First of all, Broncos’ offensive lineman, Chris Kuper announced his retirement yesterday after an 8-year career. On behalf of Broncos’ Country, I want to wish Kris well and thank him for his years as a good representative of the team and community.
And now on to our regularly scheduled programming.
We are a scant few hours away from the start of 2014 NFL free agency period and Denver Broncos’ vice president of football operations, John Elway is making a list and checking it twice…or maybe even an infinite number of times. 2013 was shaping up to be one of the best seasons in Broncos’ history and then the Seattle Seahawks happened. If there is a silver lining to being on the receiving end of a tail-kicking of epic proportions in front of 165 million viewers, it’s that it forced the Broncos’ hierarchy to into immediate introspective evaluation mode. I think Elway must have been on a video conference meeting with the Broncos’ war room before Seattle linebacker, Malcom Smith’s feet hit the end zone in the second quarter of Super Bowl XLVIII.
Since Elway, Joe Ellis, and company have a lot more to consider in relation to their post-Super Bowl retail therapy than just throwing names against a wall and seeing if they stick (kind of like how I check to see if my pasta is done cooking), I’ll leave salary cap considerations to the pros and just give you my shopping wish list. I am sure that the available $31 million in cap space will not pay for all of my Broncos’ groceries, but this is just a theoretical wish list after all.
As I have written in the past, I believe that you build a team (especially defense) from the middle, out and front to back. I like the rotation of defensive tackles we have on the roster [Terrence Knighton (“Pot Roast” in case anybody has forgotten), my new favorite player, Mitch Unrein, Sly Williams, and the return of Kevin Vickerson] but we need serious reinforcement at inside linebacker. Of the available ILBs, these guys are my choices for the predominantly orange to stabilize the middle.
Former Baltimore Ravens ILB, Daryl Smith has good size at 6’2″ 248 lbs for the position, as opposed to the miscast, Wesley Woodyard was in an impromptu role in 2013. Additionally, he has proven to be durable; starting all 16 games for the Baltimore Ravens in 2013. He recorded 123 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles last season. While he might seem to be a bit of a gamble because of his age, I believe he has 3-4 really productive years remaining. And if you look at his ability to make plays, he would be ideal to slot into the defense. Oh yeah, and defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio is a little familiar with Smith since he coached him in Jacksonville for 8 seasons. We already signed one of Del Rio’s Jacksonville proteges and that worked out pretty well. Why don’t we see how this one would pan out, too?
If we can’t get Smith, a few other names on my list are former Pittsburgh Steelers‘ veteran, Larry Foote, former New England Patriots‘ second round pick, Brandon Spikes, and former Washington REDSKINS‘ middle linebacker, Perry Riley. All of these guys offer up more upside than not. However, the only one to whom I would offer just a 1-year is Foote; because of his age (33). The rest would be worth a multi-year deal. The 26-year old Spikes (6’2″ 265lbs) has good size, is great against the run, but is not that good as a cover linebacker. Riley, 25, is built like our last great ILB, Al Wilson (6’0″ 238lbs) and is durable. He started all 16 games in 2013 for Mike Shanahan. He made 115 tackles, had 3 sacks, and an INT. So without question, any of these guys would be an upgrade.
The next position of absolute necessity is safety. We have seen over the past two post-seasons that we have serious deficiencies in the middle of the secondary. Now there are some whispers that one of the two DB’s listed on NFL.com as “In a League of Their Own” category, former Tennessee Titans‘ cornerback, Alterraun Verner has indicated that he is interested in playing in Denver. And if what I heard on 104.3 The Fan, during The Drive yesterday, the rumor is we are close to signing him. But that still doesn’t address the safety position. So to fill that all-important safety position, I want former Buffalo Bills‘ safety, Jairus Byrd. The 27 year old Byrd
Wow, “27 year-old Byrd”?…I sound like an Englishman trolling the London bar scene for chicks.
<<ADD Moment over>>
The 27 year-old Byrd is considered the #1 option on NFL.com at safety. Now I know I am shooting high, but that is how critical I think this position is. Remember when we had guys like should-be hall-of-famer, Steve Atwater, Tyrone Braxton, John Lynch, and Dennis Smith patrolling center field? Yeah, me too. That is why I am adamant about the safety position. If Byrd is not the word, then maybe one of these guys is:
Former Miami Dolphins‘ strong safety, Chris Clemons is 28 years-old, 6’1″, 214, a prototypical safety. He exhibited durability as he started all 16 games in 2013 and had 93 tackles.
Cleveland’s T.J. Ward is 27 yo, 5’10” 200, is kind of a hybrid linebacker/safety. He also started all 16 games in 2013 and put up some gaudy numbers. Ward made 112 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 TD, and 1 fumble recovery.
Now before we look to sign other’s free agents, I think we have to find a way to re-sign cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. This guy was our best cover corner last year and would be ideal to have back in the fold as long as he’s not over-priced. He is a known commodity to the Broncos whereby other cornerbacks are not.
After going down the safety aisle, I’m heading for the defensive end department. We need consistent pressure coming off the opposite end of the line from Von Miller. I think the following defensive ends provide that pressure.
Former New York Giants end, Justin Tuck is only 30 years old but it seems like he should be older than that because of how long he has been in the league. He’s a 10-year veteran and has two Super Bowl rings to his credit; and not as a bystander. In Super Bowl 42, he harassed Tom Brady all game long; totally taking him and a record-breaking Patriots’ offense out of their game. He is 6’5″ 265 lbs and played in all 16 games for the Giants in 2013 (started 15). Even at 30 years old, Tuck had 63 tackles, 11 sacks, 1 INT, and 2 forced fumbles. That is exactly the kind of production the Broncos need opposite Miller.
If some old, gray-haired lady shoves her cart in front of ours and plucks the last Tuck off the shelf, I would love to see former Raven, Arthur Jones as a member of Broncos Country. His brother, Johnny “Bones” Jones being one of my favorite UFC fighters aside, Arthur is huge at defensive end. He’s 6’3″, 315 lbs and had 4 sacks last season. Additionally, he comes from a team know for it’s stingy defensive play. Lastly, Jared Allen would be a nice addition, if only as a situational pass rusher. Allen is 32 years old and his best days are probably behind him. However, he is still a formative pass rusher…not to mention a very colorful personality. Allen posted 11.5 sacks in 2013 and if he marketing himself as a 3rd down, pass rush specialist, then it stands to reason that we can get him at a bargain basement price.
I am of the belief, and maybe one of the few, that we have got to become more balanced on offense. I know we have Peyton Manning and we don’t want to take the ball out of his hands too often. However, we were exposed as one dimensional in the Super Bowl. Seattle took PFM and his arsenal out of the game and dared us to run the football. And as we saw, we didn’t have an answer. We should still throw the ball more often than running it, but we have to make opposing defenses fear the run almost equally. That said, the last two items on my shopping list are going to take on a very 1997 look. In my humble opinion, the most underrated free agent acquisition ahead of winning Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII was fullback, Howard Griffith. He was an invaluable lead blocker and a true asset catching passes out of the backfield. The 2014 version of Griffith is former Baltimore Raven’s fullback, Vonta Leach. Leach is a 6’0″, 260lb battering ram who helps clear out holes so his tailback can get to the second level of the defense. Although he’s 32 years-old, I think a contract that parallels the remaining years left on Manning’s deal might make sense. He’s a good pass protector as well and the more protection for Peyton, the better.
I think a tailback to platoon with Montee Ball would be a good idea (if we, in fact put more emphasis on the running game). I don’t believe we have to break the bank here; rather just go out and get a nice compliment to Ball. I would like that compliment to be Knowshon Moreno, but all indications are that Knowshon will be suiting up for a new team in 2014. Three guys I think we can get for a good price and would not have to be “The Guy” are former Minnesota Viking, Toby Gerhart (also a good blocker and short yardage guy), the versatile Maurice Jones-Drew, formerly of the Jaguars (another Del Rio connection), and former Manning backfield mate in Indianapolis, Donald Brown. I like the versatility of Gerhart and Drew but as for Brown, my hope is that his familiarity with Manning – and vice versa – might be a benefit.
One last thing I would like to see the Broncos address is some depth and “nasty” on the offensive line. While we are in decent shape there, injuries aside, we do need to add depth and someone who is willing to rake defenders eyes in the bottom of a pile (oh cut it out, it happens all the time!) and do whatever it takes to keep PFM clean.
No matter what my list looks like, I have faith in the brain trust of the Broncos to sign the guys who give us the best chance to win, without leaving us cap-strapped. Their track record is very good and realistically, how much more do we need to finally lift the Lombardi trophy having been in the Super Bowl a little over a month ago? I do realize that our 2014 schedule is going to be exponentially more difficult than that of 2013 but I believe that these guys will be up to the task…especially with several starters returning from the injured reserve list.
So happy shopping, Broncos Country!