The Broncos can’t be done shopping just yet
To say George Paton has had a big offseason would be the ultimate of understatements. The Broncos general manager has transformed the franchise in two months.
First, he moved on from Vic Fangio and hired Nathaniel Hackett as Denver’s head coach. The influx of energy and positivity with the new staff is impossible to not notice.
Then, he solved a six-year riddle by trading for Russell Wilson. The future Hall of Fame quarterback gives the Broncos their first legitimate signal caller since Peyton Manning retired six years ago.
And finally, he bolstered the team’s defense in free agency. Randy Gregory will be Denver’s top edge rusher, which D.J. Jones give them a dominant presence in the middle of their defensive line.
All of these moves make the Broncos better. By a lot. They’ve gone from a team that’s missed the playoffs for six straight seasons to one that is a legit Super Bowl contender.
But it’s not enough. Despite all of Paton’s bold moves, his team isn’t quite set for 2022 and beyond. The GM needs to do a little more. Or a lot.
There are signs that’s the Broncos aren’t done yet. The created about $12.475 million in additional cap space on Sunday by converting the roster bonuses of Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick into signing bonuses. That gives Paton some money to keep shopping.
He should use the money to sign four more free agents:
1. Za’Darius Smith – In 2019 and ‘20, the former Packers edge rusher totaled 26.0 sacks. He missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. He’d be a great addition opposite Gregory, as the Broncos wouldn’t have to rely on Bradley Chubb to give them a duo similar to the ones boasted by the Chargers (Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack) or the Raiders (Max Crosby and Chandler Jones) in the AFC West.
2. Bryce Callahan – The Broncos need a slot cornerback. Patrick Surtain and Ronald Darby are solid on the outside, but they need a third guy. Callahan fills that void perfectly. He’s injury prone, evidenced by him playing just 21 games during his three seasons in Denver, but he’s affordable. And when he’s on the field, he’s a terrific slot cornerback.
3. Kenny Young – The Broncos re-signed Josey Jewell, but he can’t be counted on as the starter. During his four years in Denver, the team has needed to upgrade the position. So he can’t possibly be the answer. Jewell is a nice depth player, as are Jonas Griffith and newly acquired Alex Singleton. But none are starters. Young would fill that role. Late last season, when he filled in after Jewell and Alexander Johnson we’re injured, he played well. He’s a sideline-to-sideline player, something the Broncos have sorely needed at inside linebacker since Danny Trevathan left after Super Bowl 50.
4. Kareem Jackson – Justin Simmons is a great safety, but he’s not an intimidating presence. Caden Sterns looks like a promising young player, but it remains to be seen if he’s a starter in the NFL. Jackson would give Denver a big hitter in the secondary. He brings a little nastiness to a defense that needs it. Ejiro Evero’s group needs an attitude adjustment. Jackson would help on that front. Plus, he’d buy time in the transition to Sterns.
Four more moves. One big one. Three involving players who were on the Broncos roster in 2022.
It’s not an impossible shopping list. But it’d put the Broncos over the top.
With Wilson on the roster, every season has to become “Super Bowl or bust” in Denver. That means not entering a season with glaring holes.
The 2022 campaign can’t get derailed because Chubb can’t stay healthy, Sterns isn’t ready to start, Jewell can’t cover tight ends and running backs, and Michael Ojemudia isn’t ready to be a third corner. Those are predictable outcomes, so they’d be colossal oversights.
George Paton has done a great job buying groceries this offseason. But he’s not done shopping. Not yet.