Are the Broncos Stuck in the Pit of Misery? – Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of our offseason series for our beloved Broncos, and whether they are totally screwed moving towards the 2018 season. Can they escape from the pit like Bruce Wayne did in The Dark Knight Rises? Or are they stuck in there with a bunch of old guys and access to cable television? The consensus so far? Too early to tell.

But it’s not too early to continue speculating about the moves John Elway and co. will make to place the Broncos back among the contenders in the AFC. And that’s what we’re going to do.

Jesse: When we left off, Kevin asked me which positions on the roster needed an upgrade other than quarterback. Because it’s a long list, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to diving into that, but I can’t procrastinate it any longer. Here we go.

It’s no secret that on offense, the Broncos have been stuck in first gear since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset, and quite honestly even during Peyton’s last season. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they are devoid of playmakers outside of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and it’s not a guarantee that both of those receivers will be back next year. Then you factor in the lack of a slot receiver and a quality tight end, and already there is a glaring need for more receiving threats on our shopping list. The Broncos had little interest in utilizing Jamaal Charles last year and C.J. Anderson could be moved in a trade, which means no matter how much you believe in the potential of Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson, running back probably needs to be added to the list as well. And we haven’t even gotten to the elephant in the room yet, that being the offensive line is still pretty mediocre and will require at least two new starters.

That’s upgrades across the board that are needed on offense, and we can’t just ignore the defense either. Interior pass rush, middle linebacker and cornerback are all positions that the Broncos should invest their resources into, especially after Aqib Talib was shipped off to a reunion with Wade Phillips. In short, this team needs help at nearly every position, and you can begin to understand why some Broncos fans were panicking over potentially allocating so much of the cap towards Kirk Cousins.

Now there is some good news, starting with the presence of several young and unknown entities on the roster that could HYPOTHETICALLY fill some of these holes. Jake Butt is an intriguing option at tight end, Booker and Henderson may indeed prove to be the dynamic duo in the backfield and although Brendan Langley was largely torched in coverage last year, he was viewed as a two to three year project coming out of college and oozes athleticism, so we have yet to see whether or not he truly has the goods at corner.

The Broncos freed up some valuable cap space after trading Talib, can create some more by saying goodbye to a few other players and are armed with four picks in the top 100 spots of the draft, including no. 5 overall. They have the resources to upgrade several positions and add to the talent they already possess in-house.

So what say you Kevin? Are you depressed over how much work the Broncos have in front of them to field a competitive team again? Or is your inner-GM tantalized by all the possibilities there are to reconfigure this roster?

Kevin: Okay so it sounds like we need to target QB, WR, TE, RB, 2 quality offensive linemen, interior pass rush, middle linebacker, and cornerback. Hopefully Elway doesn’t open with that in his powerpoint presentation to Kirk Cousins.

Speaking of Cousins, if I were him I would see three potential landing spots. In order of likelihood, Minnesota who somehow nearly managed to ride Case Keenum to the Super Bowl, New York Jets who could literally give him all of the money, and Denver who has some strengths and has some money but isn’t the best in either department. Which tells me, unless the Vikings balk at the price and the Jets don’t wow him on their plan for the future, Kirk is not coming to save the Broncos any time soon. (Jesse’s note: This is basically what happened. Enjoy Minnesota, Kirk.)

In that case I am a big fan of drafting a QB. There are four who have a first round grade (Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Baker Mayfield) and another that I think people are over looking (Lamar Jackson).

Look I know we all feel burned by prior draft mistakes (Brock Lobster, skinny Robert Downey Jr) but I still think it’s a low risk, low cost decision that would allow us to spend money rebuilding our offensive line. Worst case scenario, this QB flames out in two seasons, then we have a strong line built and then we can spend stupid money on a veteran QB will the assurance that we can protect him.

There I go with the QB talk again. But it truly is the first piece of the puzzle we need. Which leads me to ask you Jesse, let’s say the Vikings sell a portion of land to Wisconsin so they can afford to sign Kirk Cousins and now the Broncos shift their focus to the draft. Which QB should they take?

Jesse: I’ve been on the Baker Mayfield bandwagon since about midway through last season, and I have yet to give up my seat. If there’s a quarterback worth taking a chance on for the Broncos, it is the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner. I even visited you in Cleveland recently and we walked by the Heisman House. It’s a sign.

Oh I know. The Heisman Trophy is hardly an accurate barometer for predicting future NFL stars. After all, Johnny Manziel won the award in 2012 and he’s been out of the league for a couple years now (although that probably has more to do with his personal issues than his talent). Baker is also a puny 6′ 1″ and played in a fairly simple offense at Oklahoma. Why in the world would I want this guy as our next quarterback?

Well, just because Manziel and Tim Tebow didn’t make it in the NFL doesn’t mean that winning the Heisman ruins your chances of pro football stardom. While there are plenty of guys who flame out early, Cam Newton, Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry are a few other recent recipients. The former has an NFL MVP and a Super Bowl appearance to his name and the other two look to be mainstays with the Titans, and potential stars. It’s dumb to write a guy off just because other winners have busted, especially before he’s ever taken an NFL snap.

So what about the height issues? And why is this still a thing that the NFL is afraid of? When you’re talking about a quarterback’s height being a potential red flag, what you’re really saying is that he’s going to have a lot of passes batted down at the line. That wasn’t a problem that Mayfield had in college and it’s never been something that Drew Brees or Russell Wilson have struggled with, yet I’ve seen plenty of Brock Osweiler passes get tipped at the line and that dude is 6′ 7″. Either you can deliver the ball accurately through the passing lanes of your offensive line, or you can’t. I’m not at all concerned about Mayfield’s height and any football fan with a shred of common sense shouldn’t be either.

Now about the offense. Probably his biggest question mark is whether he can adapt to a more sophisticated NFL playbook, get used to the speed at the pro level and not let it affect his confidence under center when he struggles early on. But isn’t that the plight facing every rookie quarterback hoping to make it in the pros? If that’s the greatest cause for concern for drafting Mayfield, then sign me the hell up. The guy is the ultimate competitor, a natural leader and he’s pretty good at throwing the ball, as seen in the 43 td passes he threw to just 6 interceptions last season.

So Kevin, should I save a seat for you on the Mayfield bandwagon? Or are you afraid of taking a chance on a guy who would willingly play for the Browns if that’s where he wound up?

Kevin:  I like the dude, he is cocky as hell and I actually like that aspect in my quarterback. But the height issue is too tall to overlook. Personally, I agree with you that size, in this case, shouldn’t matter but there is someone else who would vehemently disagree with you. His name is John Elway, he who has all the power. Like you said, he drafted the tallest lobster in NFL history and then followed that up with drafting the tallest guy with a goatee in Paxton Lynch. Hell even Siemian is 6’3″. No way Elway takes a guy at 6’1″ right?

Which leads me to my personal pick who is also 6’3″, a Heisman winner, and can be taken in the 2nd round, Lamar Jackson.

Sure he doesn’t fit our normal profile since he is a dual threat, play making QB who relies on his athleticism, but he has experience under center and has strong instincts. But the biggest draw for me is that we can nab him in the second round instead of using the fifth overall pick to guess between a bunch of QBs that don’t really stand out.

Of course I also have the benefit of knowing that the Broncos are signing Case Keenum. The terms of the deal hasn’t been announced but I imagine it’s a shorter term deal and that the Broncos will be looking for their QB of the future in this draft still. Why not nab the best player available at 5, nab Jackson in the second round and let him develop behind Keenum while our elite defense still allows us to compete for the playoffs?

Now that we know we have Keenum in the fold, does that change anything for you? Do you still want Baker Mayfield at 5?

Jesse: In short, yes I still want him at 5, and that’s not a crack at Mayfield’s height. I simply believe the kid has a chance to be special and if Elway is willing to sign the 6′ 1″ Keenum, maybe he is changing his stance on tall quarterbacks since that has backfired on him twice now.

But I like Lamar Jackson. If my dreams of Mayfield donning the orange and blue are crushed by another team and Josh Rosen doesn’t fall to no. 5 (he won’t), then I’m all for going best player available in round one and snagging Jackson in the second. Keenum could hold down the fort for a season or two and we’d wind up with a potential all-pro like Quenton Nelson. Sounds good to me.

So at the very least, the Broncos found a short-term answer at quarterback and will almost definitely draft one. Free agency just officially started (despite the fact that every team has been illegally tampering for weeks, so it may as well have begun then) and Elway certainly isn’t done trying to improve his team that way. And we still have the draft to come. So while it’s still early in the off-season, do you think things are looking up for our favorite team, Kevin? Or are they still on a direct route towards another mediocre season?

Kevin: Well it’s tough to say because, like you mentioned, there is still a lot of activity to happen. We have the official start of free agency and we have the draft. But as of this moment are we better? Well we cut ties with Aqib Talib and unofficially signed Case Keenum. But we have confidence in Bradley Roby and our defense seems as strong as ever. So basically, as of right now, we plugged in a journey man quarterback who is off his best season ever.

That’s fine. That’s not a bad start. We definitely should be better than last season already just because we have a consistent plan at QB. But we definitely need to do more otherwise we are in for another mediocre season, just one that is a little bit closer to average and further away from abysmal.

I hope the next few days are exciting. I hope Elway and company surprise us with some solid signings. Right now it doesn’t look that way but I can always hope right?

What say you, do you have hope? For an active free agency? For a great draft? For next season?

Jesse: Honestly, with Keenum taking up a big chunk of the available cap space and most of the marquee free agents already signed elsewhere, I don’t see any more big splashes on the way. We could be wrong and Elway has proven to be fairly adept at identifying undervalued players, but no one else he brings in through free agency is going to knock your pants off. It’s really the draft that will make or break 2018 for the Broncos. Come away with a good class and things will immediately be looking up. Luckily, having a top five pick and several other early selections makes it possible to turn things around in a hurry. Elway just has to make them count or Vance Joseph won’t be the only one who has to be nervous about his job security.

So if you’ll indulge me and tolerate one last reference from The Dark Knight Rises, we’re about at that point where Bruce Wayne has to try and make the climb out of the pit without using the rope. It’s the only way he can get out, but if he fails then he’ll be meeting his demise. This year’s draft may as well be that last climb for the Broncos, their coaching staff and front office.

I’m optimistic that Elway will pull off yet another comeback and get this thing turned around, so yes, Kevin. I have hope, even if it’s a fool’s hope.

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