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How far are Broncos away from Super Bowl?

How far are Broncos away from Super Bowl?
Posted at 12:46 PM, Feb 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-05 14:59:40-05

DENVER -- In the moments after one of the most breathtaking Super Bowls in history, a Philadelphia kid watched with appreciation and envy.

"I want that feeling. Gotta have that feeling," tweeted Broncos safety Will Parks. "Everlasting championship fever. LETS WORK."

Teammate Chris Harris responded with candor.

"Gotta get you in the playoffs. Lol," he said.

As the Eagles celebrate their first modern title, the Broncos front office returns to work, mapping out plans for free agency and the draft. Parks' reaction and Harris' response illustrate the Broncos' challenging position. They are only two years removed from winning Super Bowl 50, but their roster spawns sobering questions about the road back.

Simply put: How far are the the Broncos from contending? 

Las Vegas does not hate their chances. They are considered a middle-of-the-pack combatant to win the Super Bowl at 33-to-1 odds, slight optimism considering last season's 5-11 dumpster fire. It is clearly based on the wise guys believing Denver will add a new quarterback.

What are the keys to clawing back into the hunt? 

1) Find a quarterback

The Broncos will aggressively pursue Kirk Cousins. Their chances remain strong if he becomes a free agent. According to reports, Washington is considering placing the franchise tag on Cousins in order receive trade compensation. Good luck. It seems like posturing. Cousins could refuse to sign it, delaying the process, and eliminating suitors before threatening to take the deal. That would leave Washington with two quarterbacks counting in excess of $50 million against the salary cap. If Washington complicates the process, the Broncos might have to move on. They need clarity before the draft.

If not Cousins, then perhaps Case Keenum? Minnesota is a sleeper favorite to land Cousins which could leave Keenum a Broncos target. He has a history with the Broncos executive Gary Kubiak. As for Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles? I suggested him as an option two weeks ago, and was laughed off Twitter. How do you like him now?

He produced one of the greatest postseasons ever. However, he's under contract for one more season. I would be surprised if the Eagles trade him. He provides a safety net to allow Carson Wentz to recover on a conservative time table following knee surgery. 

If the Broncos don't land a free agent -- the bidding and unofficial signings begin on March 12 -- they will likely use the fifth pick over all to draft one.

Without better quarterback play any talk of challenging for titles is foolish.

2) Caffeinate the offense

Step back. Be honest. When you watch the Eagles and Patriots, do you any see any resemblance to the Broncos offense? The answer is no. The Broncos lack receiving tight ends, have no slot receiver production, don't use their running backs in passing concepts, and are left rudderless if Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas struggle.

The first priority is obvious: Upgrade the skill position talent and the offensive line. The Broncos need to sign a free agent tight end -- Trey Burton or Austin Seferian-Jenkins would be good fits -- to pair with Jake Butt. 

Even if Cody Latimer re-signs -- he remains valuable on special teams -- the Broncos need to draft a receiver to push Carlos Henderson in training camp. If last season taught them anything it is that the recent draft class members should be guaranteed nothing. Make them earn roster spots.

3) Figure out O-Line

The building blocks exist. Guard Ron Leary, center Matt Paradis and left tackle Garett Bolles provide a nice core. I would move Leary back to left guard to help Bolles' development. And this is where it gets interesting. If the Broncos sign or acquire a veteran quarterback, it opens up the strong possibility of drafting a guard or tackle in the first two rounds. They can no longer keep striking out on bargain-priced right tackles. Stability is desperately needed at the position to improve the team's overall pass blocking.

4) Add a linebacker, cornerback

It can be argued the Broncos will not re-sign any of their unrestricted free agents. Linebacker Todd Davis has shown promise, but another suitor could price him out of Denver's budget. Regardless, Denver needs to draft or sign a linebacker to help in pass coverage. And adding a corner is necessary with the possibility Aqib Talib is traded this offseason. I like Brendan Langley's potential, but he has to prove it, and nothing pushes athletes like competition. Marcus Rios is an interesting prospect. 

5) Coach better

Vance Joseph remains in a difficult spot. He is essentially operating on a one-year contract, his job spared in January because of the team's poor quarterback play. Joseph must improve, must become more assertive and must coach his coaches better. Under Tom McMahon, sanity should return to the special teams. Bill Musgrave, as the full-time boss from the jump, intrigues me. He appears flexible and willing to incorporate run-pass-option concepts and show creativity. He needs to be for Denver to bounce back. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods showed progress after getting outcoached against superior opponents like Kansas City, Philadelphia and New England. I expect him to simplify schemes to create a better gameday product. 

In 2017, the Broncos suffered through one of the worst seasons in franchise history, including an eight-game losing streak and seven road defeats. And yet, hope flickers. The AFC West is wide open, especially with Alex Smith no longer in the division.

At this point, confetti seems a pipe dream, but contending should not be.  

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