After finishing the 2020 NFL Season with a 5-11 record, the Denver Broncos have holes across the board. The Broncos led the league in turnovers last season which was mainly due to the 15 interceptions thrown by Drew Lock. With a decent offensive core centered around Melvin Gordon, Jerry Jeudy, and Noah Fant, the Broncos’ main needs are at quarterback and all over the defensive side of the ball. Free agency and the draft will be paramount to the team’s chances of contending with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers.
Pending Free Agents
Denver has $42 million in cap space, and no one knows what they will do with it. If a quarterback like Dak Prescott hits the open market, Denver could be one of the first teams to jump into those sweepstakes. There have been reports of a blockbuster including Deshaun Watson, but the Broncos would need to include Von Miller, Lock, and numerous picks to get that done. With money to spend and no clear direction, there are a few players that the Broncos need to bring back before 2021 begins.
Justin Simmons, Safety
Simmons is the soul of the Broncos defense. He is going to come with a hefty price tag to stay in Denver, and the Broncos should be willing to pay every single penny. Simmons can play the run, play the pass, and can make noise on the occasional slot blitz. Although there are a few prospects who could possibly replace Simmons, resigning the safety should be the first priority for Denver this offseason.
Shelby Harris, Defensive Line
Another priority for Denver is their lone efficient defensive lineman, Harris. While the Denver interior line was not terrible last year, their run defense lacked in comparison to their pass defense. With Harris rating as the eighth-best interior lineman in the NFL last season, the Broncos cannot afford to lose him. With a subpar class for interior defensive lineman, Harris needs to return to Denver for 2021 to be successful.
Demar Dotson, Offensive Tackle
Two of the three players who slotted in offensive tackle for the Broncos last season are up for free agency. While Denver likely will not bring back both Dotson and Elijah Wilkinson, they would have the financial flexibility to do so. Of the two, Dotson had the higher pass and run block win rates and the higher overall PFF grades.
Potential Cap Casualties
The Broncos have $42 million in cap space. Denver is in a good situation, but their quarterback play needs to improve. If money needs to be spent on a quarterback in free agency, Denver has that ability. If the Broncos need to move up to a top spot in the draft, Denver has the money to pay a top draft pick. Major cap moves are not needed, but if Denver wants to move full rebuild and prepare for the 2022 offseason, here are a few moves they can make.
Von Miller, OLB ($18 Million Saved)
The Broncos are not an immediate title contender, which means Miller may not be around next season. There are rumors about restructuring Miller’s contract, and a trade would be more likely. However veteran cuts happen often and releasing Miller would give the Broncos $60 million in cap space. The Broncos could very well make a deal for a rookie quarterback in the draft, trade for Watson, or make a drastic deal that makes Miller needed, but the situation in Denver is currently not one that requires an All-Pro outside linebacker.
Melvin Gordon, RB ($6.9 Million Saved)
Gordon was perfect in his role for the Broncos last season, almost hitting 1,000 yards rushing. Given the unknown of the Denver roster, Gordon could easily be dealt for a draft pick and save the Broncos a decent sum of money. Depending on the direction the team goes, Gordon may be a part of their core or an asset to deal in their rebuild.
Kareem Jackson, SAF ($7.1 Million Saved via Extension)
Jackson was the sixth-ranked safety in the league last season, and the Broncos would love for Jackson to stay in Denver. Extending Jackson would allow for some extra room, keep a proven commodity in-house, and maintain their focus on their solid secondary.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
The Broncos have needs on the line on both sides of the ball, but where those needs will be addressed is anyone’s guess. There are a few veteran options in free agency that should appeal to Denver, but every spot also has depth in the upcoming draft class. Depending on the direction John Elway and the franchise move, very little money could be spent in free agency this offseason.
Matt Milano, LB, Buffalo Bills
Milano was a very good linebacker for Buffalo. If Denver decides to not prioritize this spot in the draft, Milano would be a very good filler for that spot for the next two or three years. Milano led the Bills defense last year, and the Broncos rush defense was their biggest issue. While drafting a rookie would make this target unnecessary, be on the lookout for a mid-level linebacker pick like this.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Green would be a good prove-it deal for Denver. He has struggled with injuries the last few years, which will devalue him immensely in free agency. If the Broncos could provide Lock with a big-bodied receiver next to Jeudy, the Broncos’ offense could improve immensely.
Desmond King, DB, Tennessee Titans
King is a top free-agent target, and even if the Broncos land a top defensive back in the first few rounds of the draft, King brings a top slot presence to Denver. His price tag will be nearing double digits, but with $42 million in cap space, the Broncos can pay that price and bring in a shutdown defender to Denver.
James White, RB, New England Patriots
Assuming Gordon stays, the Broncos need a speedy, pass-catching back. Phillip Lindsay has not been healthy enough to warrant returning as the main third-down back in Denver. Look for White to come in on a decent level, two-year deal to be the perfect complement to Gordon’s powerful running style.
Andy Dalton, QB, Dallas Cowboys
If the Broncos are happy with Lock, this move will not happen. However, if Denver wants to bring in a veteran quarterback who can compete with Lock and start any week if needed, Dalton is the man for the job. Dalton started for years with the Cincinnati Bengals and took over for Prescott after his horrific injury last year in Dallas. If Denver wants to create some healthy competition, Dalton may be donning the orange and blue in 2021.
Previewing the Draft
The Broncos are a young roster, and they should be looking to get even younger. The team needs help at offensive tackle, interior defensive line, linebacker, and defensive back. While some of that can be addressed in free agency, Denver should enter the draft aiming to fill those holes if possible.
Round 1, Pick 9: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Denver has a decent linebacker room with Josey Jewell and DeShawn Williams, but Parsons is an incredible prospect. Given the Broncos defensive focus in 2020, building a stout unit on that side of the ball would drastically assist Lock and the offense. Parsons can play inside linebacker, and Parsons can rush off the edge. His dynamic versatility would allow Denver to move pieces around in a more positionless defense.
Round 2, Pick 40: Richie Grant, SAF, UCF
Continuing on the idea of positionless football, Grant would be an ideal third safety for the Broncos. Grant played a single high role, slot coverage, and in the box during his time at UCF. With an already stout secondary, Grant would provide extreme versatility for Denver.
Round 3, Pick 71: Ifeatu Melifonwu, DB, Syracuse
Melifonwu showed out during the Senior Bowl and has been rising up draft boards ever since. The draft class is deep in defensive backs, which means Melifonwu could fall depending on how the picks fall.
Early 2021 Expectations
The Broncos are in a division with Patrick Mahomes, so winning the AFC West is mainly out of the question. After going 5-11 last season, the goal for Denver should be .500 or better. If Lock is their starting quarterback in Week 1, their ceiling will be very limited. Depending on the moves they make in free agency and the draft, the direction Denver goes in their rebuild, and where their quarterback situation ends up, 2021 could go in two very different directions. Elway and company are rarely the rebuilding type, but the current roster situation may force Denver to move that direction in the next few years.