenings, follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fuschumang