At the conclusion of each Broncos season, I pave out a road map as to what my suggestions are to improve the roster. By this time of year, most relevant roster decisions have been made. Thus, as always, it’s a good time to evaluate my road map as compared to what the Broncos actually did, keeping me honest and making sure that I address anything I got wrong.
1. Make signings at interior defensive line
a) Budget $14 million APY for a high starting veteran IDL contract
Instead of retaining Dre’Mont Jones, who did a good job getting a contract over $17 million APY from the Seahawks, the Broncos snagged a familiar face for the returning Vance Joseph at defensive coordinator by keeping him united with Zach Allen at $15.25 million APY. I approve of this move: the Broncos got a player with scheme familiarity and stayed much closer to budget in getting him. The contract that Jones ultimately got would have been too much for what I thought was appropriate for the Broncos’ roster, yet I’m very happy that he got the kind of money that he deserves, and I wish him well in Seattle.
b) Budget $5 million APY for a low starting veteran IDL contract
I ended up vastly overestimating how much DeShawn Williams would get in free agency, only garnering $1.75 million from the Panthers. He stays with Ejiro Evero in Charlotte, so there likely wasn’t a path for the Broncos to retain him.
However, it’s disconcerting that Denver did not make another veteran signing alongside Allen at this position–nor did they draft anyone at the position, only garnering PJ Mustipher as an undrafted free agent. This leaves the depth chart behind Allen and DJ Jones as 32 year old Mike Purcell, and Eyioma Uwazurike, Matt Henningsen, and Jonathan Harris–none of the three who played more than 20% of the snaps last season.
The lack of a move makes me wonder if when the Broncos play nickel, they will do so most of the time with only two IDL on the field, along with two edge rushers and linebackers. The Broncos could also be putting great faith in the younger players to take a major step forward. But if three IDL will be on the field most of the time instead, I worry about deficient skill and depth at the position. The Broncos might not be done here even in June–Matt Ioannidis in particular could turn this failed goal around quickly if the price is right.
2. Make moves within the interior offensive line
a) Cut Graham Glasgow unless he is willing to take another pay cut
Glasgow did not come back this time–he instead returns to Detroit for just $2.75 million on a likely backup role. I wish he had some better luck in Denver, and I wish him well as he likely winds his career down.
b) Sign a starting left guard
The Broncos signed Ben Powers to a four year contract worth $13 million APY. This contract went over my budget of $10 million, and I’m a little worried that Powers’s success only really took off starting last season, but this was a hole in the roster that had to be filled, and decidedly filled it was. May Powers man this position throughout his contract.
The big mystery here, however–despite being one no longer of concern for the Broncos–is how on earth Dalton Risner is still unsigned. I thought he would have to settle for a one year contract at a perhaps reduced rate in order for him to build his stock back up. But I did not come even close to anticipating “no contract into June” for a reliable four year starter. Nonetheless, I think that some team out there could get a good, underrated player should they sign Risner.
c) Sign a backup interior offensive lineman
The Broncos signed Kyle Fuller on a veteran salary benefit contract. They also added to this by selecting Alex Forsyth near the end of the draft.
3. Try the best to fix right tackle
a) Sign a starter…very cautiously
I said that “I will be stunned if the 49ers do not at least use the franchise tag on [Mike] McGlinchey.”. Color me stunned, and then turned into being elated on being wrong on whether McGlinchey would hit free agency when they were able to land his services for $17.5 million APY over five seasons. Let’s hope that the long regional nightmare at right tackle is finally over for the Broncos for a long time–I’m certainly bullish on those prospects.
b) Sign a swing tackle
The Broncos brought back Cameron Fleming for $2.35 million. Although Fleming is not starter material, he is very well suited to come in for a few games if needed should injury strike either McGlinchey or Garett Bolles at any time during the season.
4. Bolster the running back position
a) Budget $7 million for multiple veteran running backs
Status: Succeeded in part, failed in part
The Broncos got a little more than halfway there by signing Samaje Perine to a two year contract at $3.75 million APY. But that’s where they ended, and I worry that there is still not sufficient depth at the position while Javonte Williams recovers from a very serious multiligament knee injury. Reports from Denver seem to indicate that the Broncos are bullish on Williams being ready for the season–bullishness that I unfortunately don’t yet share, admittedly from only looking from the outside. Fortunately, there are still plenty of free agent running backs out there, so there’s still plenty of time to shore up the position if need be.
b) Acquire at least one rookie running back
They may have only met the bare minimum in succeeding on this goal, but they did do it by signing Jaleel McLaughlin as an undrafted free agent.
5. Bring back Alex Singleton at around $4 million APY
Status: Succeeded, over budget
The Broncos decided to spend more, giving him $6 million APY instead. I don’t have a huge problem with the difference in amount offered, and I’m happy that Singleton will be back to pair with Josey Jewell and with rookie Drew Sanders waiting in the wings.
6. Place a right of first refusal RFA tender on Brett Rypien
Status: Failed by going in a different direction
The Broncos elected to spend more at backup quarterback on someone else, acquiring the services of Jarrett Stidham for $5 million APY. I am not sure what George Paton and Sean Payton see in Stidham that compelled them to offer that much. Ideally it remains a mystery from the outside with Stidham never seeing the field due to Russell Wilson playing all the snaps.
7. Bring back Kareem Jackson on another similar one year contract if he wants to keep playing
Jackson indeed did come back for another season, and the Broncos also get a salary cap discount of about $1.2 million by utilizing the rarely used new addition via the 2020 CBA of the four year qualifying contract.
8. Exercise Jerry Jeudy’s fifth year option
Not much to say on this obviously correct decision. Jeudy will be under contract in 2024 for $12.987 million.
9. Make no decision on Ronald Darby’s contract until after the draft at the earliest
The Broncos instead wasted no time in parting ways with Darby, cutting him on March 10th. They also did so with a failed physical, not surprising given his likely ongoing recovery from a midseason ACL tear. Doing so could leave the Broncos liable for $2.1 million in injury protection going Darby’s way under Article 45 of the CBA.
I generally don’t like terming cuts as “salary cap casualties”, but in this case I think the shoe fits. The Broncos currently have about $10 million in 2023 cap space, and $10 million in cap dollars was exactly what the Broncos freed up by cutting Darby, even if they give some of it back later. I still would have preferred to keep Darby by upping some prorated signing bonus money on other contracts they offered, and then approach his contract after seeing how his recovery is going, and how the younger players–including new third round rookie Riley Moss–are doing in training camp. Depth at corner is a little worrisome behind Patrick Surtain II, Damarri Mathis, and K’Waun Williams. However, I can certainly understand the flexibility that cutting Darby gave to the Broncos in making moves in free agency.
* * * *
Out of 14 goals I set out for the Broncos to navigate through on my road map, they failed on only 3.5 of them–and on 1 of them they quickly set off on a different path by signing Stidham. Another interior defensive lineman, running back, and cornerback could be appreciated depending on what the camps tell us, and the Broncos could easily switch some remaining failed goals into successes with late offseason moves in the near future. But thankfully the big holes at both offensive and defensive lines were filled aggressively, and erring on the side of aggression on the lines is typically a good path toward overall success, as I’ll be eager to see how those new acquisitions toughen up the Broncos in that regard.
And finally, a curveball at kicker
Usually, I am pretty good at forecasting what the Broncos might address, even if I ultimately disagree with what they might decide. But I did not foresee at all cutting Brandon McManus in the manner that they did. If the Broncos thought that McManus’s 2023 pay of $3.75 million was more than they were comfortable to pay, then I don’t understand why they cut him in late May, instead of early March along with Glasgow and Darby. If the Broncos wanted to wait until after free agency or after the draft to see if they could find a replacement for kicker there, then that would also make sense…except that they did not do so in either venue. Instead, they make this move instead with no other kicker on the roster at the time, and for the time being have signed only little known Elliott Fry as their only kicker.
The way the Broncos moved on from McManus is a real mystery to me with little semblance of planning, and I hope that this does not cost them in 2023. Instead, I hope that the Broncos’ impressive run of excellent kicking for the past 30 seasons continues–a stretch that spanned from Jason Elam to Matt Prater to McManus.