What is the current state of the Denver Broncos Secondary?
By Noah Smith
As the NFL evolves further into a “Passing League”, defenses continue to pump more and more resources into their secondaries. The Denver Broncos are no exception.
The Denver Broncos have prided themselves on quality defense in recent years, but under Vic Fangio, they have made a strong push to maintain an excellent secondary. Entering the 2020 NFL Season, the Broncos paid more than $40 Million to their five starters in the secondary, nearly 20 percent of their cap space, per Spotrac.
One year later, two of the key pieces of the 2020 secondary are no longer with the team. Veterans A.J. Bouye and Kareem Jackson were released to save the team cap space, a reality for many veterans around the NFL as the salary cap feels the impacts of COVID-19.
However, the Denver Broncos have shown a commitment to pumping resources into their secondary, and will likely have a highly-paid secondary yet again in 2021. With star safety Justin Simmons in line for a big-time extension and the recent acquisition of free agent Ronald Darby, the Broncos believe in the results they’ve seen from the secondary.
So, what is the current state of the Denver Broncos secondary?
"Boundary Cornerbacks: Ronald Darby, Michael OjemudiaSlot Cornerbacks: Bryce Callahan, Essang BasseySafety: Justin Simmons, Trey Marshall"
With teams playing more three and four-wide receiver sets, “Nickel” and “Dime” defenses are becoming the new Base defense in the NFL. The Broncos could certainly stand to add another veteran cornerback to the mix, but on paper, this lineup should put the Broncos’ minds at ease-if they can stay healthy.
That’s a big if, though. New member Ronald Darby has historically struggled with health, playing a full 16 game season only once in his career to go with a 15 and 14 game season. Darby’s most recent season did see him play a full 16 games in one of the best defenses in the NFL with the Washington Football Team, per Pro Football Reference.
The injuries to Bryce Callahan and Essang Bassey are also an issue, as both players finished the 2020 season on Injured Reserve. Callahan especially has struggled with injuries throughout his tenure with the Broncos. If the two are healthy, they are a huge boost to the secondary.
What needs to happen next for the Denver Broncos secondary?
Adding at least one more veteran body would be wise before the Denver Broncos are on the clock in the NFL Draft. A player with positional flexibility to play inside or outside would be a solid addition. A few names to watch as Free Agency chugs along are William Jackson and Ahkello Witherspoon.
After the release of Kareem Jackson, the Broncos have a glaring hole at safety across from Justin Simmons. The Broncos do have the option to resign Will Parks, who is a free agent as well. George Paton was intrigued by Parks during the 2020 offseason and made Parks an offer to sign with the Minnesota Vikings before Parks ultimately signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
While Parks seems like the most logical fit, is that the best role for Will Parks? At his best, Parks was a moveable “chess piece”, capable of manning the slot and matching up against running backs and tight ends in “dime” packages.
Parks certainly holds value to a team like the Broncos, but is he the right fit for a team known for its heavy use of two-high safety looks on defense? That’s the question George Paton and Vic Fangio will be asking themselves when considering the safety position across from Justin Simmons.
The free agent market holds plenty of veterans who can fill a role on a short-term contract. Players like Andrew Sendejo, Tashaun Gipson, and Tre Boston are all more than capable starters and could start for the Broncos for a year while a younger player learns behind them.
The Denver Broncos will likely look to the draft to find a young safety as well. Richie Grant or Justin Hollins are some names to watch in the draft, as both will likely be available in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Both players would ideally take a year to learn and develop in spot duty behind the Broncos’ established veterans on the roster.
The Broncos’ work in free agency has only just begun, and we should expect George Paton to add a veteran or two to the secondary. However, the Denver Broncos are in a good spot with their secondary and should develop into a strong unit come September.