There were rumors heading into this offseason that, due to the situation surrounding the current ownership situation, that the Denver Broncos would not be 'buyers' in the 2021 free agency market.
This would have been a missed opportunity for Denver — not because the team that spends the most in free agency typically ends up winning the following season, but rather in a season with a compressed market due to the pandemic and the Broncos being one of the few teams with available salary cap room, sitting out in what was a 'buyer's market' this offseason would have been unfortunate.
Turns out the Broncos were in a better financial situation than anyone could have hoped. Yes, some of the team's signings may sting more in later years given how the cap hits of the newcomers jump substantially in the upcoming seasons, but the Broncos are in a fine situation with some expensive contracts coming off the books soon.
Plus, Denver currently rosters the biggest financial advantage in all of football; starting and paying a quarterback on a rookie contract. Thanks in large part to the pennies on the dollar the Broncos currently pay the quarterback position, as well as the excess picks in the top four rounds of the draft, the Broncos have built a young and overall financially friendly depth chart.
Those past moves allowed the Broncos and GM George Paton to be rather aggressive this offseason and close the gap between the Broncos and the rest of the AFC. After re-signing Kareem Jackson most recently, what needs does this Denver roster still have? Pro Football Focus took a swing and the answer will likely not surprise you.
DENVER BRONCOS: QB, S
Denver simply cannot go into Week 1 of 2021 with Drew Lock as its starter. Lock has appeared in 18 games in his two-year NFL career and has come away with the league’s third-worst passing grade over that span (61.8). No quarterback has thrown a higher rate of uncatchable passes (28%) on throws beyond the line of scrimmage since 2019. Quarterback is in play for Denver with their No. 9 overall pick, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them trade up to secure their guy.
Outside of quarterback, Denver’s biggest need was cornerback entering the offseason. However, after they signed Ronald Darby, Denver received a cap-casualty gift to make this a nonissue.
Following the Bears’ release of Kyle Fuller, not even an hour passed before Denver head coach Vic Fangio and general manager George Paton swooped in to sign the corner. Fuller’s three best seasons of his NFL career have come with Fangio as his defensive coordinator in Chicago in 2015, 2017 and 2018 (missed 2016 due to injury). Fuller ranked 12th among all outside cornerbacks in coverage grade from 2015 through 2018.
Taking quarterback out of the equation, Denver boasts one of the more complete rosters in the NFL.
This article was written prior to the Broncos retaining Jackson on a one-year, $5 million contract. If given the chance, the writer of this piece would likely take safety off this list.
A third safety that could come in and provide some slot and box snaps and special teams ability (a Will Parks reunion?) wouldn’t be a bad idea, but not a big enough hole to really list it as a true need.
Rather, the biggest need on the Broncos is the one that matters the most and, depending on who you ask, the only one that really matters. Lock was bad at times in 2020 and he had every excuse in the book as to why.
From a throwing-shoulder injury, to a weird abbreviated offseason, a new scheme, an overly young roster, to losing his right tackle and best receiver, the excuses might be warranted, but still, no matter how you slice it, they're excuses and they won't pay the bills.
While the Broncos have done almost all anyone connected to the team had projected the team to do, there still is one area where most have said the team would attack that has yet to come to fruition; competition at the quarterback position. Thankfully, the Broncos didn’t make stupid short-term decisions to pay big money for mediocre (at best) quarterbacks such as Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick — moves made by teams thinking about winning now as opposed to setting up their team for long-term success.
The market has now gotten extremely thin for QB signings for Denver to improve or at least give Lock veteran competition. The trade market is still possible. Although Nick Foles’ is also a mediocre QB, he has familiarity with Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and could raise the floor of the signal-caller room.
However, acquiring Foles via trade and taking on his $7 million salary-cap hit in 2021 and $11 million hit in 2022 would less than ideal. The Broncos could also trade for Gardner Minshew and Sam Darnold but both would likely cost the team Day 2 draft capital.
At that cost, perhaps it would be best for the Broncos to simply move up for a quarterback in the 2021 NFL draft, landing a top-flight prospect and benefitting from the five years of a cost-controlled contract, versus the shorter control and lesser ceiling of a Minshew or Darnold.
The 2021 Broncos are going to be interesting, but until the team's quarterback position improves, this squad will continue to be doubted and thought of as a pretender in comparison to the big dogs currently in the NFL. That need at quarterback will likely linger for Denver for a while longer.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickKendellMHH.
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