The NFL lockout successfully brings out the best and worst in everybody.
It brings out frustrated fans, and it brings out the urgency placed on coaches. Yes sir, Roger Goodell is keeping busy.
But the Broncos, I’m not so sure.
Since the infamous Jay Cutler/Kyle Orton “let’s see whose better” switch, the Broncos' brakes have permanently locked. After a lousy 4-12 year and a slow offseason, things have become tediously predictable, especially while the AFC West continues to grow at a beanstalks pace.
But you wouldn’t sense this feeling of concern if you asked a Mile High local. Broncomaniacs just want Tim Tebow. Just like they want a solid offensive line, a run game that ranks in the top 10, oh, and a defense that can limit Matt Cassel to under 300 yards instead of 469.
Daydreaming is bliss.
What could also be bliss is free agency. Head coach John Fox won’t discuss it like he should, and nor will John Elway, but the coaching staff isn’t fooling Mile High by playing this ongoing game of charades. So here’s some players you can point to in eight months time and say “Why couldn’t the Broncos have signed him?”
Quarterback: Marc Bulger, Alex Smith
The Broncos have enough quarterbacks to fill a tent and start a circus. But by far the biggest concern in Denver is the lack of a veteran presence on the team, especially for an offense that look tired and simply unable to move the ball in the red zone last season.
In hindsight, Marc Bulger will never be any team's saving grace at age 34. He hasn’t been at his very best since he visited the Pro Bowl in 2006 during his time with the St. Louis Rams, making him nothing more than a backup safety net for a young team at best.
That’s all the Broncos could hope for, though—someone they can rely on if Orton, Tebow and Brady Quinn all topple over like bowling pins. Of course, it’s hard to ever envision that happening, but at the very least, Bulger could motivate John Fox’s quarterback competition, while at the same time mentor three of the leagues younger passers.
If the Broncos really are serious about correcting their quarterback quandary, they’ll look at the good and the bad in Alex Smith. Last season was by the reverse opposite of what was expected from him, but in 2009, he did show promise under center as the 49ers began to take stride.
The biggest (and not the only) problem with Smith is his accuracy. You can credit that to a lack of reputable wide receivers in San Francisco if you wish, but he has a tendency to overthrow/underthrow plenty of passes, a characteristic that could just earn him a spot in Denver (kidding).
But of course, Smith would never waltz into the Broncos staff room and claim to be a starter. If anything he would mull on the bench for a year or two, depending on how Orton and Tebow play out.
There’s undoubtedly a quarterback problem that needs fixing in Denver. If you’re John Fox, you take your pick between young and inaccurate, or old and experienced.
Other options: Kerry Collins, Todd Bouman, Trent Edwards.
Running Back: Darren Sproles
There are a few running backs hiding in free agency that Fox could raise an eyebrow to. By far one of the most intriguing prospects though is Darren Sproles.
Even with the lockout, it looks as though the Chargers are officially parting ways with Sproles. San Diego recently placed a franchise tag on Mike Tolbert and with second-year player Ryan Matthews also expected to have a much more expanded role in 2011, it’s simply a case of tough luck for Sproles.
Aside from the fact that he is familiar with the AFC West, he’s also a special teams luxury if the Broncos consider him. Statistically Sproles isn’t winning any fantasy arguments but with Knowshon Moreno still anyone’s guess in terms of productivity, it may be time for the Broncos to consider their options after passing on a running back in the draft.
Luckily for Denver and to the fans' knowledge, the Broncos aren’t short on options. Joseph Addai still remains homeless for the time being, as does Cedric Benson. Convincing Pat Bowlen on the other hand may take some work.
Other options: Laurence Maroney, Ronnie Brown.
Cornerback: Nnamdi Asomugha
Straighten those eyebrows.
Nnamdi Asomugha is wanted by everyone who can afford him right now. He’s by far the best-looking free agent in this year’s class, and perhaps the best cornerback in the league if you disregard Darrelle Revis and Charles Woodson. Broncomaniacs, it’s a nice thought. But closing in on age 30, the price tag hanging above Asomugha’s head—which is set to topple over the $15 million mark—is simply too much for Denver to consider.
The Raiders still want him. So do the Jets. Plus the other 30 teams.
With Champ Bailey returning for another four years, unless Fox seems some kind of pressing need at cornerback, don’t bet on it.
Other option: Antonio Cromartie.
Defensive Tackle: Anthony Adams
The Broncos defensive line isn’t quite a doughnut, but it isn’t a wholemeal slice of bread either. In reply, John Fox and John Elway hope to change that though with a change to the 4-3 system this season, allowing Denver’s defense to perhaps find the spark of energy it lacked last season while struggling against the AFC’s elite.
In terms of defensive tackles, this year's free agency pool is a little stagnant and shallow. Big names such as Haloti Ngata (Ravens) and Paul Soliai (Dolphins) have all received a franchise tag, leaving the Broncos with a short field to play with as August approaches. Hopefully that doesn’t stop Fox, however.
In between the best and the bottom is Anthony Adams. The Chicago Bears defensive tackle placed two sacks and two forced fumbles next to his name last season, and the Broncos must fill the potential free spot left open by Ronald Fields. I find it hard to fault this option for the Broncos, especially since Adams comes from a 4-3 background in Chicago.
Wide Receiver: Terrell Owens
There’s been a rumbling in Denver that a wide receiver is needed. And no, it’s not all that silly. So here’s one of Denver’s very few options: Terrell Owens.
In Cincinnati, Owens provided the Bengals with a rhythm on offense that somehow failed to catch on. He still used his mouth way too much, and I sometimes wonder if Owens will simply give up on the NFL sometime soon, but for the Broncos, he is an older player that could pave the way for the future.
The positive: Owens hasn’t received much attention. Teams seem to have passed on him in free agency due to his problems with dropped balls (and of course, locker-room issues), leaving the gate open if Fox wants to get his hands dirty and attempt to bridle this untame horse.
Either way, if Denver do wind up signing a receiver, I see it working out for the best. The Broncos could benefit from a three-pronged attack from Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal and a player like T.O., even if it is only a temporary success. Lloyd woke up from his three-year nap last season to post over 1,000 yards on the board. Combine that with Owens, and the Broncos' red-zone woes could be solved.
Other options: Braylon Edwards, T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
If you’re a free agent, this year isn’t the greatest pool to be a part of—in fact, it stinks. The lockout has succeeded in forcing teams to tender their players, regardless of their potential future with the team. Unfortunately, this means good news for the Indianapolis Colts. But that's bad news for a struggling team like Denver.
There’s plenty of ambitious picks to dwell over if you like to daydream. Then again, there is a handful of realistic picks that make sense in Denver, especially on defense and at the running back spot.
Simply put, though, one has to think that the quarterback position is focus numero uno for John Fox.
So it’s time to start shopping.