The Denver Broncos could look to upgrade one of the most important positions in Vic Fangio’s defense — inside linebacker — in 2020 free agency.
As we begin looking forward to the 2020 NFL free agency period where the Denver Broncos will undoubtedly be very active, one position that cannot be left out is the linebacker position.
The Broncos had fine production at inside linebacker this past year with Todd Davis setting a career-high in tackles (134) and Alexander Johnson coming seemingly out of nowhere to give the Broncos a budding star at the position.
The linebacker position is of critical importance in Vic Fangio’s defense, and these guys are asked to do a lot. That’s one of the main reasons it makes sense that the Broncos might invest some of their top free agent spending money in an off-ball linebacker in 2020.
So what does that mean? What’s the going rate for top inside linebackers these days? Who could fit? What happens to Todd Davis?
Let’s try to answer those questions and more.
What will happen to Todd Davis?
Ultimately, the Broncos could decide to do nothing with Davis. He has a cap figure of $6 million this season, which is reasonable for a guy who just put together a career year in only 14 games, at least in terms of his tackling.
With that said, the Broncos could save $5 million by declining Davis’ option, and they could look to the free agent market for possible upgrades, especially in the coverage department.
Davis and Johnson are both players who can play in space, but Johnson is a more effective all-around linebacker with his blitzing and coverage abilities, and the Broncos might be more inclined to use him around the line of scrimmage and find someone who is capable of playing more in coverage than Davis currently has proven.
While it’s a move somewhat flying under the radar, letting go of Davis and trying to find an upgrade at middle linebacker is a very real possibility for the Broncos, and the reason for that is the unreal depth in this year’s free agent linebacker class.
Who is available?
Where do you even start? Looking at this year’s free agent linebacker crop is like walking into an ice cream shop with 50 different flavors.
No matter what you’re looking for or in the mood for, there’s someone out there for everyone.
There are four players who stand out, in my mind, as the stars of this class who can be every-down linebackers worth a big-money contract.
- Blake Martinez, Packers
- Cory Littleton, Rams
- Kyle Van Noy, Patriots
- Joe Schobert, Browns
We’ll get more in-depth on each of these guys and do a post dedicated to linebackers the Broncos can target, but those are my top four guys at the moment. All of them can play all three downs, all can play in coverage, and all are younger guys with versatility in their roles.
There are also a couple of Chicago Bears players — Nick Kwiatkoski and Danny Trevathan — who could pique Vic Fangio’s interest as guys who have operated in his system before.
Then there are guys like Atlanta’s De’Vondre Campbell, Cincinnati’s Nick Vigil, and New England’s Jamie Collins who could all fit the profile of what the Broncos are seeking at the position.
Even before roster cuts, the inside/off-ball linebacker group looks really good and the Broncos would honestly have no problem finding an upgrade here.
Bobby Wagner makes the most money per year for off-ball linebackers at $18 million per season. CJ Mosley is close behind at $17 million.
I don’t know that the Broncos are that interested in a middle linebacker upgrade, but you never know. After Mosley, it drops to $14.25 million per season for Myles Jack and Deion Jones.
My guess is that any of those top players will cost between $14-18 million per season to sign.
Considering the Broncos could have north of $80 million in 2020 cap space, that is a figure worth considering, especially with how important this position is to Fangio’s defense.
A player like Danny Trevathan, however, could merely cost the Broncos the difference of cutting Todd Davis ($5 million or so per season). Someone like Kwiatkoski, who may not be as proficient in coverage as you would ideally like (though he’s only allowed one touchdown in 44 pass targets over the last two seasons), could wind up being a bargain and seems to be an ascending player.
I think the Broncos can really keep an open mind here. I’m not of the opinion that paying borderline starting quarterback money to an inside linebacker is the wisest idea. Just ask the New York Jets, who watched as CJ Mosley missed almost all of the 2019 season due to injury.
With that said, there are tremendous players available in this free agent class and I would be open to almost any of them for the Broncos.
I think John Elway should have an open mind as well.
There are certainly options in the 2020 NFL Draft, but if the Broncos don’t take a guy in the top two or three rounds, are they going to be able to come in and play right away? Are there alternatives in the 2020 NFL Draft better than the first, second, or even third tier players at the same position in free agency?
If the Broncos are going to let go of Todd Davis, I think it has to be for an upgrade at the position, and as we see here, the answer could very well be free agency.
If I were John Elway, I would not be looking to re-set the market for inside linebackers, but I would keep an open mind about paying upwards of $14 million per year for a guy who could take the Broncos’ defense from really good to elite.