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Ask Mase: How the Manning era can provide a guide for the Wilson years

Jun 26, 2022, 2:08 PM | Updated: 4:32 pm
Ask Mase...
Ask Mase

In exactly one month from this date — Sunday, June 26 — the Broncos will report for training camp. There is plenty to discuss between now and then, so let’s dive into the mailbag.

It’s cliched, but it’s true: It starts with drafting well. This is a particular challenge for the Broncos in the next two years given the draft capital they sent to Seattle in exchange for Russell Wilson.

Even if the salary cap rises to $260 million by 2024 — as Jason Fitzgerald of OvertheCap.com suggested last year, based on the value of recently-negotiated television contracts — $50 million would still represent 19.2 percent of the Broncos’ salary cap. Since 2011, just two of the 22 quarterbacks to start in Super Bowls had salary-cap figures greater than 14 percent of that year’s cap: Peyton Manning (Super Bowl XLVIII) and Matt Ryan (Super Bowl LI).

But something that made the Broncos of the Manning era work was the collection of first-contract standouts they possessed in those years. Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, Orlando Franklin, Chris Harris Jr., Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall were all key contributors who were on their first contracts for at least three seasons of the Manning era.

Without cost-controlled young contributors and prudent decisions as to which ones to retain and which ones to let go in free agency, it will be difficult to piece together an entire roster. Kansas City faces some of the same issues now with large cap figures for Patrick Mahomes on its docket. That helped lead to the decision to trade Tyreek Hill to Miami for a collection of draft picks.

Meanwhile, a recent story about converted edge rusher Baron Browning spurred this question:

I think it was a bit of both. His background at Ohio State lent itself to working off the edge, but the Broncos also want to be fortified at the position. And if defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero emphasizes sub packages that use defensive backs at the expense of a second inside linebacker, there will be more snaps available on the edge as part of a rotation than there would be inside.

Between Browning, Jonathon Cooper, Nik Bonitto and Malik Reed, the Broncos would like to find at least two viable contributors who can provide the depth the team hasn’t had since the salad days of Wade Phillips, when Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray were backups who effectively provided starting-quality work when they stepped into the lineup. And in today’s NFL, edge rushers are more valuable than off-ball linebackers.

It didn’t seem that way at OTAs — at least in the five practices media witnessed from start to finish (three OTAs, two mandatory minicamp). If anything, it seemed like Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton were a bit ahead of Jerry Jeudy, although a groin injury limited him in the final weeks. Patrick and Wilson, in particular, seem to be on the same page already, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Patrick leads the Broncos in receptions, with Sutton leading them in receiving yardage. There is room for the two of them and Jeudy to flourish. The dropping of charges against Jeudy and everything around that seemed to push him into the media spotlight more in May and June. But on the field, Patrick and Sutton were frequent and productive targets of Wilson.

Cutting through all the balderdash and noise, Sutton and Patrick are not afterthoughts in the scheme and for Wilson — which is what matters most.

And for soup to be a meal it needs to be something hearty, like chili. (If you can consider that soup; some do, since it has a liquid broth and you can serve it from a ladle.) Chicken-noodle soup is borderline on this; it depends how much chicken is in the soup. But French-onion soup would not be a meal.

From David in Florissant, Mo.:

Hey Mase, got a couple questions for you. Feels like this is a big year for all the receivers, especially Jeudy and Hamler and of course the young TE corps. Do you anticipate any moves being made to shore up more of a veteran presence in those areas? Two, what the position battle we should look forward to the most?

I would be surprised if they add to the tight-end or wide-receiver rooms, unless injuries strike during training camp. I think they want to see what they have from the younger players first. They effectively added their veteran insurance at tight end with Eric Saubert, who can play a decent amount of snaps if Greg Dulchich isn’t ready for a large role. And at wide receiver, Sutton and Patrick can be the needed veteran presences there. Both have sufficient experience.

As for the position battle, watch edge rusher. The battle for playing time beyond Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory bears close monitoring. I’d also bring the binoculars to practice to watch how Quinn Meinerz, Dalton Risner and Netane Muti fare at guard. By the end of OTAs, they were splitting first-team repetitions at the guard spots equally.

Speaking of the O-Line …

From Jerod in Missoula, Mont.:

Is it possible that Garett Bolles is the only Day 1 starter on the O-line playing the same position as last season? And what is your way too early O-line, lineup prediction?

Possible, but I think Lloyd Cushenberry is doing enough to solidify his position at center. As long as he continues faring well once the pads go on, his cohesion with Wilson should get him the job. I also think Risner ends up winning the day at let guard. Which leads to the way-too-early starting-O-line prediction: Bolles at left tackle, Risner at left guard, Lloyd Cushnberry at center, Muti at right guard and Billy Turner at right tackle.

Hmmm … on offense, how much Nathaniel Hackett will emphasize the run for long stretches. On defense, how effective D.J. Jones will be as an interior pass rusher. He won’t be simply a run stuffer.

From Sebastian in Kelkheim, Germany:

First off, thanks for the great insights, as always! I just wanted to intervene with the Spurs comparison. They didn’t win anything the last centuries….

True, it’s been a while since they won the First Division or Premier League — 61 years. However, they have won a League Cup and an FA Cup in the last 15 years. They were also second in the Champions League in 2019. I think the parallel between the Broncos and Spurs is that they are clearly among the most prominent clubs in their league, but others lay claim to greater success, both historically and in recent times. The Broncos are not Man United, Liverpool or Arsenal. The restraints of the salary cap will prevent the Broncos and the Walton-Penner ownership group from being a Man City, too.

To be fair, there isn’t really a true parallel between the Broncos and a Premier League side.


Got a question? Submit it here to be a part of the next edition of the “Ask Mase” mailbag, dropping weekly at DenverFan.com!

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