DENVER -- Nobody, least of all the loyal fans, envisioned the depths to which the Broncos would sink in 2017. When weighing prospects with a new coach, sturdy defense and a uncertain quarterback, Denver viewed the playoffs as a reasonable goal.
It all dissolved after a 3-1 start. The Broncos dropped eight straight games, the longest skid in 50 years, won a single road contest and made six quarterback changes. This troubling pattern began at the end of 2016 with four losses in the final six games. Denver owns a 7-15 record over its last 22 games. A fix is possible, but a series of shrewd decisions are required. My Denver7 offseason moves:
1) No more drama at QB
There's no denying how poorly the Broncos quarterbacks performed last season. Only the Browns were worse. The Broncos don't like the drama, but the drama likes them. They need stability, either with a veteran like Kirk Cousins or Case Keenum, or the fifth pick overall. No more camp competition. Get the guy -- All-Pro Von Miller, echoing the thoughts of many teammates, is openly campaigning for Cousins -- and move forward with a newly creative offense. Trevor Siemian could be traded, depending on the health of his left shoulder.
2) Fix the Oline
The Broncos are to right tackles what Spinal Tap is to drummers. Menelik Watson (pictured) remains unlikely to return, leaving the Broncos searching for their fourth starter in four years. This is where signing Cousins or a veteran would help. The Broncos could use their top pick on a tackle like Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey. I'd bring back restricted free agent center Matt Paradis (look for team to place second-round tenders on him and Shaquil Barrett), move Ron Leary to left guard to pair with tackle Garett Bolles, and then draft either a starting guard or tackle. Leary deserves to know where's going to play. No more switching before training camp. The right choice at right tackle would go a long way in stabilizing a shaky offensive line, especially in pass protection.
3) Add offensive weapons
In a perfect world, the Broncos add tight end Tyler Eifert and slot receiver Jarvis Landry. The salary cap makes that unlikely. However, the Broncos can no longer count on young players to contribute. If they do, great. But they need to earn it. No guarantees of playing time or roster spots. Finding a slot receiver in the draft is realistic. Kansas City's Albert Wilson is also a name to monitor in free agency. It's imperative the Broncos add a tight end to pair with Jake Butt. Free agent Austin Seferian-Jenkins makes sense if the draft does not fall favorably.
4) Corner decision
Moving on from Aqib Talib remains a real possibility. I'd prefer to see Talib retire as a Bronco and enter the team's Ring of Fame. However, the Broncos appear ready to start Bradley Roby. Their confidence in him traces back to the Dolphins game when he was one of the best players on the field. Trading Talib -- and that option should be exhausted -- frees up $11 million to address other needs.
5) Be open at receiver
The Broncos have to consider all options at receiver. If they land Cousins, it remains likely Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders stay. Without Cousins, it's possible one exits. Thomas' contract contains a $4 million option bonus due by the last day of the league year on March 14. If the Broncos decline to exercise it, the final two seasons of Thomas' contracts are voided, making him a free agent. The dead money makes this interesting. It would be $4.4 million less a $1.33 million cap charge already absorbed for one-third of the bonus.
Translation: the dead cap money would be $3.07 million. Is that a manageable figure? It's a fair question if the Broncos want to allocate their money differently this offseason. Thomas, 30, is due to make $8.5 million in base salary next season. He is the longest-tenured Broncos player. However, last season he failed to eclipse 1,000 yards for the first time since 2011, and his 11.4 yards per reception represented a career-low. The problems at quarterback deserve blame, but Thomas is trending toward becoming a possession receiver. If he stays, will the Broncos ask him to restructure his contract?
Sanders, who turns 31 in March, could become trade bait. He carries a $10.9 million cap number in 2018. That's a heady figure if he's unable to bounce back from ankle issues. The previous two seasons, however, Sanders was the Broncos most reliable offensive player.
6) Need for speed at LB
The Broncos may not re-sign any of their unrestricted free agents. Linebacker Todd Davis is a favorite of the coaching staff, a solid, hard-working player. However, the Broncos need improvement in coverage. This is where they must consider adding a linebacker in the draft, even if it is a niche role on passing downs or against premier tight ends.
7) Add a bargain free agent
The Broncos missed out on Calais Campbell last season, falling shy of Jacksonville's offer. A player of that ilk is not reasonable if the Broncos land a veteran quarterback. If they do sign a new quarterback, however, could they get a shrewd deal with the likes of Mo Wilkerson? Or what about pass rusher Dion Jordan? Both come with risks. However, one of John Elway's best signings a few years ago was safety Darian Stewart. The Broncos need a similar find in this year's free agency to bulk up the defensive line, and provide protection as Derek Wolfe returns from a neck injury.