Today is the last day of the NFL Combine and you know what that means; we’ve just been subjected to endless amounts of drills, 40-yard dash times and everyone going bonkers over Michael Sam, most of which none of us will care about when next season starts. Sam is a big deal right now, and I applaud his bravery and the way he’s handled himself in the media, but once he’s drafted he’ll just be another player. That’s what he would prefer anyway I’m sure and that’s how teams are going to treat him. We do live in the year 2014, after all. Back on subject, this is also the time of the year when teams start devising their plans for the off-season and commence putting it into action. Here at Pegboard, we love trying to predict the future and figure out just what our beloved Broncos might do to kick their Super Bowl hangover. I’m not going to talk at-length about that game because I have absolutely no desire to relive it. The Seahawks were dominant, the Broncos were dreadful and I’ll just leave it at that.
The defending AFC Champions will be good enough to contend once more next season, but here are five steps they can take this off-season to ensure that the conclusion will be more satisfying.
1. Sign John Fox to a contract extension
I was pleasantly surprised at the fan reaction towards Fox following the catastrophe in the Super Bowl. Usually losing a championship brings the trolls out from their caves. There’s no denying that the Broncos weren’t at all prepared for that game or that Fox was vastly out-coached by Pete Carroll in every conceivable way, but it seemed that most people were allowing reason to guide their comments instead of going with the knee-jerk reaction. Yes there are still a few knuckleheads out there who don’t appreciate the job that Fox has done, but to hell with them. In the three years before Fox’s arrival, the Broncos were a combined 20-28 with no playoff appearances whatsoever, not to mention a dreadful 4-12 record in 2010 that represented one of the all-time lows in franchise history. In the three years with Fox as coach, the Broncos are a combined 37-17 (including the postseason), have won three straight AFC West titles and are fresh off of their first AFC Championship victory since I was nine years old. Ron Rivera hasn’t enjoyed nearly that much success over in Carolina and yet the Panthers didn’t hesitate to extend his contract once the tide finally turned for them.
I know Peyton Manning receives the lion’s share of the credit for what the Broncos have accomplished recently, but don’t forget that Fox started to get the Broncos back on track before PFM ever arrived, even winning a playoff game with a quarterback that isn’t even in the league right now. Fox has been terrific overall and if we have learned anything from the Nuggets, it’s that parting with a solid coach because he doesn’t get you as far in the playoffs as you want isn’t necessarily a good idea.
2. Resign Domonique Rogers-Cromartie
This is one of those “no-duh” type of suggestions that all of Broncos Country has already been clamoring for, but it’s difficult for me to envision a scenario where the Broncos defense would be better next season if they don’t retain the services of their no. 1 corner. After all, look what would be left over; Champ Bailey, who looked old and slow again in the Super Bowl and may actually be done as a cornerback (more on that in a future post), Chris Harris, who is coming off of ACL surgery, and a slew of raw or overmatched players like Kayvon Webster, Tony Carter and Omar Bolden. The Broncos need to add another corner anyway, thus making DRC their no. 1 priority entering free agency.
And yes, the guy probably isn’t as committed to football as the Broncos would like. He brought up retirement talk before the Super Bowl was even played, so who knows what his long-term plans are. But who cares? DRC only surrendered one touchdown all season, and playing at a position group that is already thin depth-wise, they absolutely cannot afford to lose him. It’s time to show him the money.
3. Don’t overpay to keep Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno or Zane Beadles
The downside to being the no. 1 seed in the AFC in consecutive seasons is that eventually other teams are going to want to pick your pocket. Now if you are fortunate like Seattle and most of your top players, including your quarterback, are still working for a pretty meager restitution, you don’t have to worry about those other teams. Not the case here in Denver, where the Broncos, though not by any means in a bad position cap-wise, simply can’t afford to keep all of their free agents. And there are a lot of free agents to be had. Other than DRC, the big three are Decker, Moreno and Beadles, who have all taken on fairly important roles in PFM’s offensive juggernaut the past couple of years.
Starting with Decker, I think it’s pretty funny that he came out and said that he needs to do what’s best for his family in deciding where he will be playing next season. It’s not like Jessie James is a famous country music singer or anything, how in the world will those two make ends meet if Decker doesn’t find the best deal possible? The horror! Sarcasm aside, what Decker is really saying is that this will probably be his most lucrative venture into free agency and he won’t be taking a hometown discount to stick around. Not that I blame him for wanting more money, but it would’ve been nice if he was honest about his intentions. Anyway, the hard truth here is that the Broncos will have to pay Decker like a no. 1 receiver if they want to keep him, and Decker just isn’t a no. 1 receiver. Too often he disappears in big games (one catch for four yards in the Super Bowl) or falters in big moments (trips over blades of grass in open fields), and though Decker is certainly capable of having dominant performances, he doesn’t do it on a consistent basis. The Broncos are better off saving their money for Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas.
As far as Knowshon and Beadles are concerned, they are both capable players who work well with Peyton Manning, but the positions that they play don’t often command high salaries with only the truly elite running backs and guards raking in the big bucks. The Broncos have big plans for Montee Ball moving forward and they may decide to try out Orlando Franklin at guard just to see if he’s a better fit there than at right tackle. In other words, Moreno and Beadles are probably not going to get the offer they want and it will depend on how much other teams covet them in determining whether or not they are back in Denver for 2015. I’m guessing that the Broncos won’t break the bank for either and will seek out more affordable replacements in the draft or free agency if those two depart. That being said, it would be nice to have those guys back.
4. Trim the fat and get more bang for your buck
There was a rather alarming post over on Mile High Report the other day that revealed the Broncos had a large portion of their cap tied up in the contracts for Bailey, Chris Kuper, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, four players who were basically non-factors for most of the season (although Tamme had his moments, he was overshadowed by Orange Julius). Don’t worry, I will get to Champ, but right now I don’t think it makes any sense to keep Kuper or Dreessen around. Kuper has never been the same since that gruesome leg injury he suffered two years ago and Dreessen was inactive for much of the season, plus he’s been dealing with his own share of knee problems. This is still a business after all and you need a better return if you’re going to be paying these guys that much. Under John Elway, the Broncos have been fairly active both in free agency and in restructuring contracts that they don’t feel are being earned. Bailey and Tamme are almost definitely going to have to restructure to stay, while Kuper and Dreessen should be cut. The Broncos can then turn and use that extra money on their own free agents and will probably have enough left over to make a big splash or two like they did last year. Luring in Jairius Byrd, Karlos Dansby or DeMarcus Ware (if he is released by Dallas) would probably be a pipe dream, but bringing aboard the likes of Jared Allen and Louis Delmas would put some bite back into the Broncos defense, albeit with a couple of risks.
5. Stock up on defense in the draft
If you don’t believe in the cliche that defense wins championships, maybe it’s time for you to put more stock in cliches. I could sit here all day and commend Denver’s D for playing valiantly down the stretch or make excuses for them because of all the injuries they sustained, but what’s the point? The Broncos need to get better on defense this off-season and we all know it. Even if Elway works his magic once more in free agency, the truth is that the jury is still out on most of the players that he’s drafted for that side of the ball. Von Miller needs to prove that he’s the impact pass rusher that makes jaws drop and quarterbacks cringe, not the moronic rule breaker that makes eyes roll and police sirens wail. Rahim Moore, Derek Wolfe and Quinton Carter all have experienced significant health issues, Sylvester Williams has been slow to develop and we haven’t even seen Quanterus Smith play yet, which leaves Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan as the only dependable contributors for next year. Yeah, not nearly enough.
Luckily, this is supposed to be a very deep draft and hopefully the Broncos discovered a number of players that they like at the combine. We’ll have a better idea on who those players are as we get closer to May 8, but the Broncos defense won’t be better next season without additions of speed, youth and physicality, so it’s just something that needs to happen.
So there you have it, my take on what would make this off-season a successful one for the Broncos. Comment below and check back for more posts about the orange and blue throughout the next few months!