The Broncos now need The Big Fix on offense.
When John Elway was a couple of days from assuming control of the Broncos’ football operations five years ago next week, he told me defense would be his priority.
"The way you get the crowd at Mile High into the game is with a great play on defense – an interception, a fumble, a sack on third down. We’ve got to concentrate on defense first," Elway said.
The Duke of Denver did just that, then added a quarterback.
Not just any quarterback -- Peyton Manning.
And Manning carried the offense while Elway was the architect of building a Roman-like defense, not in a day, but over those five years. Consider that he drafted Von Miller, Sylvester Williams, Derek Wolfe, Bradley Roby, Malik Jackson, Shane Ray, Danny Travathan, Nate Irving, Rahim Moore, Quinton Carter, Omar Bolden, Kayvon Webster, Corey Nelson and others.
He also got fortunate with young free agents -- Chris Harris Jr., Brandon Marshall and Shaquil Barrett.
Elway signed an incredible group of free agents – Aqib Talib, Darien Stewart, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Vance Walker – and added some complementary pieces over the years in veterans Terrance Knighton, Antonio Smith, Mike Adams, Kevin Vickerson and Shaun Phillips.
They lost Jackson, Moore, Travathan and Irving to free agency, and dropped a few.
But the Broncos developed one of the best defenses in the league, and, with Wade Phillips in charge, one of the best of all time.
But, with the departure of Manning (and even Brock Osweiler), multiple injuries, mistakes on picks and free agents on the offense line and at tight end, and other pestering issues (including young quarterbacks), the offense fell apart completely.
So, Elway has to construct an offense, as he did the defense.
Before he loses the defense.
I’ve already written about the changes that must be made with the coaching staff on the offense. The Broncos have to bring in a new offensive coordinator and dump the assistants on the offensive line and at tight end.
But, they must have players.
Here are the priorities:
- Left tackle.
- Right tackle.
- Left guard.
- Right guard.
- Tight end.
- Running back.
- Reserve wide receivers.
- Pick a quarterback, or get a veteran.
That should about cover the problems.
The cupboard is not bare, Mother Hubbard, but it’s not fully stocked with All-Pros. They may end up with both wide receivers representing the offense (as stand-ins) in the Pro Bowl, but probably nobody else.
The young center is injured and off to surgery. But no tight ends, no other offensive linemen and certain not the running backs. Trevor Siemian could wind up in the Pro Bowl if six more quarterbacks are hurt – three already are out with major injuries – or declined to participate. He would finish ahead of Osweiler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Blake Bortles and the Browns’ seven quarterbacks.
So, who do the Broncos get in the off-season?
For starters, they’ve got to dump Russell Okung ($10.9 million), Donald Stephenson ($3 million) and Virgil Green ($2.8 mil) before their next contracts come due.
The Broncos probably will have $30-$35 million in salary cap room.
Practically all of the starting left tackles in the league are locked up, but they could sign free agent-to-be, 36-year-old Andrew Whitworth, who was moved to guard from left tackle by the Bengals. Whitworth says he will play left tackle somewhere next year. How about Denver? They also should bring in Cincinnati guard Kevin Zeitler. The combined salaries would be about the same as the three players they’d get rid of.
The Broncos also should go after Patriots’ tight end Martellus Bennett, Jermaine Gresham from the Cardinals or Jordan Reed from Washington.
Latavius Murray from the Raiders would be a great steal, and a 1,000-yard runner here.
The Broncos took chances on Roby and Ray, whose draft stock fell because of off-the-field problems. The Broncos should consider selecting Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson, who will slip because of his marijuana-gun arrest (which didn’t result in conviction) or Bama tight end O.J. Howard. Both will be big-time NFL players. Other tackles to consider are Ryan Ramczyk from Wisconsin and Mike McGlinchey from Notre Dame.
Or they could trade up in the first round, as they did last year, about six slots from 19 to grab LSU running back Leonard Fournette.
Those moves would The XL Fix for 2017 and put the Broncos back where they belong.
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