Denver Broncos: Four Things to Build for the Future in 2020
There's no way to sugarcoat things — the Denver Broncos are young, banged up and, despite putting up a fight against two teams who may make the playoffs, are 0-2 and not likely to make the playoffs this season.
There were plenty of hopes that the Broncos might make some noise, but realistically, this team was still a year away from being a true playoff contender. It's only now, with all the injuries and inexperience, that it's become more evident.
Therefore, the Broncos need to keep approaching this season as though they are building toward the future. Making moves that are about 'playoffs now' aren't guaranteed to get results. Any such moves are more about the present than the future.
There are a few things I would suggest the Broncos do in the coming weeks that are about keeping an eye toward the future, rather than throwing things at the wall because some fans want playoffs now.
While most of the things I propose can be debated, the first one I'll start with is a must. Let's get to that one and go from there.
1. Don't Trade Away Draft Picks For Players
The worst thing the Broncos can do is sacrifice the future for the present. Trading away draft picks, no matter what they get in return, is going to do that.
I get that fans are desperate to have a more experienced backup quarterback than Brett Rypien, but the price for getting a backup quarterback from another team is going to be too high. The Broncos can't afford to pay a high price.
The same applies to any other position. No matter how bad the situation gets, it's better to sign whatever free agents you can find or look at other teams' practice squads to find players who could help out.
The Broncos have nine draft picks, three in the seventh, and need to keep them all, to find those final pieces of the puzzle in building toward 2021.
2. Look For Ways to Get Younger on the Field
If you'll recall, the Broncos made multiple changes to the starting defense last season after they had played four games. One involved Mike Purcell taking the nose tackle job, with Shelby Harris moving to 3-tech and starter Adam Gotsis going to the bench.
Two other moves happened: Alexander Johnson replaced veteran Corey Nelson at off-ball linebacker and De'Vante Bausby took over at cornerback for a struggling Isaac Yiadom.
I suspect Vic Fangio isn't going to push for changes to the lineup until four games are played — first, because that's how it worked last year, and second, because the lack of a preseason means some players might need more preparation.
One move that is likely to happen is McTelvin Agim getting more snaps on the defensive line, now that Dre'Mont Jones will miss time and DeMarcus Walker's status is in question. Jones is part of the future, but Walker likely isn't, so it's a good time to find out how Agim measures up.
But there are other ways to work some players into the lineup. Consider tight end — Nick Vannett is involved on many snaps because of his blocking, but Andrew Beck is not only a good blocker, he's a decent pass catcher and should be able to make the adjustment to tight end.
Beck, along with Jake Butt, could take more of the snaps that Vannett gets until Albert Okwuegbunam gets up to speed with his blocking. Then, the Broncos can work Okwuegbunam into the lineup when they believe he's ready.
Then there's right tackle, in which I get why fans are impatient. But it may not be simply about replacing Elijah Wilkinson with Demar Dotson, because the Broncos have another player who might help: Calvin Anderson.
Why not use the next two games to give Anderson a few snaps as a sixth offensive lineman on the right side? He might show enough to warrant consideration to start at right tackle at some point, even if the Broncos switch to Dotson after four games.
Keep in mind that Wilkinson and Dotson are both unrestricted free agents after the season and neither is likely in the Broncos' long-term plans. But Anderson might have a future at swing tackle, so find ways to see if he can handle that task.
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3. Take It Slow With Returning Veterans to the Lineup.
First of all, this doesn't apply to Drew Lock. While the Broncos shouldn't rush him back, they do need him back on the field because, going into the season, the intent was for him to be part of the team's future.
Furthermore, the Broncos can't simply rely on 'tank for Trevor' when the Jets and Giants are worse teams and more likely to fall into the No. 1 overall pick, plus the Panthers could finish with a worse record given their inexperience.
However, there are a couple of veterans who are sidelined, but shouldn't be rushed back into action.
It's unfortunate that A.J. Bouye was lost in the season opener, but the Broncos need to get a good look at the younger cornerbacks to see what they have to offer. Michael Ojemudia has had his struggles, but he's had his good moments, too.
So keep rolling with Ojemudia, plus find ways to get Essang Bassey, De'Vante Bausby and Davontae Harris worked into the defense. Find out who among your younger defensive backs has a future.
The same applies to off-ball linebacker. Mark Barron wouldn't be here if not for Justin Strnad's injury, but the Broncos traded for Austin Calitro and should get him involved more, to see if he can be part of the future plans, too.
Bouye and Barron can still be utilized once they are healthy, but don't forget about these younger players and what they might have to offer.
4. Try to Trade a Player for a Late-Round Draft Pick.
There aren't a lot of players the Broncos have who would be trade bait. While somebody like Jurrell Casey could draw interest from playoff contenders, the injuries to the defensive line, plus the fact Casey has played well so far, make it risky to deal him.
However, the Broncos might be able to trade Royce Freeman for a seventh-round pick once Phillip Lindsay is healthy. I don't think you'd get more than a seventh-round pick for him, but it's better than nothing.
Trading Freeman would open up a spot for LeVante Bellamy, who has a better shot at being part of the team's future than Freeman.
If the Broncos think they can get by with their young corners, perhaps they can move Bouye once he's healthy. A playoff contender might be interested if they need corner help.
While the trade options are limited, the Broncos should seek what offers they can get, so long as the player isn't part of their future plans.
As frustrating as it's been to see the Broncos come up short in two games, the important thing is to keep an eye on the future more than the present. Sure, you want to win the games you can, but figuring out who can be a part of the team's future is the most important thing right now.
And the injury luck has certainly not been on the Broncos' side, but with a good 2021 draft and free agent class, plus getting healthy players back, should put the Broncos into a better position in 2021 and, more importantly, make them a true playoff contender.