Is the sky really falling for the Denver Broncos, or are they primed for a perfect opportunity to embrace a rebuild? After an 0-4 start with multiple losses coming in heartbreaking fashion, the Broncos have a chance to shift gears into a bad team that’s fully aware of it and take the proper steps required to succeed in the future.
Patrick Mahomes is still on his rookie deal, allowing the Kansas City Chiefs to stack the team around him with depth and other high price pieces, but that will slow down after Mahomes gets paid in the next season or two. 42-year-old Tom Brady has to be writing the final chapters of his career, and it’s been speculated that Bill Belichick will retire when Brady does.
The Los Angeles Chargers are still riding old-timer Philip Rivers, but he, much like the other QBs in his draft class, will likely soon call it a career.
So what’s the harm in embracing a rebuild, and building to compete for championships in two to three seasons when the annual powerhouses could be changing? If the top of the AFC is set to be in churn relatively soon, the Broncos have an opportunity to anticipate this shift and be peaking at the right time to be the beneficiary of it.
Vic Fangio and his coaching staff had an opportunity to be 3-1; their only real blowout loss coming to Green Bay Packers. The team left too many points on the field in Week 1, and then the defense could not get game-winning stops in Week 2 or 4.
If they win even two of those games, fans are still talking about playoffs and being a competitive team, but 0-4, with the schedule lining up the way it is, and losing Bradley Chubb for the season, the Broncos rebuild needs to begin now.
Steps for the Broncos rebuild
Denver has to see what they have in Drew Lock after his return from IR. This is the only way to prevent the Broncos from drafting one of the QBs in the most-anticipated QB drafts of the last decade. If Lock comes off IR and underperforms, then the team needs to take Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm, Justin Herbert, Jacob Eason, or even Jalen Hurts.
Continue to critically evaluate the offensive line, Garrett Bolles in particular. His Week 2 performance, in which he received five holding calls after leading the league in penalties the last two seasons, was unacceptable.
However, he has graded out as one of the best players on the Broncos the other three weeks. He’s now put together back-to-back games with an 80-plus PFF score, has not surrendered a sack, and hasn’t been called for a penalty. It is possible Week 2 versus the Bears, he was embarrassed, and Mike Munchak has gotten his full attention.
If Bolles does, in fact, turn it around and ends this season strong, he could add his name to the core, as he is only 27. But if he shows that he cannot be fixed, 2020 will be his last season a Bronco.
Young Free Agents
Re-sign only important, young free agents, to team-friendly contracts (Simmons, McGovern, Wilkerson, Gotsis, Janovich, Bausby). These players are all under 28, meaning they have three to five years remaining in their football lives. They all have NFL starter-level talent, with room for improvement, and the prospect of signing reasonable contracts.
Dump Albatross Veteran Contracts
It’s unfortunate, but it’s time to make peace with departures or even attempt to reclaim draft capital for Derek Wolfe, Chris Harris Jr., Emmanuel Sanders, Ronald Leary, and Theo Riddick. Hopefully, these players sign big contracts elsewhere so the Broncos can reap the compensation picks that come with it.
Von Miller has proven time and time again he is a Denver Bronco to the core, and I think he has earned a spot on the rebuild if he wants to be here for it. The Broncos have a team option for 2020, and one should not be mad or surprised if it is picked up, and they negotiate a team-friendly contract to allow Miller the chance to retire a Bronco.
Shedding these contracts will free up almost $45 million in cap space and open the door for young guys to step in and earn their place.
Identifying Team Building Blocks
President John Elway needs to understand the core of this team now rests in the hands of Bradley Chubb, Noah Fant, Courtland Sutton, Dalton Risner, Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, and Drew Lock.
If Lock can step in during the last eight games of the season and prove he is an NFL starting-caliber quarterback, this will free up the Broncos to draft for other positions in a really strong, top-heavy draft, and fill the holes that will be left by the veterans.
This is the foundation to move forward with and hope for continued draft success.
The 2020 NFL Draft that has to be another home run, after clearing dead money cap hits, vacating veteran salaries, and evaluating young talent during the tail end of 2019, the 2020 draft has to prove successful for the rebuild to take proper shape.
The 2015-2017 drafts are the reason the Broncos are in this predicament in the first place, but the 2018 and 2019 drafts have shown that Elway and the front office have learned how to draft correctly. Hopefully, the team can command draft picks for moving their veterans, giving the Broncos a bunch of picks to fill all the necessary holes.
Dead Cap Hits
Elway needs to recover from the dead cap that plagues the Broncos in 2019, with a $22,666,559 cap hit from players no longer on the squad such as Case Keenum, Brandon Marshall, Darien Stewart, and essentially all of the 2017 NFL draft busts. With a clean salary cap, vacated veteran contracts, and a boatload of money to hit free agency with, the Broncos should pursue one or two young, big-name free agents and hit the 2020 season with middle of the pack expectations. 2021 will be the offseason that they draft impact players and swing hard at free agency with win-now expectations for 2021.
In conclusion, the Broncos could have the rest of this year, next season, and two NFL drafts of a full-on rebuild where they can fix their salary cap, build through the draft and then take their chances in free agency to be a contender in 2021 and beyond.
A lot hinges on Lock’s ability as an NFL caliber, starting, quarterback. Ending the 2019 season will tell a lot about the state of the quarterback situation, but Joe Flacco is here on a bad contract and he will put the team in a bad situation for the next four years as the team has him under contract through the 2023 season.
If Lock proves he is capable, the team has an option to cut Flacco and eat the dead cap hit in the 2020 rebuilding season of $13.6 million, which is still less than the nearly $23 million this season.
As for the coaching staff, they are doing a good job thus far, and the 0-4 record is a result of lack of depth, injuries, and player execution more so than a reflection of their coaching ability.
As a matter of fact, one could go as far as to say that this coaching staff is somehow making a team look competitive despite missing a starting right tackle, right guard, wide receiver, a starting cornerback, a starting safety, and two injured starting middle linebackers.
Consistency at coaching allows the players to learn and develop better, changing the system and staff every two years because they aren’t winning is not a culture you want the team to encourage.
Broncos fans are the fastest to give up on something that does not immediately result in wins, so the organization faces a lot of pressure really quickly, Elway had a bad 2015-2017 NFL draft, but he has hit the mark with the last two and shown he is capable.