It seems in the past two to three years, the amount of talk and controversy that has surrounded the Denver Bronco organization has been abundant. From the moment long-time Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan was fired, the Broncos have been in flux. The Mistake Era, I mean McDaniels Era, saw the Broncos ship out the two best players on the team in Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. A 6-0 and start to the era was promising, but since the Broncos have been 6-16 and McDaniels was fired.
However, enough of the past, John Elway has taken the reigns, and his hand-chosen, right-hand man is ex-Carolina Panther head coach, John Fox. Elway may be one of the greatest offensive players ever to play the game of football, but he is no fool. He understands he is going to have to fix a defense that has ranked in the bottom five of the major defensive statistical ranks for the last three years. The story of Tebow and my thoughts have already been voiced, but his true effectiveness is all based on his defense.
Elway, Fox and left-hand man Brian Xanders, focused on the defensive side of the ball in the 2011 draft. More importantly, they re-signed the best player on Denver's defense in Champ Bailey. Though a lot of scrutiny have been put on the trio for not selecting Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley or even Stephen Paea, the group remains steadfast in their plan.
Elway states they have a three-year plan to get the Broncos back to championship contenders. Broncos fans feel that time is eons away, but with a very solid draft and a franchise player in Von Miller, the three-year plan sounds pretty close.
Though the Broncos still need serious help, using their seventh-round and final pick to draft a defensive lineman, and even then, he is technically listed as a defensive end (Jeremy Beal). The Broncos have had a gaping whole in the middle of their defensive line causing them to get torched in the run game, which also allows for the opponents pass game to go over the top. The Broncos will be targeting defensive tackle and running back if and when free agency opens. Defensive tackle has to be at the very forefront of the plans of Elway and Co.
It has been made somewhat clear by the Broncos brass that, at defensive end, it will be Elvis Dumervil and former first-round pick Robert Ayers. Vonn Miller, Nate Irving and D.J. Williams would be listed from strong to weak backer. In your defensive backfield, you would have Champ Bailey, Rahim Moore, Brian Dawkins (on run downs)/ Quinton Carter (passing downs). The right corner back presents some issues, pending what happens to Perrish Cox and the courts and if they keep Andre Goodman. The starting lineups are up for debate, but one thing that is not up for debate is the Broncos need help on the defensive side of the ball, especially at tackle.
Here is the group of players the Broncos should target to make their new 4-3 defense a respectable one once free agency hits, hopefully in about a month.
Weight: 311 lbs
Arguably the Broncos best, realistic option moving forward once the "true offseason" begins and free agency opens up. Brandon Mebane is a beast, going into his fourth season in the NFL, compiling 148 tackles, 10 sacks and two forced fumbles in his three-year career. Not very tall, but a huge body in the middle of the defense, Mebane is a sure tackler and is able to take up two, sometimes three defenders.
Lofa Tatupu made a career being able to reap the benefits of Mebane taking up blockers and making tackles in the backfield. Mebane is very young, which is perfect for the Denver Broncos as they look for a youth movement in this most recent draft and in free agency. John Fox has said the Broncos are looking for a young defensive tackle, and Mebane fits the description. The Broncos would almost be foolish to not at the very least attempt to grab the young defensive tackle.
Weight: 306 lbs
The Broncos No. 2 target of free agency. If for some reason the Broncos are unable to pull Mebane away from Seattle, the Broncos need to quickly put their attention onto Barry Cofield. At 27 years old, Cofield is still relatively young, and his height at 6'4" is a plus for putting his hands up on passing downs over the middle.
Cofield is unsure if he will stay in New York and has said that "my time is up," a phrase taking the sports world by storm as free agency lurks around the corner. I do not think that it is a far off thought that Denver would try and sign him, but again, Mebane has to be their No. 1. It also may come down to price tags, Cofield and Mebane will cost a pretty penny, but for a Denver defense in need of a man in the middle, it is a necessity.
Denver Bronco fans should be happy with either one of these options at defensive tackle as we move to the 4-3.
Weight: 305 lbs
A bit of reach with this one, the Broncos could use a savvy, productive veteran who knows how to win. Cullen Jenkins was one of many Green Bay Packer defenders who had a monster year with 18 tackles and seven sacks as a defensive tackle. A point that will be stressed this season on the Denver defense as they try to become the Orange Crush again, the Broncos need to get to the quarterback. That is how turnovers happen and points stay off the board.
The reason I say this may be a stretch is because Jenkins is getting older, and he has already won a title, so he may take a pay cut in order to stay in Lambeau. However, he may come with a very high price tag because of his monster year, and I am not sure if the Broncos would be willing to dish out too much to get an older defensive tackle. I know a player like Jenkins is one that head coach John Fox salivates over due to the fact that he is a veteran which would make Fox more inclined to make a bid for him.
With a defense that could theoretically have three or four rookies, that defense would only improve with a Super Bowl winning figure to help guide them to where they want to go.
Weight: 292 lbs
This would be a nice, inexpensive, depth-building, free-agent signing for the Denver Broncos. Getting drafted by Jon Fox when he was in Carolina, Hayden is now a free agent, and pending what happens with the new CBA, he could be a restricted or unrestricted free agent. If the Broncos would be able to get Mebane or Cofield, Hayden would be a terrific rotation guy with Kevin Vickerson and Marcus Thomas, if he resigns, in the middle of the line.
Not a true starter in Carolina—a young talent—he has quick reactions and can take up a couple blockers, but he has been a bit inconsistent and has gotten a concussion or two. A reunion with John Fox, the man who believed in him to be drafted, would be a huge selling point for Hayden.
Depth is something that the Broncos will need, especially a young guy like Hayden. A guy no one is really talking about could be a tremendous role player in a rebuilding defense.
Weight: 355 lbs
Paul Soliai is an absolute animal. You can tell that by just looking at all of the fur that surrounds his face. Now this may be the biggest stretch, in terms of predictions that I have made, regardless of sport. Maybe it is just false hope, but he is a free agent which means the Broncos, in desperate need of a defensive tackle, are in the running.
I find it hard to believe that Miami would allow him to go somewhere else, but crazier things have happened. If Denver is willing to spend the money, then Soliai may be seeing green all the way to Denver. However, for that to happen, we would have to overpay in order to get him, and it may keep us from getting another high profile free agent in the offseason like a running back. The Denver defense would have a huge upgrade if we were able to pull him out of South Beach.
The Broncos need help, but the good thing for Denver Bronco fans to know is that once free agency hits, the Broncos will be making headlines. They will undoubtedly pull the trigger quick. Elway and Co. have already stated they have a plan in place and are just waiting for the starting gun to sound.
Let the debates begin!!
Also follow me on twitter @vincesapienza