Salute Magazine’s Exit Interview series examines the status of each NFL team heading into the offseason, along with their free agents, team needs and more. Click here for the rest of the exit interviews. Up next: the Denver Broncos.
How can a team with the third-best statistical defense in football finish with a bottom five record? Simple. The Broncos didn’t have a quarterback.
It was a risky move to just go with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch to replace the retired Peyton Manning at the beginning of last season, and the decision has largely blown up in the Broncos collective faces. After missing the playoffs in 2016, they fell to the bottom of the AFC West this year, with the QB play being the prime catalyst.
Siemian hasn’t been completely awful, but he seems more like a decent backup than a full-time starter. Lynch, a first-round pick in 2016, struggled to get on the field due to injury and didn’t look very strong in the limited time he got. A weak offensive line hasn’t helped, but the Broncos have some productive weapons elsewhere that could have alleviated that somewhat.
The poor play this season wasted a terrific year for the defense. Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby could be argued as the best cornerback trio in the NFL, and the unit as a whole was in the top-five against both the pass and run.
General manager John Elway made a benevolent decision to keep Vance Joseph as head coach. After all, it’s hard to justify firing a first-year coach after giving him poor QBs to work with. The Broncos didn’t show much life down the stretch though. Joseph is definitely on the hot seat already for next season.
With a top-five pick and a few options in free agency (Kirk Cousins?), the Broncos should be able to find a suitable signal caller to return to competitive play. They can’t enter next season with the same guys they used in 2017.
Current number of draft picks: (#5 in the first round)
Cap space: $23-28 million
Notable free agents
Todd Davis, ILB: Davis is the Broncos top unrestricted free agent entering the offseason. While he’s struggled in pass coverage, he’s flashed against the run, leading the team in total tackles with 105. They could potentially replace him via the draft, however.
Jamaal Charles, RB: Charles took a one-year deal with the Broncos, hoping to play a lessened role for a playoff run. That obviously did not work out, and Charles was mostly uneven with the snaps he had, only rushing for 296 yards. The Broncos have a similar type of player in De’Angelo Henderson, who missed most of the season with an injury, so they won’t be desperate to bring him back.
Brock Osweiler, QB: It’s crazy to think that Osweiler played a big part in the Broncos Super Bowl win in the 2015 season, albeit by holding the fort down until Manning got (relatively) healthy. He parlayed that into a large contract with the Houston Texans (with the Broncos letting him go in free agency), which ended in disaster.
Osweiler, or more accurately his contract, got shipped to the Cleveland Browns along with a second-round pick in a salary dump. When he lost the QB competition in the preseason, the Browns were all too happy to eat his contract and release him. The Broncos welcomed him back at a drastically reduced price, but he didn’t do much in the four relief starts he had. It’s probably safe to let him walk.
Cody Latimer, WR: Latimer was starting to look like a second-round bust entering 2017. He had just 16 catches in three seasons before this year. While his snaps were still limited, he did manage to reach 19 catches for 287 yards and 2 touchdowns. He could be a bargain signing for another team if the Broncos decide not to re-sign him.
QB: Nothing more needs to be said about how badly the Broncos need a QB. They have a number options in both free agency and the draft.
G: Ronald Leary was strong in his first season with the Broncos at right guard. However, left guard wasn’t as strong. Leary’s replacements when he missed time with injury weren’t much better. Allen Barbre and Billy Turner are both free agents anyhow.
ILB: Brandon Marshall has taken a bit of a step back since signing a four-year extension in 2016, mostly in pass coverage. He’s still a strong run-defender though. Davis, the other starter at inside linebacker, is a free agent, as is backup Corey Nelson.
TE: There hasn’t been a strong tight end for the Broncos since Julius Thomas departed in 2015. They had the trio of Virgil Green, Austin Traylor and Jeff Heuerman split time there in 2017, to middling returns. The former is a free agent as well.
T: The Broncos put a lot on rookie left tackle Garett Bolles, and while he had his hiccups (especially in pass protection), he showed enough in his first-year on the blindside to keep his position. Right tackle Menelik Watson was largely a bust though, and backup Donald Stephenson is a free agent.
DE: While the Broncos have a lot of talent at interior defender, they may need to restock their depth if Shelby Harris leaves in restricted free agency.
WR: Bennie Fowler hasn’t been that effective as the #3 receiver when given the opportunity, and he’s entering restricted free agency. Latimer, who he split time with during 2017, is unrestricted.
Best player/building block
Von Miller, OLB: He’s the highest paid defensive player in the NFL for a reason. Miller remains one of the best pass rushers in football, even though he fell from 13.5 sacks to 10 this season. His run defense was still effective, however; he totaled 58 tackles. The Broncos have Miller under control through 2021, so he’ll have plenty of time to outdo himself in the next couple of years.
C.J. Anderson, RB: Anderson is a bit unsung amongst the league’s running backs, but he’s been fairly productive since his playing time increased in 2014. This season was the first where he played in every game, and it was his best as a result, reaching the 1000 yard mark for the first time in his career.
He only scored 3 touchdowns, but that was more of a slight against the offense itself rather than him. Anderson may have hit his ceiling as a player, but you could do a lot worse as a starting running back.
AFC North: Cleveland Browns
NFC East: New York Giants