The Denver Broncos entered 2021 with many roster needs. Despite the plethora of excess capital the front office has had to play with over the last few draft cycles due to trading back and acquiring compensatory picks, resulting in a greater number of cost-controlled rookies on the team, a quick look at the Broncos’ current depth chart should make any fan uneasy.
This isn’t surprising given the Broncos are tied for the second-longest playoff drought in the NFL currently dating back five seasons (only outdone by the New York Jets with 10-straight years with no postseason). With issues in the coaching staff, instability in the front office, and a stretch of less-than-stellar draft years and overall unsatisfactory quarterback play, it’s just too many variables counting against the Broncos.
Despite the Broncos’ recent stay in the land of the incompetent teams, things really do appear to be trending in the right direction in Dove Valley. The Broncos have one of the more captivating young offensive weapons groups in the league, a young, toolsy quarterback with attainable upside, an ascending offensive line, and the mind of the defensive flavor du jour in the NFL with Vic Fangio’s match-quarters defense. The struggles have been painful but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Still, as a team coming off of a 5-11 season with money to spend relative to the rest of the league, where should the Broncos shop this offseason in free agency and the NFL draft? The Broncos have a decent amount of salary cap space, even after the recent flurry of new deals and re-signings, which will be enough to hopefully fill as many holes on the two-deep depth chart as possible before the draft kicks off.
After all, free agency is about addressing needs whereas the draft is about adding the best talent available. However, what are the Broncos’ 'needs' as of now?
On the doorstep of free agency, NFL.com’s Adam Maya attempted to figure out the biggest roster needs of all 16 AFC teams entering the offseason. Unsurprisingly, given the resource allocation to the offense over the last two years, the Broncos' biggest needs all wind up on the defensive side of the ball in safety, pass rusher, and cornerback according to Maya, but thankfully, the Broncos checked a couple of those boxes last week in the Von Miller option, re-signing Justin Simmons, and by signing corners Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller.
The Broncos got started early by tagging Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons again. Locking up the budding star long-term seems to be the next step. His hefty price tag could spell the end for fellow safety Kareem Jackson in Denver. Von Miller is also still on the books, but if he were to return for next season, it would presumably be on a restructured deal. The Broncos' pass rush will look much different in 2021, regardless. Shelby Harris is a free agent, and Jurrell Casey has already been cut after appearing in just three games last season. Cornerback will continue to be addressed in the aftermath of A.J. Bouye's release.
Maya was certainly correct in stating the Broncos had a need at cornerback. It was so obvious that it wasn't shocking at all to see GM George Paton throw some cap dollars at the position in free agency and he might follow suit in and the draft. However, seeing safety and edge rusher listed was somewhat surprising — but that was before the Broncos re-signed Simmons, moved on from Kareem Jackson, and optioned Miller.
With Shelby Harris re-signed and Jackson gone, safety is the biggest remaining need defensively but let’s not negate Denver’s need also at linebacker, a position the team is reportedly looking to inject more athleticism into this offseason. Another offensive tackle to add depth to the position given Ja’Wuan James’ elongated sabbatical from football, and a veteran quarterback to compete with incumbent Drew Lock, are all also possibilities to fully fill all of Denver’s biggest ‘needs’.
The Broncos have been a bad team, but with what appears to be a good young offensive core, the mastermind of the most sought after defensive scheme in the NFL currently with Fangio, and some cap space and a top-10 pick in the 2021 draft, this team can hopefully close the gap on the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West and find its way back to the playoffs for the first time since Super Bowl 50.
Based on Maya's piece, though, safety is the only big roster hole remaining after Jackson was jettisoned. Simmons needs his partner.
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