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Kissner: What the Broncos need to do in free agency

Mar 15, 2021, 4:21 PM | Updated: 4:22 pm
Denver Broncos general manager George Paton during a press conference at UCHealth Training Center i...
Photo by Gabriel Christus/Denver Broncos

With a new regime in place under newly hired Denver Broncos general manager George Paton things will be different in terms of how the roster is built.

Paton has always been a guy who wants to build through the NFL Draft and fill needs in free agency.

Well, this offseason, the Broncos have plenty of needs, including quarterback, cornerback, inside linebacker and defensive line.

(Editor’s note: The Broncos re-signed defensive end Shelby Harris to a three-year deal on Monday)

Let’s take a look at how they can address those positions:

•••

Quarterback

Drew Lock showed at certain moments last season that he could be the future for Denver, but he also made plays that franchise quarterbacks shouldn’t be making.

If the Broncos are able to upgrade that position, they will.

Paton has already been active in the quarterback search by being involved in talks to trade for Detroit Lions starter Matthew Stafford.

Denver has also been connected to and will be in on a possible trade for disgruntled Houston Texan Deshaun Watson, who is reportedly “intrigued” by the Broncos as well.

The Broncos could also bring in competition for Lock, meaning signing a veteran like Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tyrod Taylor or even trading for someone like Teddy Bridgewater.

The bottom line is Denver must get better at the quarterback position even if that means selecting one in the first round of the NFL Draft.

•••

Cornerback depth

In a division where Denver has to face off against Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr and Justin Herbert, the Broncos must find depth and upgrades in the secondary.

Right now, Denver has Bryce Callahan as its No. 1 cornerback after the release of veteran A.J. Bouye earlier this offseason. But the issues are Callahan has yet to play all 16 games in a season in his career and plays best in the slot.

The Broncos did draft Michael Ojemudia — who fits well in Vic Fangio’s zone defense — in the third round of the 2020 draft. But despite showing flashes at times, he ended up in Fangio’s doghouse occasionally for rookie mistakes.

Behind Callahan and Ojemudia, Denver has thrown in practice squad guys to patch holes.

Despite giving up the second least touchdowns in the league in 2020, Fangio’s secondary ranked 17th in the NFL in passing yards allowed. Fangio’s defense is effective but also needs playmakers to force turnovers.

Denver will likely add a cornerback or two in free agency, and there’s a good chance they take one of the top two corners in the first round of the NFL Draft.

•••

Move on from Von Miller

It’s time. It’s time to move on from arguably the greatest defensive player in Broncos history.

Von Miller currently has a $22 million cap hit, and if Denver doesn’t pick up its $7 million team option before the new league year on Wednesday, the Broncos would save $18 million in cap space.

Miller’s in the final year of his current deal, and the Broncos are nowhere close to contending for a Super Bowl, so what’s the point of paying him for a wasted season?

Denver can ask Miller to restructure his current contract to something more cap friendly, but J.J. Watt’s big deal with the Arizona Cardinals may impact Miller’s decision.

Watt is averaging roughly $15.5 million per year, so Miller likely will command similar money from Denver, which wouldn’t amount to much of a restructure.

And who’s to say Miller won’t want to go in a different direction?

The Broncos should move on from Miller, let him pick his next destination, and use that $18 million for free agency or save it when the salary cap rises next season.

•••

Coverage inside linebacker

Denver has not had great covering inside linebacker play since the Super Bowl 50 team that included Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan.

Since then, the Broncos have struggled to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. Denver’s ranked in the bottom half of the league in covering tight ends year in and year out, and they have to cover the likes of Travis Kelce, Darren Waller and potentially Hunter Henry.

Sure, Josey Jewell made a significant jump this past season, but he’s still not the type of linebacker you need to win in today’s NFL.

And the same goes for Alexander Johnson. Of course, he led the Broncos in tackles last season, but that’s what your inside linebacker is supposed to do. Again, he’s not the type of player you can win with in today’s NFL.

The Broncos might not be able to find an elite level linebacker in free agency, but they will be able to find a playmaker in the middle of the first round of this year’s NFL Draft in Micah Parsons.

It’s time to give Fangio his most valuable toy for his defense.

•••

Build a pass rush on the defensive line

Denver has been solid on the defensive line under Vic Fangio, exceeding expectations at times.

Mike Purcell has turned into one of the best run stoppers in the NFL, and Denver award him with a multi-year deal. Dre’Mont Jones is a rising star on the defensive line and is on his way to getting better. And the Broncos just wrapped up Shelby Harris, re-signing him to a three-year, $27 million deal.

Of those three players, though, none of them have become elite pass rushers who can get to the quarterback. It’s time for Denver to find themselves an Aaron Donald or J.J. Watt type pass-rusher on the inside.

Bradley Chubb is going to need more help getting to the quarterback other than Malik Reed and an aging Von Miller. Remember, Denver has to face Mahomes, Herbert and Carr twice a year.

 

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