John Elway, Pat Bowlen and new head coach John Fox have a lot of work to do to get the Broncos up to speed
The days following the lockout may be as critical for the Denver Broncos as any team in the NFL. Coming off a disastrous 2010 season which featured the firing of Josh McDaniels, Spygate II, and 2 different loss streaks of 4 or more, the Mile High faithful are trying to find glimmers of hope for the 2011 season.
With the addition of new head coach John Fox, and the lockout not allowing contact between the team and players, the Broncos are left with only a few short weeks of training camp to learn coach's system, and revert their defensive front back to the 4-3. That means, in order to be successful in 2011, they'll need to make sound decisions on their veteran free agent targets within a relatively short timeline.
Here are the players that the Broncos should be on the phone with the moment free agency starts:
While Ryan Harris hasn't yet played up to his potential, he'll be a top priority for the Broncos this offseason.
Ryan Harris, who has started at Right Tackle for the Broncos for 34 of their last 35 games, should be a wanted man on the free agent market, and the Broncos would be smart to retain his services. Although he may get some attractive offers from other teams, Harris' time seems to have come for a nice transition to his strengths in Denver.
With the Broncos looking to explore the zone-running game, a similar to what they employed during the Mike Shanahan's No-Name-Thousand-Yard-Back era, Harris' athleticism makes him a great fit next to second year G Zane Beadles. The fact that he only allowed 3.25 sacks last year shows that he could very well be a good choice to protect the blind side of left-handed quarterback Tim Tebow.
While Franklin wasn't as good as advertised in 2010, he should still be on the radar of the Broncos, who have major issues at Defensive Tackle
Aubrayo Franklin, after being franchise tagged by the San Francisco 49ers last year, may be just what the Broncos need at Defensive Tackle. Franklin was in on a career-high 38 solo tackle last season, demonstrating his worth to San Francisco.
Although he's played his entire NFL career at the Nose Tackle position in the 3-4 defensive front, Franklin may benefit from a move to the 4-3, where he wouldn't take on as many double teams from interior offensive lineman. His quick first step and powerful punch could be a big step for the Broncos in disrupting the pass and clogging up the middle against the rush.
Randy Moss can help stretch defensive backfields, allowing Tebow's athleticism and arm strength to shine
Washed-up. Has been. Not a top receiver any more. You've probably heard a quite a bit about why teams won't be looking at adding veteran Wide Receiver Randy Moss to the fray this offseason. Well, guess what?
Randy's heard them, too.
Rumors are abound that Moss is in 'freakish' shape in a final effort to prove his doubters wrong. While he won't command the salary he's used to, he's a good fit for a team with strong locker room leadership, and a average running game. The Broncos have both.
John Elway once said Tim Tebow had 'a lot of arm there' in reference to Tebow's arm strength, and a receiver with Moss's leaping abilities could make it much easier for the Broncos to stretch the field vertically, forcing defenses to stay honest in running situations.
Vickers future with the Browns is in doubt after they drafted Owen Marecic
After the Browns drafted Stanford star Owen Marecic, many saw it as a time for them to move on from five year veteran Lawrence Vickers. Because Marecic, Vickers and starting Running Back Peyton Hillis are all downhill, physical backs, it makes sense for the Browns to move in a different direction.
The Broncos could certainly use an upgrade at this position, as Spencer Larsen certainly isn't a long-term answer. With the transition to the zone-running scheme imminent, a Fullback with Vickers blocking and pass-catching abilities will produce a major impact in the Broncos running game.
Darren Sharper will be a hot commodity on the free agent market, after playing out a one year, $1.7 million contract with the Saints last year.
Safety Darren Sharper may be one of the riskiest moves for player personnel directors this offseason. At 32 years of age, not many defensive backs are still starting at his age, let alone playing at such a high level.
Let's be honest, he could potentially break down at any moment, and with the Broncos getting long in the tooth with CB Champ Bailey and S Brian Dawkins, he may not be the best fit, but he could very well be the best value. Sharper came off an even better year in 2009, and teams were leery of him at best. The Broncos have a talented rookie in S Rahim Moore, and he would greatly benefit from the tutelage of both Dawkins and Sharper.
Richard Marshall could be a solid option at CB if the Broncos cut ties with Perrish Cox
Richard Marshall was told by his agents earlier this offseason that his services would not be retained by the Panthers, making it an interesting transition for the CB, who has been the starter for the last two seasons in Carolina. Former Carolina coach John Fox may have some interest in bringing back a defender who can provide run support and solid tackling at the position.
But this mainly hinges on what the Broncos decide to do with Perrish Cox. Cox, who has been indicted on a grotesque sexual charge, seems like he’s too toxic for the Broncos to keep on the roster moving forward, and a veteran presence like Marshall could ease the transition. Although Marshall would most likely be relegated to play nickel back in the new alignment, something that would not be as appealing as a starting position, he would have the opportunity to make some plays against slot receivers and tight ends, setting himself up for another big payday.
Gerard Warren would be a good alternative if the Broncos can't get their #1 target.
Gerard Warren proved to be a good addition for the Patriots last year, contributing 3.5 sacks and 28 tackles last season as he played both defensive end and defensive tackle in the Patriots 3-4 hybrid defensive front.
Warren has had success in the past in the 4-3, but at his age, 33, teams will be hesitant to sign an aging veteran at such a physical position. This is yet another 3-4 defensive lineman that could benefit from the Broncos transitioning to the 4-3, giving him a bit more freedom as far as the line stunts, while simultaneously reducing the number of double teams he’ll be going against. It may seem like a bit of a long-shot for the Broncos, but as they look to part ways with Jamal Williams this offseason, he could be a great placeholder as the Broncos hope to build a reserve of good DTs. If the Broncos can’t get the guy who should be their number one target, Warren would be a great alternative.
Though Brown has had a lot of success in Miami, his age and injury issues could make him a good value on the free agent market.
Ronnie Brown may be the most overlooked player in this year’s cast of free agents. Having had as much success as he did with the Dolphins, you would think that he would be highly-touted, but he’s sustained a few season ending injuries over the last few years, and teams are going to be circumspect about bringing in a running back that has taken the hits he has, not to mention the fact that he’s quickly approaching age 30, a number that’s not typically kind to running backs.
But, Brown’s versatility could be the aspect that intrigues the Broncos the very most. Since introducing the Wildcat a few years ago, Brown has seen tremendous success with his “one cut and hit the hole” style of running, a style that directly correlates to the zone running scheme being implemented in Denver. The fact that he and Tebow could run some interesting gadget plays only thickens the plot.
Williams, who's already had success in John Fox's offense, looks like a no-brainer for the Broncos.
Deangelo Williams is probably the most likely player on this list to become a Bronco. With Knowshon Moreno beginning to look more and more like a bust, the Broncos need a running back that can compliment him, and in all likelihood, take over the starting position for 2011.
Williams has had a tremendous amount of success with John Fox in Carolina over the last few years, and because he’s been splitting time with RB Johnathan Stewart, he hasn’t had to deal with as many high-impact hits as many starters at the same position, giving him a bit more tread on the tires than his age (28) would indicate. Expect the Broncos to announce they’ll bring him on as early as Thursday.
Mebane will be on a lot of team's radars as a free agent, but if the Broncos can pick him up, he could be the key in turning around a porous defense, making the Broncos competitive again.
If the Broncos are smart, they’re negotiating with his agent as you read this right now. Mebane, a 26-year-old defensive tackle, has been a starter since the Seattle Seahawks selected him in the third round of the 2007 draft. Mebane, a restricted free agent, received a third-round tender offer from Seattle before the lockout.
Because many teams will be thinking that’s a great exchange, an unproven future third-rounder for an established up-and-comer at defensive tackle, Mebane should be seeing some interest around the league, including Chicago, St. Louis and Tennessee.
That’s why it’s crucial for the Broncos to make a good offer early. If they’re really looking to improve 2010’s 32nd-ranked rush defense, they need to bring in a player of Mebane’s ability and sign him to a deal that will keep him in Denver for years to come.
If Elway, Xanders and Fox can pull this one off, it could be the turning point of the franchise, symbolizing a return to great defense that the Broncos haven’t seen since the 2005 season.