Last season, the Denver Broncos finished fourth in the AFC West with a 7-10 record. They missed the playoffs for the sixth year in a row. After three years with the team, the Broncos fired head coach Vic Fangio on January 9. A few weeks later, Denver hired Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to be their new head coach. The minute the hiring became official, the Aaron Rodgers to Denver trade rumors picked up steam. However, it now appears unlikely that Rodgers will join the Broncos. With several critical decisions ahead, the Broncos will have a busy offseason.
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Pending Free Agents
According to Over the Cap, the Broncos have $38.1 million in cap space. That total currently gives them the sixth most in the NFL. While the Broncos have plenty of cap space, they also have 30 upcoming free agents, including 12 restricted free agents. Heading their free agent class is Teddy Bridgewater. In total, the Broncos have several starters set to hit the open market in a few weeks. After going 7-10 record in 2021, Denver must shake things up this offseason if they want to make the playoffs in 2022.
While he didn’t lead the Broncos to the playoffs, Bridgewater was solid last season. He threw for a career-high 18 touchdowns in only 14 games. Bridgewater also had only seven interceptions in 2021, with three of them coming in one bad performance in Week 6. Depending on who the Broncos can add at quarterback, Bridgewater might be back with the team next season. While fans are hopeful a Rodgers or Russell Wilson trade happens, that appears unlikely. Ultimately, the Broncos will have to decide between re-signing Bridgewater or targeting a quarterback like Jameis Winston in free agency.
Malik Reed (RFA)
When Denver traded Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams, fans were understandably heartbroken. However, Reed’s development was part of the reasoning behind the decision. Over the past two years, Reed has 13 total sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. He has also played well in coverage, giving up a quarterback rating of only 56.2 when targeted. As a restricted free agent, the Broncos can make any offer Reed receives. If they decide not to match the offer, the Broncos will receive a draft pick in return. That said, expect Reed back in Denver next season.
The veteran running back has played well during his two years in Denver. Gordon had at least 900 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns in both years. Furthermore, he has played a role in the passing game, averaging 30 catches per season in Denver. However, Javonte Williams is a superstar in the making. After trading up in the draft last year to secure Williams, the Broncos likely make him their feature back next season. That said, Gordon could return next year. The Broncos could elect to keep Gordon, depending on the price.
Potential Cap Casualties
With over $38 million in cap space, the Broncos won’t have to make unnecessary cuts this offseason. However, they have already started to rework some contracts. They reworked Graham Glasgow’s contract in early January. That move created $5.3 million in cap space. Furthermore, the Broncos have only six players with a cap hit over $9.5 million next season. While Denver won’t make any unnecessary cuts, there are a few players that could end up on the chopping block.
DaeSean Hamilton ($2.2 Million Saved)
The former fourth-round pick hasn’t done much so far in his career. Hamilton has 81 catches for 833 receiving yards since getting drafted in 2018. He missed all of the 2021 season with a torn ACL he suffered in May. Unfortunately for him, the Broncos have invested a lot of money in Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton. They also have Jerry Jeudy, who they spent a first-round pick on in 2020. With Kendall Hinton and Seth Williams rounding out the wide receiver room, there isn’t a spot on the roster for Hamilton. Hopefully, the Broncos can trade him for a late-round pick swap. Otherwise, Hamilton will get released in the coming weeks.
Drew Lock ($1.5 Million Saved)
Lock’s future with the team is very much up in the air. Depending on how the Broncos address the quarterback position, Lock could play somewhere else next season. While the Broncos are unlikely to release Lock at the start of free agency, he could get moved during the draft. If the Broncos use their first-round pick on a quarterback, Lock’s days in Denver will be limited. Short of trading for Rodgers or Wilson, the Broncos will likely keep Bridgewater and draft a rookie. If this happens, expect Lock to be dealt during the draft for a day three pick.
Mike Boone ($1.3 Million Saved)
Much like Lock, Boone’s future with the team is up in the air. Last offseason, the Broncos signed Boone to a two-year deal worth $3.9 million. However, he played only 25 offensive snaps in eight games last season. If the Broncos re-sign Gordon, the team has little need for Boone. While Boone plays on special teams, Denver can replace him for half the cost. While he might not get cut before free agency starts, Boone has an uphill fight to keep his roster spot for next season.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
On paper, the Broncos have a very talented team outside of quarterback. However, the free agency class is headlined by Winston, Mitchell Trubisky, and Andy Dalton. None of the available free agent quarterbacks is a clear upgrade over Bridgewater. That said, expect the Broncos to continue to build up the roster and address the quarterback position in the draft. With over $38 million in cap space to spend, expect the Broncos to be aggressive on the open market.
Haason Reddick, Carolina Panthers
After trading away Miller at the trade deadline, the Broncos have Reed and Bradley Chubb as their starting pass rushers. However, Reed is a free agent this offseason, while Chubb is entering the final year of his rookie deal. While the Broncos also have high hopes for reserve Jonathon Cooper, they could use a dominant pass rusher. Chubb has failed to live up to his rookie season hype. As a rookie, he had 12 sacks. He has only 8.5 sacks over the past three years. Meanwhile, Reddick has totaled at least 11 sacks in two straight years. If Reddick hits the open market, Denver should make him their top target.
Rasul Douglas, Green Bay Packers
The Broncos hit a home run last year with the selection of Patrick Surtain II in the first round of the draft. However, Denver has several cornerbacks set to hit the open market in a few weeks, including Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan. After spending time with the Arizona Cardinals practice squad last season, Douglas signed with the Packers. He went on to have a career year in Green Bay. Douglas had a career-high 13 passes defended and five interceptions, fourth-most in the NFL, including two he returned for a touchdown. If Hackett can’t bring Rodgers to Denver, stealing Douglas wouldn’t be a bad fallback option.
Morgan Moses, New York Jets
While Garett Bolles has turned into one of the better left tackles in the NFL, the right tackle spot has been a revolving door. Bobby Massie did a solid job last season, but he is an upcoming free agent. Moses hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season, proving he can play through injuries. He was productive with the Jets last season, but they likely won’t re-sign him this offseason as they focus on getting younger on the offensive line. Even if the Broncos plan on drafting an offensive tackle in the draft, Moses gives them a stop-gap option in the short term.
Previewing the 2022 NFL Draft
After finishing the year with a 7-10 record, the Broncos will have the ninth pick in the first round of the draft. The Broncos will have nine total picks this year after making a few trades during the season. More importantly, Denver will have an extra second and third-round pick from the Rams thanks to the Miller trade. With five picks in the top 100 selections, the Broncos have a chance to come away with several impact rookies.
Round 1, Pick 9: Quarterback
Short of trading for Wilson, Rodgers, or Deshaun Watson, the Broncos will likely use their first-round pick on a quarterback. If the Broncos re-sign Bridgewater or replace him with a free agent like Winston, they will only be the short-term answer. Many believe the Broncos will be the first team to select a quarterback in the draft. Three potential targets are Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, and Matt Corral. Any of the three would get a chance to sit behind a veteran quarterback and not forced onto the field until they are ready.
Round 2, Pick 40: Offensive Tackle
Whether they re-sign Massie or add a veteran like Moses in free agency, the Broncos must address the right tackle spot in the draft. They have done a good job improving the interior of the offensive line in recent memory, using a trio of day two picks on Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, and Quinn Meinerz. However, the Broncos haven’t drafted an offensive tackle since Bolles in 2017. That needs to change this year. If Bernhard Raimann from Central Michigan is available with this selection, he should be the pick.
Round 2, Pick 64: Edge Rusher
Even if the Broncos add Reddick in free agency, that shouldn’t stop them from adding another edge rusher during the draft. Reed is a free agent this year, while Chubb is entering the final year of his rookie deal. There is a possibility neither is with the team in 2023. Furthermore, with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Derek Carr in the division, the Broncos can’t have too many good pass rushers. Three possible options for this pick are Arnold Ebiketie, Myjai Sanders, and Drake Jackson. Adding any of the three would give the Broncos more versatility and options on defense.
Round 3, Pick 75: Linebacker
The Broncos have six upcoming free agent linebackers. While Jonas Griffith and Natrez Patrick are restricted free agents, Alexander Johnson, Micah Kiser, Josey Jewell, and Kenny Young are unrestricted free agents. Denver will likely keep a few of these linebackers but will still need to add depth at the position. Potential targets for this pick include Chad Muma, Leo Chenal, and Damone Clark. All three could start as a rookie if needed.
Round 3, Pick 96: Cornerback
The Broncos hit a home run last year with the selection of Surtain in the first round. However, Denver has several cornerbacks set to hit the open market in a few weeks and will need some replacements. Furthermore, the Broncos can’t have too many good cornerbacks when they face Mahomes, Herbert, and Carr six times a year. Two possible options are Coby Bryant from Cincinnati and Josh Jobe from Alabama. If either is available, the Broncos should quickly turn in the card.
Early 2022 Expectations
Denver enters the offseason with a very talented roster and only a few holes to fix. However, their biggest hole is at the most important position in all of sports. If the Broncos can land a star quarterback this offseason, they are Super Bowl contenders. However, that seems unlikely at this point. Instead, the Broncos should focus on improving the team and target a quarterback in the draft. Depending on the moves they make this offseason, the Broncos can return to the playoffs next year, even with Bridgewater at quarterback.
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