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Evaluation Of The 2018 Broncos Offseason Road Map

Last January, I put together my annual look at what directions I felt the Broncos should go for 2018. With all the relevant decisions now in the books, it’s time to see where John Elway concurred with and dissented from my opinion, and see if there are any revisions I would make four months later.

1. Fix the quarterback position.

Status: Succeeded in part, failed in part.

I split this very important goal into three parts. One (letting Brock Osweiler walk) was uncontroversial. (I am very surprised, however, that he only got a minimum salary benefit deal that will likely be the difference in ending the Broncos’ compensatory pick streak at four drafts.) Another (moving one of Trevor Siemian of Paxton Lynch) was also successful, as Siemian was traded to Minnesota for a swap of draft picks in Denver’s favor.

But I said that moving Siemian or Lynch was contingent on acquiring both a veteran and a rookie quarterback. The Broncos did sign Case Keenum as a veteran, but I’m disappointed that they did not even acquire a UDFA quarterback. It’s certainly reasonable to believe that Keenum will improve the position. It’s also reasonable not to rule out Lynch catching up to the NFL, or for Chad Kelly to prove that he was underrated in the draft process.

But this position is so important that I felt the Broncos needed to get another quarterback in camp to fully cover their bases. My worry is that if Keenum has hit a ceiling, and neither Lynch nor Kelly develops further, the Broncos could be right back to where they were in 2016-2017 come 2019. That’s not a place I want the Broncos to be in.

2. Place second round RFA tenders on Matt Paradis and Shaq Barrett.

Status: Succeeded.

Step 1 was obvious. Step 2 now comes to see if extensions will be agreed upon with both players. Expect future articles on how I’d approach those negotiations.

3. Do not place a RFA tender on Bennie Fowler.

Status: Succeeded.

Fowler ended up getting a one year, $1 million deal with $200,000 guaranteed from the Chicago Bears. I would have been fine bringing him back to Denver at that compensation, but given that the Broncos drafted two wide receivers in the first four rounds it’s clear that they wanted to take an aggressive approach in improving the position. Thus, in the end it was better for both Fowler and the Broncos to have Fowler try to catch on elsewhere.

4. Pick up Demaryius Thomas’s option.

Status: Succeeded.

I was very pleased to see the Broncos not degrade this position by parting ways with proven talent without any succession plan on the roster. Now, that plan exists with the drafting of Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. Both Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are under contract for the next two seasons, and the Broncos now have the flexibility to bring Sutton and Hamilton along slow if need be while likely getting the last two prime seasons out of Thomas and Sanders.

5. Do not cut CJ Anderson.

Status: Failed.

This is the one transaction in which I am in the strongest dissent from Elway on. Like with wide receiver, it’s clear that the Broncos wanted to drastically upgrade the running back position when they drafted Royce Freeman and David Williams and signed Phillip Lindsay as a UDFA. But unlike wide receiver, there’s no proven talent in front of them to indemnify against. The most veteran player at the position now is a third year player in Devontae Booker. One could argue that $4.5 million might be overpaying Anderson, but with the 2018 cap in good shape at over $14 million, even if I cede that could have been an overpay I would retort that paying Anderson that amount would be good insurance in case all of the younger players struggle, especially given Anderson’s leadership role. I am very worried that the Broncos’ running game could be in trouble for 2018–let’s hope that one of the five younger players can surprise.

I am also not impressed with Elway’s decision to wait on cutting Anderson until April 16. Waiting until then did not help out the Broncos, while it substantially hurt Anderson by shutting him out of the prime free agency money that he could have had if he was cut before the start of the new league year. This is another example of why agents need to fight for contract triggers to force teams to make a decision on a player in early March–even if they’re of the team option variety that teams like the Broncos regularly use to manipulate the comp pick formula.

6. Do not cut Aqib Talib…but do consider renegotiating his contract.

Status: Failed

Talib, of course, was traded to the Rams. Unlike with Anderson, I am willing to be convinced to approve this transaction. There is good reason to believe that Talib is now past his prime, and that paying $11 million for his services in 2018 could have backfired. I still would have considered pursuing renegotiation first (and perhaps the Broncos did so privately), but if Talib balked at that renegotiation then it does back the team into a corner where they likely have no choice but to part ways (especially for someone with strong convictions like Talib), and a trade is certainly better than a cut in that regard.

7. Be prepared to guarantee Menelik Watson $6 million.

Status: Succeeded…but perhaps not in the most ideal manner.

While we don’t know for sure why the Broncos will be retaining Watson for 2018, Occam’s Razor suggests that the Broncos were unable to avoid triggering Watson’s injury guarantee. It’s not like Watson has any obvious vote of confidence from the Broncos–they traded for Jared Veldheer to start at Watson’s position for 2018. While this may have been out of the Broncos’ control, unfortunately this means that the Broncos will employ one of the most expensive swing tackles in the league this upcoming season, unless Watson can somehow impress at the right guard position.

8. Let Todd Davis walk, and set a $1 million 2018 cap number limit for extending Corey Nelson.

Status: Succeeded in part, failed in part

I had this one completely reversed: it was Nelson who walked to Philadelphia on a one year, $1.6 million deal (more than I was willing to offer), and it was Davis that was extended on a three year, $15 million deal with $6 million guaranteed. I am ambivalent on extending Davis. On the one hand, paying $5 million APY on a position that’s of a backup nature in practice in Denver makes me nervous. But on the other hand, the inside linebacker position got a significant pay raise on the market (highlighted by the Chiefs’ ridiculous contract for Anthony Hitchens). Davis also seems to be genuinely committed to the Broncos organization. But back on the one hand, the drafting of Josey Jewell and Keishawn Bierria is a bit unusual given the money the team has now invested in both Davis and Brandon Marshall. I’ll save extensive thoughts until I look at what 2019 could hold but I am now curious about how long of a future Marshall has with the team.

9. Try to extend Cody Latimer on a special teams deal.

Status: Failed

Latimer got a deal with the Giants for one year and $2.5 million that was fully guaranteed. That is far more than I would have been willing to invest in Latimer. I congratulate him for getting a better deal, and I wish him the best in trying to take the next step in the NFL in New York.

10. Acquire a veteran returner.

Status: Failed(?)

I’m puzzled as to what the Broncos’ plan at this position will be for 2018. Isaiah McKenzie will get certainly one more chance to win the job in training camp, but by adding Sutton and Hamilton, McKenzie will really have to impress to justify keeping an extra receiver on the team. Maybe some other new player will emerge out of camp, but for the time being this appears to be a position that the Broncos are allowing to fall by the wayside. And with the continued degradation of the kickoff in the NFL, plus playing half of their games at altitude, perhaps that’s a good thing.

11. Let Virgil Green, Jamaal Charles, Donald Stephenson, Jared Crick, Allen Barbre, Billy Winn, and Billy Turner all walk.

Status: Mostly succeeded.

Of these players, only Turner was retained on a one year, $2 million deal with $750,000 guaranteed. This feels like an overpay to me, but not egregiously so, and if Turner doesn’t make the team $375,000 in dead money against both the 2018 and 2019 caps is not unreasonable. Of the other players, only Green and Stephenson have signed deals elsewhere, so most of this group was uncontroversial in that their futures in Denver were over.

12. Do not pursue any other free agents unless and until a veteran quarterback acquisition allows it.

Status: Succeeded

I will praise Elway for not trying to enter a quest for Kirk Cousins that was likely doomed to fail. Instead, he swooped in quickly on Keenum, allowing the team to move on quickly to other free agents.

This also seems like a good place to briefly comment on each of the Broncos’ free agency acquisitions. (Contract deals are abbreviated as Years/APY/Full Guarantees.)

  • Case Keenum – 2/$18M/$25M: I’m fine with signing Keenum, he was probably the second best veteran option after Cousins. However, I have yet to be convinced that he has a higher ceiling than what he demonstrated in Minnesota in 2017. I can be convinced that behind an excellent defense he can make the Broncos regular contenders. But in order for the team to be regular major contenders I do get the feeling that the Broncos will need to try again in the draft for a quarterback at some point.
  • Tramaine Brock – 1/$3M/$3M: I’ll admit I’m still sour on this deal given Brock’s past arrest for domestic violence. The Broncos did need a veteran cornerback in the wake of trading Talib, but I wish they could have gone in a different direction. The hope here is that one of Brendan Langley or Isaac Yiadom can be ready for the #3 CB position by 2019 at the latest, so that Brock can just serve as a one year filler at that position.
  • Clinton McDonald – 2/$3.5M/$4M: This was a deal the Broncos needed to do given the serious rape allegations that Adam Gotsis faces. All reports seem to indicate that McDonald is a solid rotational defensive lineman that also brings leadership qualities to a team. Sounds like a player I’d like to have in Denver.
  • Su’a Cravens (trade from WAS) – 3/$853k/$0: It was reported that the Broncos had a first round grade on Cravens when he was drafted. If he performs at that level then this is an amazing bargain. And even if it turns out that the NFL isn’t for him given his past in DC, the Broncos will be out very little in money and draft capital.
  • Jared Veldheer (trade from ARI) – 1/$7M/$0: I’m fine with acquiring Veldheer as a patch for the ever problematic right tackle position for 2018. I am worried, however, that the Broncos do not have a good plan for the position for 2019 onward, as they did not draft anyone there. Next offseason could be yet another repeat of fans complaining about right tackle.
  • Marquette King – 2/$3M/$2M: I don’t know if the Broncos needed to improve at punter, but it is an improvement for sure, and given that King gave the Broncos a team friendly deal that smells like a “fuck the Raiders” mentality behind it, I can approve of this change–especially since the Broncos were able to trade Riley Dixon away afterwards.

13. If all else fails in making cap room for a veteran quarterback, restructure Von Miller.

Status: Succeeded.

As stated, the Broncos rarely restructure contracts, but a likely Hall of Famer in Miller is the type of player you want to make an exception for.

14. Hold off on extending Bradley Roby and Matt Paradis until the quarterback situation is resolved.

Status: Succeeded.

With Keenum settling the quarterback position at least somewhat for 2018 and 2019, the Broncos now have more clarity on how to handle these two players’ contractual situations. I’ll come back to this with far more detail in future articles.

15. A decision on future of Shaq Barrett (and Shane Ray) may have to come soon after the draft.

Status: Succeeded…but in an unusual way.

Few could have foreseen that the Broncos would be able to draft Bradley Chubb at 5th overall, but that’s what happened when the Browns surprised most by taking Denzel Ward at 4th overall. Drafting Chubb makes it even more impractical that the Broncos can keep both Ray and Barrett on vested veteran deals.

So from that angle, it makes sense that Denver would decline Ray’s fifth year option. The Broncos are now set up to replicate in 2019 the dynamic they had with Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson in front of the 2016 offseason: they can attempt to retain one on a team friendly deal while allowing the other to walk in hopes of garnering a high compensatory pick for 2020. I would expect the Broncos to privately engage in some negotiations with Ray and Barrett from here on out to see if either one will bite on such a deal, and I’ll have an article in the future to describe what I’d like to see there.

* * * *

Tallying up the 15 points, I concurred with Elway on 9 with them, concurred in part and dissented in part with 2 of them, and fully dissented on 4 of them. Of the points of dissent, the only ones that I am having difficultly accepting are cutting Anderson and failing to acquire a rookie quarterback. But what I can accept overall is that despite those disagreements, I still see Elway as a top tier general manager, and I’m glad he is still running the Broncos’ football operations.