Broncos Mock Offseason: Roster Cuts, Re-Signings, Free Agency & 7-Round Draft
In this offseason mock, the Denver Broncos' changes to the offensive coaching staff and style of players they'll demand have been taken into account, from roster cuts, free-agent signings, and even the mock draft.
There are a lot of similarities between the old scheme and the new, but what distinguishes Pat Shurmur's system is the aggressiveness and spread concepts, which are what the Broncos hope will ultimately be the difference-maker next year.
The time has come to unveil another full Broncos offseason mock that includes free agency signings, roster cuts, and a full 7-round draft. For the last couple of days, I have been hard at work getting what information I could, putting a framework in place to bring this mock offseason to you.
The first step in a mock offseason is evaluating which players to cut from the roster. Let's dive in.
Joe Flacco, QB: The first and most obvious move is to cut Flacco from the roster. Denver does eat some dead money as a result of their restructuring of Flacco's contract last year, but it also plays a part in the Broncos having just under $62 million in cap space after the rollover from 2019.
After cutting Flacco and freeing up $10,05M, the Broncos would sit with just under $71.5M in cap space. The reason for cutting Flacco is simple. He isn’t worth keeping around as a backup quarterback and you just want to move forward with Drew Lock as the understood, unquestioned starter.
Ronald Leary, OG: Not only does Flacco go in this mock, but the Broncos also decline the option on Leary’s contract. That will free up another $8.5M and bring the Broncos' cap room to a little under $79.5M. Leary hasn’t been able to stay healthy for the Broncos and the best option for them would be to just move on.
Jeff Heuerman, TE: These next two cuts might not sit well with some fans. But Heuerman and gets the ax, which frees up $4M.
Todd Davis, LB: Cutting Davis frees up another $5M. This brings the Broncos' cap space to under $87.5M. The reason for these last two cuts is this; the Broncos are looking to upgrade the linebacker position (more on that later), which makes Davis expendable and in the new scheme, tight ends have a much lower value due to the use of 11 personnel (3WR sets). With the lowered value on the position, Heuerman is made more expendable.
Re-Signed: Justin Simmons, S
The Broncos have a lot of impending free agents in all three categories (unrestricted, restricted, and exclusive). This means there are a lot of decisions to make. For this, though, the Broncos let all unrestricted free agents, with the exception of Simmons, walk.
Simmons does get retained and becomes the highest-paid safety in the NFL, at least until the next great safety signs his deal.
That means Chris Harris, Jr., Shelby Harris, Derek Wolfe, Will Parks, Connor McGovern, Theo Riddick, Corey Nelson, Casey Kreiter, Adam Gotsis, Cyrus Jones, Jeremiah Attaochu, and Devontae Booker are all playing elsewhere in the 2020 NFL season. The thought process behind this exodus is a matter of value.
Either A), these vets are looking for more money than they're worth, B), they're not good enough to be retained, C), they have medical concerns, or D), it's simply time for the Broncos to move on.
RFAs: As for the team's restricted free agents, the Broncos hand out original-round tenders to DE Joel Heath, QB Brandon Allen, OL Elijah Wilkinson, CB De’Vaunte Bausby, and NT Mike Purcell. LB Joseph Jones is also a restricted free agent, but isn't tendered in this mock.
ERFAs: All that leaves are the exclusive rights free agents and since they're cheap and don’t have the freedom to negotiate with other teams, the Broncos retain the services of each one, at least through the preseason.
Outside Free-Agent Signings
Unlike the last offseason mock I did in 2019, I have the Broncos being a lot more active in the 2020 free agency. After making the moves above, Denver has over $90M (minus the Simmons contract) for them to work with.
There is a lot of talent that Denver can get in the free-agent market, and there's also a lot of talent that is expected to get cut from their current contracts. Here's who gets signed in my mock.
Signed: Jordan Phillips, DL, ex-Buffalo Bills (UFA)
There is a lot of focus on Chris Jones, Arik Armstead, and even Javon Hargrave, but Phillips is flying under the radar. My colleague Nick Kendell deserves a hat tip for mentioning him to me.
Phillips is a 6-foot 6, 320-pound mountain that had a great year playing an average of 52.5% of snaps on the Bills' defense (542 total). Of his total snaps, he had 336 of them as a pass rusher and picked up 9.5 sacks, with five QB hits and 10 hurries per Pro Football Focus. That equals a pressure every 13.4 pass-rush snaps.
Even though the aforementioned Jones, Armstead, and even Shelby Harris, had a better year in total pressures than Phillips, they're all going to cost a lot more money than he will, and of course, money has to be factored in.
Phillips is a tremendous fit in the Broncos' scheme. He has the length, strength, technique, and is a good rusher and run defender. There is a hole at nose tackle that Denver needs to fill, even though Mike Purcell did a solid job as a run defender.
Adding Phillips to the middle, which is another reason there was a value placed on him, will really benefit the Broncos' two defensive ends and edge rushers.
Signed: Graham Glasgow, IOL, ex-Detroit Lions (UFA)
This is another signing that is going for more value than just the big-name. Brandon Scherff is looking at big money and before the changes at offensive coordinator, I would have gone that way. Joe Thuney is another that was considered, but again, the coaching changes made me land on Glasgow, along with value.
Glasgow had a really good year for the Lions, and the best of his career. He has good power and mobility to be effective in a versatile scheme the Broncos are likely looking at running. Glasgow allowed 25 pressures up the middle, while Scherff (10) and Thuney (16) allowed fewer. But again, this is looking at Glasgow's value and the versatility he brings.
Denver needs to stabilize its interior O-line and Glasgow can compete for center or right guard. It is worth noting that Thuney has played left guard almost exclusively his entire career, so Glasgow can come in and the Broncos won't have to move Dalton Risner. Instead, you can have an interior of Risner, Glasgow and Elijah Wilkinson/Patrick Morris/Austin Schlottmann/other and really get down to stabilizing the interior.
Signed: B.J. Finney, IOL, ex-Pittsburgh Steelers (UFA)
Speaking of interior O-line, why not add another player for added competition? Finney hasn’t been a starter but has worked with Mike Munchak before so there is a familiarity there. This would be a cheap one' or two-year deal, allowing Finney to compete for a starting job, or at the very least, a depth position.
Signed: Joe Schobert, LB, ex-Cleveland Browns (UFA)
In this scenario, I have Denver parting ways with Davis, and doing so with the expectation of signing Schobert is a big reason why. Denver has a chance to really upgrade its linebacker corps with a player more adept in coverage than Davis or Alexander Johnson.
Schobert is a very good player and can handle himself against the run, but he is more of a coverage linebacker. He will allow catches, but he is quick to make the tackle and stop them for shorter gains. In the role that Davis played in Fangio's defense, Schobert is a much better fit and far better-suited than Davis.
Signed: Calais Campbell, DL, Jacksonville Jaguars (Cap Casualty)
The Jaguars are in really bad shape when it comes to their salary cap. With a projected $200M salary cap, Jacksonville is projected to be almost $2M over the cap limit. The Jags are going to have to make some tough cuts in order to free up money to address other areas of their roster and sign their draft picks.
There are three players that stand out as potential cuts from Jacksonville's roster that would take the team from being over the cap by $2M to under by $42M. Those players are Campbell (hence him being here), Marcell Dareus, and A.J. Bouye. There is also word that Jacksonville may want to part ways with QB Nick Foles but it would cost them $12M more to cut him than to just keep him.
Campbell had a great year for Jacksonville, but at his age and financial costs, it's easy to see why the Jaguars may be parting ways. Of course, projecting cap casualties is always difficult, but with two first-round picks, the Jaguars can look to add to their defensive line with a younger, cheaper option.
Being a native to Colorado, Campbell could want to return home. He nearly did when he was a free agent back in 2017 before he decided to sign on with the Jaguars. Bringing him home on a two-year deal for good money would be a smart move. It would provide a veteran that Dre’Mont Jones can watch and learn from as he is a young, developing player.
Signed A.J. Bouye, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars (Cap Casualty)
The final signing is another castoff from Jacksonville as they move on from some deals made from previous regimes. Bouye is still a really good corner in the NFL, but 2019 was not a usual year for him. It comes down to play vs. cost and with the Jaguars needing salary cap room, Bouye makes sense for them to cut.
Of the four corners the Jaguars played this year, Bouye was the worst one. He allowed over a 100 QB rating when targeted, to go along with 772 yards and three touchdowns, and that simply isn’t what the Jaguars are paying for. With other corners exceeding expectations and outperforming Bouye in Jacksonville, it makes him even easier to cut.
So why would Denver want him? Because Bouye fits in with what the Broncos want to do, and he is another player the team had an interest in not too long ago. Fangio has a knack for taking a cornerback castoff by another team because of bad play and getting some really good production out of them, just like he did with Prince Amukamara in Chicago.
Signed: Taylor Gabriel, WR, Chicago Bears (Cap Casualty)
Denver does need to add some speed to its offense, and Gabriel can provide that. He hasn’t worked out in Chicago, so a cheap, short-term deal should be enough to get it done.
GM John Elway doesn’t like to go into the draft with many needs, so adding a speedy receiver prior is just taking out one need. That doesn’t mean the Broncos can’t address it still in the draft.
Keep in mind, Gabriel is currently under contact in Chicago. He's not an unrestricted free agent but from what I've heard, he's a likely cap casualty, which would render him a street free agent and able to sign anywhere.
Even though I've been more aggressive with this offseason mock than the last one I did in 2019, I still factored in future compensatory picks. There are seven (eight if you count Simmons) Broncos unrestricted free agents that should factor into the 2021 compensatory pick formula.
By signing four unrestricted free agents, some of them will cancel out but the Broncos should still be in a position to land three of comp picks. Remember, street free agents do not factor into the compensatory pick formula.
It's time for the best part — the mock draft! After filling in some major holes in free agency, it opened up the ability to go with more value picks (best players available) while also factoring in what needs are left for the Broncos.
Round 1: Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado
With the change to Shurmur’s 11-personnel offense, there is an added boost to the value of receivers who offer up a lot of after-the-catch ability. There may not be a better receiver in the class after the catch than Shenault. Sure, Jerry Jeudy can run routes, CeeDee Lamb is a freak, and Henry Ruggs III is fast, but Shenault is kind of a combination of all three.
The big weakness of Shenault's game is his routes, but they're not terrible. They can be crisper and more shaky to get separation, but he is 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, so routes are going to be a little bit of an issue. When it comes to speed, the expectation is for him to run closer to a 4.3-second 40 than a 4.4 and if he does, it'll be nuts. He's a freak of nature in all sense of the phrase.
There is a large focus on Shenault's medical history, as he has missed time in each of the last three seasons. That's to be expected with his physical style of play and being the focal point of the offense. However, as I recently highlighted, the real concern with injuries are those that come with any long-term implications, more so than the number of injuries a player has sustained.
After speaking to people in the know, Shenault's injuries aren’t really a concern. Based on what I've been told by people close to CU is he could’ve played through the injuries but the medical staff held him out, and that there are no long-term risks from the injuries he sustained.
Denver gets a tremendous weapon for its offense and for Lock that really fits with what Shurmur wants. Shenault is someone who can get open underneath, take a quick pass, and make the defense pay.
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Round 2: Josh Jones, OT, Houston
This is a pick about the future. Garett Bolles is the starter at left tackle with Ja’Wuan James at right tackle. James can’t stay on the field, though, and Bolles is inconsistent and it's uncertain whether Denver exercises his fifth-year option.
Adding Jones gives a huge boost to the Broncos' offense while giving Munchak a left tackle prospect that needs work on his technique before he is ready to be a starter. Also, if James goes down next year, Jones will be in the wings waiting and can get some experience.
Round 3: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LCU
There is a demand for the Broncos to get better at running back, but it isn’t power that the team needs. What Denver needs is a tough running back that can offer patience as a runner to work inside or outside, as well as good hands and blocking.
Edwards-Helaire offers up all of that. Blocking is the area he is lacking, but there are tools there to develop to become more efficient as a blocker.
Round 3: Davon Hamilton, DL, Ohio State
In this scenario, the Broncos solved their starting defensive line with Campbell, Phillips, and already having Jones on the roster. Now, Denver needs to add to their depth, which was a strong point in the 2019 season.
Hamilton can sit behind Campbell and develop. The tools are all there with Hamilton, he just has to be a lot more consistent with hands usage, and his pad level, to really be a force in the NFL.
Round 3: Darnay Holmes, CB, UCLA
If you take anything away from the Broncos' 2019 campaign, it should be how badly the team needs cornerback help, but Fangio’s scheme places a lower value on the position because it doesn’t ask as much of them as other schemes do. With Bryce Callahan, Bausby, and Bouye added in the above moves, there wasn’t a need to go corner very early in the draft.
However, at this stage, Holmes is good value. Formerly touted as a first-round corner, Holmes had some issues this year, but the strong corner class really dropped him. He is a smaller corner, but can work the boundary or the slot and provides valuable depth with Callahan’s injury concerns.
Round 4: Michael Onwenu, IOL, Michigan
When you are 360-plus pounds, you shouldn’t move as nimbly as Onwenu does. He offers up plenty of power on the interior offensive line, but he has good lateral agility to be a pulling guard and climb to the second level.
He does need work finding blockers when he gets there, and syncing up his upper body to his lower body when he pulls, but that power and movement is hard to pass up for a Broncos that that values versatility in their offensive line.
Round 4: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
A day-two talent that is getting pushed down because of the depth at wide receiver in this class, Mims has plenty of speed to be a deep threat in the NFL, but in 2019, he showed that there is a lot more to his game than just speed.
He improved his route running, and showed he can contort his body for a great catch radius. For an offense that wants to spread out defenses, Mims would be an amazing fit.
Round 5: Colton McKivits, OT, West Virginia
Basically, the tackle depth for the Broncos is bad. The Jones pick helped out some, but the Broncos still need a long-term backup option that might develop into a right tackle starter to replace James.
McKivits needs technical work, but the Broncos have one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL. McKivits helps the depth in 2020 and beyond.
Round 6: Marcel Spears, Jr., LB, Iowa State
The Broncos' depth at linebacker still needs work after parting ways with Davis, even though the team signed Schobert. Spears is a cover linebacker specialist, but he has good athleticism and sideline-to-sideline range.
He is more hybrid than linebacker, but Denver can use that in their defense if they can develop him. This late, a bit of risk can be worth it.
Round 7: Jason Huntley, RB, New Mexico State
Doubling up on running backs is never a bad thing. They take such a beating at the NFL level. Depth is a must. With the Broncos, there isn’t much depth to speak of after Lindsay, and Denver drafted Edwards-Helaire in this scenario.
Huntley has good patience between the tackles, with good burst to get through the holes. He would immediately push Freeman, who lacks burst, and Khalfani Muhammad, who lacks between-the-tackles toughness.
Round 7: Kevin Davidson, QB, Princeton
Every year, you should draft a quarterback as you never know what you're going to get. Denver can use some added competition for Brett Rypien. Davidson has prototypical size at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, and has an NFL-caliber arm. The Shrine Bowl was very beneficial for Davidson as he was the best quarterback, and player, all week.
Round 7: Garrett Mariano, IDL, UAB
The final pick is adding to their depth on the defensive line. Mariano is a big boy, but he isn’t overly athletic. He will beat up on offensive linemen with power and some quicker power moves. He projects best as a rotational depth piece, which is exactly what the Broncos are needed.
How would you feel if the Broncos' offseason shook out this way? Sound off in the comment section below!