DENVER — John Elway is akin to the guy standing in line outside a superstore the day after Thanksgiving. He wants a big screen TV. So do others. The free agent frenzy shopping spree opens Monday with the Broncos looking to make a bold move.
For the past three seasons, Denver has been chasing 2015, and failing miserably. Since the Broncos raised the Super Bowl 50 trophy, they will employ their fifth starting quarterback — it becomes official on Wednesday when they trade Case Keenum to Washington and acquire Joe Flacco from Baltimore — their third head coach and fourth offensive coordinator. They need stability, and talent. Getting the coach right is the first step, and Denver believes Vic Fangio's no-nonsense approach with the experience of offensive line boss Mike Munchak will produce a cultural shift.
Players welcome structure after losing, so the timing is right for Fangio. However, for the longtime defensive coordinator to become a successful first-time field boss, it requires a successful shopping bonanza in free agency and the draft.
Elway has a history of taking big swings on the open market, signing among others, Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Darian Stewart and Case Keenum, the latter among multiple misses that included a string of right tackles and a punter.
But in his ninth season, Elway told me he's motivated to execute a U-turn.
"I don't like losing. I think that we’ve had a couple of tough years in the last couple of years. I think that it’s a goal of mine to get it fixed and get it back to where it should be," Elway said last week. "I feel like that’s my responsibility. I enjoy that challenge. I think we’re off to a good start. But we still have a lot of work to do.”
First stop: Aisle 1 in free agency. My Denver7 look at seven potential targets on the open market that could help Denver avoid three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since suffering 10 straight from 1963-1972:
1) Adrian Amos, safety, 6-0, 214, 25
Amos is a rare player. He enters free agency healthy, productive and young. At 25, his best football lies ahead. He already boasts a solid resume. In 2015, he made the NFL's All-Rookie team. He is reliable, dependable and well-versed in Fangio's defense. According to Pro Football Focus rankings, he has finished in the top 10 at his position the past two seasons. The issue, as with every free agent, becomes the cost: Is he worth $9 to $10 million per year? The Broncos could benefit slightly from a stacked safety market that includes Landon Collins, Eric Weddle, and Tashaun Gipson.
2) C.J. Mosley, LB, 6-2, 241, 26
Mosley is a four-time All-Pro. In a radio interview earlier this week, Weddle called him the best linebacker he's ever played with in his career. Fangio makes clear that tackling is non-negotiable. Mosley is arguably the league's most sound tackler. He will command top dollar. He has earned it. There is concern that he's not great in coverage, which has plagued the Broncos since Danny Trevathan exited. Mosley is highly regarded around the league.
3) Golden Tate, WR, 5-10, 197, 30
The potential for stardom for Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton is real. It doesn't mean they will experience breakthroughs this season. Adding a veteran to pair with Emmanuel Sanders makes sense. It also protects the Broncos if Sanders, despite his ruptured Achilles healing ahead of schedule, doesn't show the same burst in spring and training camp workouts. Tate has caught at least 64 passes in every season since 2013, and owns three 1,000-yard seasons.
4) Adam Humphries, WR, 5-11, 195, 26
Humphries is a sneaky free agent. He quietly posted a terrific season in Tampa Bay with 76 catches for 816 yards and five touchdowns. He's been dependable the past two years. Again, adding weapons for Flacco is necessary to help him revive. Humphries would fit. But will his price? He could hit the jackpot in a weak wide receiver free agent class.
5) Pierre Desire, CB, 6-1, 198, 28
Depending on the prism from which you view the Broncos, this could be a top priority. The Broncos boast one terrific cornerback, Chris Harris Jr., whom the team is interested in working on a contract extension for this offseason. They need another starter. Pierre Desir boosted his career last season with the Colts. He has the personality and work ethic several players say would fit well in Denver. Sign him, and draft someone like Notre Dame's Julian Love. If the Broncos want to go all in on a cornerback, they could bid on Ronald Darby, the top-ranked performer in this class.
6) Kareem Jackson, CB, 5-10, 183, 30
Jackson is a veteran in every sense of the word. He has nine interceptions since 2014. His age creates understandable pause. But he is solid. That cannot be overlooked when trying to form the foundation of a winning team. Bradley Roby owns terrific skills, but his inconsistency created a myriad of issues. Preventing big plays, it can be argued, has more value than making big plays at cornerback. The irony is that it can be argued that Roby is more talented than any of the free agent corners. As of now, it remains unlikely he returns.
7) Ja'Wuan James, RT, 6-6, 312, 26
So many teams want to stop worrying about their tackles, the Broncos among them. Denver eased some anxiety last season with the play of Jared Veldheer. The Broncos would like to bring him back along with Billy Turner, who could compete for the right tackle spot or serve as a swingman. And let's be honest, the Broncos will be counting on Munchak to coach the group up, making a big money outlay less likely. With so many needs I never say never. As such, the Broncos could pounce for a lineman. If they do, James will be on the list. The Broncos attempted to acquire him last year. He has injury concerns, but is a known commodity at a position where few are.