A day after the Broncos introduced Mark Sanchez as their most notable offseason acquisition, it’s understandable if there is a general feeling of angst permeating throughout Denver. That’s what happens when a future Hall of Famer rides off into the sunset, his supposed successor walks out the door and the next signal caller brought in is the infamous Butt-Fumbler. It’s a good time to mention that the Broncos are the defending Super Bowl champions.
Although defections are taking place all over the roster, quarterbacks always draw the most attention and set off the loudest alarms. That’s why Brock Osweiler’s desertion hit the hardest and why Sanchez’s arrival is treated with the most scrutiny. Never mind the fact that Osweiler and Peyton Manning quarterbacked the Broncos to the second-worst passer rating in the league last season. Those guys are gone, Sanchez is here and everything is horrible, right?
Well, not really. Truth be told, there are a few ways the Broncos can improve on offense even if Sanchez is under center next season.
It’s no secret that the Broncos won the Super Bowl last season in spite of their offense, not because of it. Protection issues, numerous three-and-outs and the aforementioned lousy play at quarterback made it impossible for Gary Kubiak to ever truly get things going on that side of the ball. Yet despite all of that, the team still hoisted the Lombardi Trophy last month. A historically great defense made that outcome possible, but it should be treated as an anomaly rather than a model to follow for sustained success. The Broncos have to improve their offensive production and not leave the defense out to dry as much as they did in 2015. So how do they do that?
1. Upgrade the offensive line
One of the oldest sayings in football is that it all starts up front, and that’s especially true when you want to be a run-first team. Too often last season, Broncos running backs were stuffed at the line of scrimmage or hit before they even made it out of the backfield. Pass protection wasn’t much better, with Michael Schofield in particular serving as a turnstile for the opposing team. Signing Donald Stephenson represented the first attempt to repair the issues at right tackle, so long as he plays better here than he did in Kansas City (he can’t do much worse).
But there’s more work to be done. Bringing back Ryan Clady on a restructured deal remains a priority for the team and should happen. However, Clady has missed 30 of the last 48 regular season games, plus both Super Bowls the Broncos have played in, so you can’t feel great about depending on him. Unless Clady getting hurt means the Broncos are always going to wind up in the Super Bowl, in which case they should definitely retain him regardless of how much it costs.
Tyler Sambrailo, Matt Paradis and Max Garcia should all make big jumps in their second season as starters. Convince Evan Mathis to put off retirement until 2017, bring him back into the fold and draft a couple more offensive lineman.
LT – Clady/Stephenson
LG – Mathis/Draft pick
C – Paradis
RG – Garcia/Draft pick
RT – Sambrailo/Schofield
Looks pretty good, right?
2. Let C.J. Anderson reunite with Adam Gase and replace him with two running backs
Last week I wrote that it didn’t seem that the Broncos viewed Anderson as a high priority. That opinion was reinforced when Anderson signed an offer sheet with the Dolphins and it went unmatched by the Broncos. They have until 2:00 pm MDT today to match it, but they would’ve gotten that done already if they wanted to. The Broncos have a history of taking running backs we’ve never heard of and turning them into 1,000 yard rushers, as does Gary Kubiak, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they are willing to let Anderson walk.
Alfred Morris represents a good fit in Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme and he thrived while playing for Mike Shanahan. If you can sign him for less than what it would cost to bring back C.J., then why not? Draft a running back to go with him and your backfield is in good shape. This doesn’t even take Juwan Thompson or Kapri Bibbs into account, as either of those guys could easily break out and take over that position.
I’m a fan of C.J.’s. I’m also a fan of saving money and frustrating both the league and fantasy football owners alike with our star running backs who come out of nowhere.
(Update: Naturally, the Broncos matched C.J.’s offer sheet about two hours after I posted this. Guess they did highly prioritize him.)
3. Don’t overpay for Colin Kaepernick
Let me start by saying that my girlfriend hates Colin Kaepernick. Loathes the guy. Would probably gouge his eyes out with a soldering iron if she saw him in person. So for the sake of my relationship, I’m not a fan of the Broncos acquiring Kaep in a trade. From an objective standpoint, I don’t want to see them give up that much to get him, either. Kaep had his best seasons when San Francisco played great defense and had a great running game, so potentially he could do very well here. He could also divide the locker room and ruin my relationship, hence my and the Broncos reluctance to part with more than a fourth-round pick (because they totally factor in my personal life whenever they make decisions about players). If the 49ers blink first and cut Kaep before his salary becomes guaranteed on April 1, all the better. The Broncos could sign him without giving up anything.
That being said, I know that Sanchez has become the butt of jokes around the league (see how easy that is?), but he also had his best seasons when the Jets were stout on both defense and in the running game. It’s hard to foresee a scenario where the Broncos repeat as champs with Sanchez as their quarterback, yet he has four playoffs wins on his resume. He is not the complete scrub that some people make him out to be. If that means I have a boner for the guy (as Kevin likes to point out to me), well then that’s my problem. I would be perfectly fine moving forward without Kaepernick and letting Sanchez, Trevor Siemian and a rookie battle for the starting job in training camp, especially if that rookie is Paxton Lynch.
Remember, the Broncos had the second-worst passer rating as a team last year. Peyton led the league in picks most of the season. Is it really THAT hard to improve on that?
The answer is no.