DENVER -- A year ago, the Broncos planned a parade with a million or so of their closest friends. They woke up Monday after missing the playoffs and watching the rival New England Patriots win the Super Bowl.
Denver aspires to greatness. The Broncos make no excuses for last season's disappointment. Following Gary Kubiak's resignation due to health reasons, the Broncos overhauled their coaching staff, hiring inexperienced Vance Joseph for his leadership qualities and surrounding him with a battery of former offensive coordinators. New offensive boss Mike McCoy is charged with caffeinating the attack with more uptempo and shotgun formations. Bill Musgrave, the quarterbacks coach, must accelerate the development of Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, and be prepared to adjust quickly if the Broncos make an aggressive pursuit of veteran Tony Romo.
On defense, no more Wade Phillips -- the Broncos let him leave over their unwillingness to meet Phillips' contract demands or lose prized assistant Joe Woods. As a first-time defensive coordinator Woods expands his role from air traffic controller of the No Fly Zone to the man in charge of everything. Players believe in his knowledge and respect his tireless work ethic. The coordinators are expected to meet the media this week to provide a peek into their plans.
But as any coach will admit, they need players to win. And the Broncos must upgrade their roster to return to a championship level. They face difficult decisions on free agents, starting along the offensive line where I will focus today:
New Line Dance
The Broncos could overhaul their offensive line for a second straight offseason. Would anyone be surprised if they had three new starters when training camp opened? You shouldn't be. They are expected to be active in free agency where a tackle like Andrew Whitworth is available along with guards T.J. Lang, Larry Warford and Ronald Leary available. Denver faces a decision on Russell Okung's future. Okung showed durability for the first time in his career, but lacked consistency, especially after suffering concussion symptoms in a week six loss at San Diego. The Broncos must decide by March 8 -- prior to the first day of the league year -- whether to trigger a four-year option on Okung's deal. CBS' Joel Corry, a former agent, said the window for the decision opens on Feb. 10. It seems unlikely the Broncos keep him at four-year, $48 million, but would they attempt to negotiate his return on a shorter deal with incentives? Would Okung be open to restructuring after his make-good contract last year where he played on a base salary of $5 million and made $3 million?
Donald Stephenson suffered through a difficult year, benched for lacking performance at New Orleans and against Kansas City. Denver must decide by March 16 whether to guarantee his $4 million 2017 salary. If the Broncos cut Stephenson, they absorb a manageable $2 million cap hit.
There are also questions at guard with the play of Max Garcia and Michael Schofield. Will the Broncos look to go bigger upfront with the change in attack that relies less on mobile zone-blocking linemen? Remember, center Matt Paradis, a Pro Bowl alternate, underwent one hip surgery last month with another scheduled on his opposite leg. His return is expected for training camp, but must be watched closely given the recovery time required.
Free agent list:
OLB DeMarcus Ware, NT Sylvester Williams, DB Kayvon Webster, DE Vance Walker, OLB Dekoda Watson, RB Justin Forsett, LS Thomas Gafford.
K Brandon McManus, LB Todd Davis
C Matt Paradis, OLB Shaquil Barrett, WR Jordan Taylor, LS Casey Kreiter.