The 2021 free agency period has been a whirlwind for the Denver Broncos. While the Broncos haven't had many players coming and going thanks to the limited number of true roster holes and cost-controlled players already on-roster, some former players have managed to find new homes in the NFL.
The latest Broncos free agent to sign elsewhere leaves a void at the swing tackle position now that Elijah Wilkinson has signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears. Wilkinson never developed into a true starting-caliber tackle under offensive line coach Mike Munchak, but was a serviceable depth option at right tackle.
9NEWS' Mike Klis recently indicated that the swing job is now Calvin Anderson’s to lose, but Denver would be remiss not to consider competition for the untested player going into 2021. Given Ja’Wuan James’ injury history (and likely last season in Denver in 2022 given his contract structure) and Anderson’s superior ability at left tackle relative to the right, a developmental tackle that projects as a starter on the right side in the near future should be high on GM George Paton’s draft wishlist.
Joining Wilkinson in Chicago is ex-Broncos rush linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu who signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract. Attaochu was a solid depth pass rusher for the Broncos over the past two seasons, but with Von Miller returning, Bradley Chubb a year further from his ACL injury, and the emergence of Malik Reed, Attaochu was likely wise to look for an opportunity elsewhere.
However, while Denver looks solid at the edge rusher position right now, it doesn’t mean the team will ignore it. With the release of Aldon Smith, who had his best years under Vic Fangio in San Francisco, Paton may look to bring in another pass rusher to further enhance what could be a top-flight Denver defense.
Given that 2021 is the last year of Miller’s contract and the value of edge rusher, don’t be surprised if Paton addresses the position very early in the draft if the right opportunity arises.
The first and perhaps most notable of the ex-Broncos to sign elsewhere was hometown hero Phillip Lindsay. After rescinding the original-round tender on Lindsay to let him evaluate his market without the possible ramifications of Denver matching any offer he received, Lindsay signed a one-year deal worth up to $3.75 million with the Houston Texans.
The Broncos currently roster three running backs of note in Melvin Gordon, Royce Freeman, and Mike Boone. The ex-Viking Boone signed a two-year deal worth $3.85 million in Denver and offers more special teams and between-the-tackles ability for the Broncos in 2021.
But with Gordon and Freeman set to be free agents in 2022, the Broncos may look to bring in a running back fairly early in the 2021 NFL draft or add a low-cost option that can contribute more in the passing game.
Earlier this week, the Broncos released tight end Nick Vannett, saving approximately $2.7M, but he quickly found a new home in New Orleans, signing a three-year deal where he'll factor into the team’s de facto inline blocking.
While the Broncos look fine on the surface with the tight end position, with Albert Okwuegbunam expected back in 2021 after flashing during a brief stint as a rookie last year, as well as former first-round athletic freak Noah Fant, Denver may be searching for a cheap option to fill in for Vannett’s ‘Y’ tight end role. Neither Fant nor Okwuegbunam project best as players that should be depended on as any team’s main inline tight end option as an ‘extension of the offensive line’ type.
NFL rosters turn over quickly and the Broncos will likely be fine with the departures of Lindsay, Wilkinson, Attaochu, and Vannett. None are projected to bring back any compensatory selections for the 2022 draft and each leaves a hole the Broncos will either have to fill from within or consider outside help either via a cheap veteran or a draft selection.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickKendellMHH.
Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!