DENVER -- You thought we forgot about Dre?
No chance after his sophomore season.
While questions litter the Broncos' defensive line, Dre'Mont Jones is not one of them. He emerged as a promising standout last season, registering 6.5 sacks in 13 games. He is the type of player the Broncos are attempting to reshape their roster around: young, athletic and trending upward.
A former star at Ohio State, Jones became a force despite missing three games with a knee injury. He finished with a flourish, posting 1.5 sacks against the Raiders in the finale. Jones increased his sacks by three and his tackles by 27 in his second season, leaving him in position to start in 2021 and stay in the game in sub-packages.
"It really came down to confidence. You are a little timid at first when you get to the league. It's like when you go from high school to college," Jones told Denver7 on Wednesday. "Then, you get used to players you are going up against and you get more comfortable."
While Jones will be back, the Broncos need help and health -- the importance of Mike Purcell returning from a foot injury cannot be overstated -- on their defensive front. First, there is the lingering question of Von Miller's future. He has been at the facility a couple of days this week, working out and hanging out with teammates, who were thrilled to see him.
This was not a business trip. His contract issue remains unresolved. New general manager George Paton appears to face two choices: exercise the $7 million guarantee in Miller's contract by Tuesday and pay him his $18 million 2021 salary or ask him to take a pay cut on a restructured contract.
Therein lies the rub. The Broncos must be prepared for Miller to decline a reduced salary, casting him as a free agent. I have always preferred Miller finish as a Bronco. But I never imagined the team would miss the playoffs five straight years after he won Super Bowl 50 MVP honors. Von might look at J.J. Watt's contract -- $14.5 milliion AAV -- and decide with good reason that is the floor not the ceiling for a soon-to-be 32-year-old future Hall of Famer. So if he's not bent on staying in Denver, the idea of taking a pay cut makes not sense.
It's a tough spot for the Broncos. They would miss Miller's leadership and potential production. They are also rebuilding and can argue that every dollar counts as they try to add a cornerback, linebacker and Miller's less-expensive replacement.
And what does this mean for defensive end Shelby Harris? He is one of the most league's underrated players, and still has plenty of tread left on the tire as a late bloomer.
Paton indicated that Harris will be a priority in free agency, but there's clearly a line in the sand. If Harris finds a robust market -- say three-year, $27-$33 million deal -- he probably won't be a Bronco. If the market remains modest, he is a much stronger candidate to return. And the Broncos also face a decision on safety Kareem Jackson's $1.5 guarantee that is due Tuesday.
"It would be huge to get every single one of those pieces back. They are all three extremely talented players who are top of the tier at their positions, people I can learn from and that people on the team can learn from," Jones said. "Having them back can be super essential for the Broncos as far as talent wise. If you talk about that 5-11 team, you can flip that and make it a 11-5 team definitely."
The reality is that all three likely won't be in the fold. That means we have to consider defensive line help in free agency. What do those options look like?
Leonard Floyd, Rams
Floyd, 28, is reliable, consistent. He was a productive player for coach Vic Fangio for three years in Chicago, and his sack total jumped to 10.5 last season with the Rams in the same scheme. That number could create an expensive ticket for a buyer. If he projects to get more than Harris, then it's an easy decision to keep Harris instead if that's in the budget.
Denico Autry, Colts
Autry, 30, is a veteran coming off a solid year of production. He registered 7.5 sacks last season, and has a versatile resume as a defensive end and tackle. With Jurrell Casey gone, this type of signing could help provide experience. However, it would be tough for Autry to match Harris' production.
Derek Wolfe, Broncos
The Broncos moved on from 31-year-old Wolfe last season, electing to go younger. They have some interesting pieces, including McTelvin Agim, but could Wolfe on a one-year deal help solidify the room? Wolfe played more with Baltimore last season than in Denver and played well, posting 51 tackles and four quarterback hits.
Bud Dupree, Steelers
If the Broncos want to take a flier on a player coming off an injury, Dupree, fits that category. The 28-year-old brings energy and a great motor, and could complement Bradley Chubb, especially if Fangio continues blitzing with the frequency of a year ago. However, Dupree's health will create pause, meaning anything more than a one-year deal is likely not worth the risk.
Regardless of what the Broncos decide with Von and in free agency, they should look to add an edge defender in the draft.