Elway, Bowlen, Fox and Brian Xanders will be counted on to turn the Broncos franchise around.
Rebuilding. It’s a word that instills fear in your heart, places your team near the league’s basement and signifies that substandard coaching, poor personnel decisions and feeble play have temporarily doomed your favorite franchise.
Sadly, it’s exactly what our beloved Denver Broncos are doing.
In the past two seasons, Josh McDaniels, our ex-substandard coach, crippled the franchise. He shipped off Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and, worst of all, Peyton Hillis.
He drafted some players who have already worn out their welcome in Denver and drafted more that have yet to fulfill expectations. And, after a 6-0 start to his career, all this has led to is a 12-20 record in two seasons and a new head coach.
But the positives of rebuilding are that the process offers the Broncos renewal—a chance to climb back to the top. They have a new head coach in John Fox, a new executive, the legend himself, John Elway, and an exhilarating young quarterback by the name of Tim Tebow.
So while the Broncos are down and out now, the only place they can go from here is up. The climb back to the top starts in just over a month with National Football League free agency.
The Broncos cannot be rebuilt with a few signings—it’s going to take one to two seasons worth of smart personnel decisions and sound draft picks. But, provided the NFL ever reaches a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, free agency in 2011 can give the Broncos the start they need to start ascending back to the league’s elite.
It may seem simple and obvious, but there are three things the Broncos are in desperate need of—talent, youth and depth. That’s not to say the Broncos don’t have talent as they do have some of these pieces already in place.
On offense, Tebow is an up-and-coming quarterback. Knowshon Moreno, when healthy, has shown his ability in the running game. The offensive line is young and improving and with Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal and Demaryius Thomas on roster, the Broncos have a talented batch of wide receivers.
On defense, the Broncos will get Elvis Dumervil, the NFL’s 2009 sack leader, back from an injury that kept him out for the entirety of 2010, which will provide an instant upgrade to the defense.
They will also return a solid core of young players, including Joe Mays, Wesley Woodyard, Robert Ayers, Syd’Quan Thompson, David Bruton and Darcel McBath, as well as veterans Justin Bannan and D.J. Williams.
One of the most gaping holes on the Broncos’ roster is the number of quickly aging veterans being relied upon to make an impact with little or no depth behind them. Correll Buckhalter, Jamal Williams, Andre Goodman and Renaldo Hill are just of the few veterans who have lost a step and can no longer be relied on as viable starters.
But, luckily for the Broncos, all these positions of need can begin to be addressed with free agency.
The first move the Broncos must make is a simple one—do what’s necessary to lock up Champ Bailey.
He has stated his openness to returning to Denver next season, and if the powers that be sit down and pitch him the defensive plan, his involvement and his contract situation, he could be persuaded to stay.
With John Fox being named the new head coach, the next logical place to look is the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have some talented players coming off the books, and it wouldn’t be too far fetched to see Fox try to acquire some of his former players.
The names for the Broncos to look closely at are Charles Johnson, Thomas Davis and Richard Marshall. The trio are 24, 24 and 26, respectively, and could be had at reasonable prices, making them logical players to look at to add depth, youth and best of all, talent.
Johnson, a fourth year defensive end, tied for seventh in the NFL with 12 sacks last season and, coupled with Dumervil and Ayers, could help to fortify the Broncos’ pass rush. Davis, a linebacker, is a player coming off an ACL injury, but has shown promise throughout his career. Fox has a fondness for him, and he would be a welcome addition to the linebacking corps. Marshall, a fifth-year corner, has steadily improved throughout his career and, if he followed his coach west, would be a great fit in the Broncos’ secondary.
Another ex-Panther who poses an intriguing opportunity is running back DeAngelo Williams. With the emergence of Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson in Carolina, the talented Williams seems destined to leave the Panthers.
While Moreno is a talented player for the Broncos, he has been injury prone in his career. Williams would create a more balanced and talented RB tandem in Denver.
There are also free agents to be had from other parts of the league. Along the defensive line, players such as defensive tackle Barry Cofield of the New York Giants and defensive end Ray Edwards of the Minnesota Vikings are young, talented players who don’t stand out as free agent priorities for their current employers.
Cofield is part of a very crowded defensive line in New York and could seek opportunity elsewhere, and the Vikings seem intent in continuing to develop some of their younger talent rather than pay Edwards.
There are also attractive free agent opportunities in the secondary. One such player is Philadelphia Eagles’ cornerback Ellis Hobbs, a player who has shown considerable talent as a cover corner and return man. He missed much of the 2010 season due to a neck injury, so he remains a high risk, high reward option. But if the Broncos can sign him for a reasonable price, it would behoove them to take a shot on the young corner.
With starters Renaldo Hill and Brian Dawkins aging quickly, the Broncos also need considerable help at safety. Luckily, there are many options on the market. Two names that come to mind are the New York Jets Brodney Pool and the Baltimore Ravens Tom Zibikowski.
Both spent much of 2010 in reserve roles, so both could be looking for increased roles in 2011. Mostly a reserve in New York, Pool showed his ability when starter Jim Leonhard went down with a leg injury. He is a strong tackler and has moderate ability in deep cover. Zibikowski lacks some talent, but he makes up for it with instinct, intelligence and heart. He is also a dynamic special teams player, as a return man and gunner. Both would be a reasonably priced upgrades to the Broncos’ safety depth.
The Broncos are in full rebuilding mode right now, but opportunities abound for them to begin the process of getting better. With talented Panthers who may want to reunite with their former coach, Williams available at running back and a considerable amount of talented young defenders on the free agent market, the Broncos have the means to begin the solidification of their defense, a step instrumental in their rebuilding process.
The Broncos organization is down now, but there not far from becoming Mile High again.