ESPN Gives Broncos Eyebrow-Raising Grade for 2020 Offseason Haul
On Thursday, ESPN's Bill Barnwell decided to take on the challenge of ranking the offseason haul of all 32 NFL teams. The way Barnwell broke down his rankings centered on where the roster, cap situation, and future draft capital was for each team before the offseason kicked into high gear, compared to where it is now.
He also included how the teams handled contract negotiations and filled needs with talent compared to the players lost from last season. Barnwell broke down for each team what went right, what went wrong, what they might have done differently with the benefit of hindsight, and what they should do in the months ahead.
Barnwell is very spot on with his evaluation of the Denver Broncos and follows a lot of what has been said throughout the offseason here at Mile High Huddle.
The Broncos continued their trend among most national writers of getting high marks and plaudits for how their offseason shook out. Before I get to what Barnwell had to say about the Broncos, though, I'll point out where he has the rest of the AFC West ranked.
Barnwell ranked the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 21, mostly pointing to the fact Andy Reid and company didn’t do a whole lot to improve the roster, but also didn't lose much from the Super Bowl squad. The Las Vegas Raiders checked in at No. 15 with high marks for the additions to the defense, but some questions on the players added to the offense and how they fit with QB Derek Carr.
Finally, Barnwell ranked the Los Angeles Chargers No. 10 with high marks on team-friendly deals for veterans, but some questions on the decision to trade up for LB Kenneth Murray. Barnwell seems to agree with our Nick Kendell that off-ball linebackers are the running back of the defense and are essentially a replaceable position and not usually worthy of a first-round pick, let alone a trade-up for one.
Back to the Broncos. Barnwell was a big fan of what John Elway and the company were able to accomplish this offseason, starting off with praise for empowering Drew Lock. Often, NFL front-office executives overlook the importance of closing ranks around a young, unproven quarterback.
What Went Right
In a world in which we don't really know whether Drew Lock is a viable NFL starter, John Elway did the best thing any general manager can do for a young, questionable quarterback: Go out and get playmakers for him. The Broncos signed running back Melvin Gordon in free agency, then used their first two picks on wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. They also upgraded their offensive line by signing Graham Glasgow and got Lock an accomplished offensive coordinator in former Browns and Giants coach Pat Shurmur.
Too often teams lean on a young QB to cover up the myriad of problems on the roster and watch as they crumble under the pressure. It seems like the QBs that are given weapons early on are the guys who have early and sustained success.
Look at Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes as great examples of young, talented QBs who made a quantum leap in Year 2 because of the playmakers strategically placed around them by the front office.
I liked what the Broncos did on defense too. Letting cornerback Chris Harris Jr. leave, Elway traded a pair of picks for veteran corner A.J. Bouye and lineman Jurrell Casey, with the latter being stolen away from a Titans team that needed the cash and cap room for a seventh-round pick. Denver waited out the market on tackle Shelby Harris and was able to bring back the 2019 starter on a one-year, $3.1 million deal, far less than the figures Harris' camp was tossing around before free agency.
The Broncos also got fortunate that the market for Harris did not pan out the way the player expected, resulting in his return to the Broncos on a very team-friendly deal. Combined with the return of Bradley Chubb and hopefully Bryce Callahan, the Broncos should field another top-10 defense in the upcoming season.
There were two things Barnwell did not like from the Broncos this offseason. Both have been talked about quite a bit at MHH.
What Went Wrong
Gordon can be a valuable player, but he has been too inconsistent to justify the two-year, $16 million deal he took home. The move could marginalize Phillip Lindsay, and I'm not sure Gordon is actually a better back than the former undrafted free agent. Elway also didn't find a challenger or replacement for embattled left tackle Garett Bolles, who has shown precious few signs of improvement as a pro while committing a staggering 34 holding penalties during the past three seasons, 15 more than any other player over that time frame.
Gordon is now the seventh highest-paid running back on an average-per-year basis. Barnwell points out that Gordon has been a bit inconsistent and he is not sure the veteran RB is much better than the guy already on the roster in Lindsay.
It's fair to wonder much Gordon's arrival could marginalize Lindsay in the standing of the Broncos, resulting in perhaps not paying him and possibly pushing him down the depth chart. The flipside is, the Broncos needed a RB like Gordon who can pick up the tough yards and be a strong third-down option.
The price was high, but this is where having a QB on a rookie deal allows the Broncos to overspend a bit elsewhere to improve the roster. Here's what Barnwell felt like Denver could have done differently to address the same issue.
What They Could Have Done Differently
The Broncos could have waited out the perennially flooded running back market for a bargain. I suspect they could have signed someone like Devonta Freeman on a one-year deal for less than half of what they'll pay Gordon in 2020, and while Gordon is probably the better player, the difference isn't commensurate with the money involved.
What's Left to Do
Bring in a challenger for Bolles. There aren't many exciting options at left tackle available on the open market, but simply getting somebody who won't commit three holding penalties per month would be a step in the right direction for the Broncos. Jason Peters might be out of their price range, but they could pretty easily justify signing someone like Kelvin Beachum or Cordy Glenn to compete for the job.
It is hard not to disagree with this assessment. Bolles has been very inconsistent throughout his career and even if the challenger did not beat him out, the Broncos could be in need of someone to develop a year and be ready in 2021.
Right now, it does not look like the Broncos have done well in preparing for the future. I worry Denver could fall into the same position as when it drafted Bolles, reaching for a player at a position of need rather than truly going best player available. There are still some decent names on the market as Barnwell points out, that could be late signings if Bolles or Elijah Wilkinson indeed hold back the offense from taking off.
Overall, Barnwell did a great job of breaking down Denver's strengths and weaknesses of this offseason up to this point. The Broncos have done well to add talent both at an affordable price that will not destroy the future cap while also mixing in a lot of young potential especially to the offense.
The 2020 season still comes down to whether Lock is ready to step up and lead this team, but the rest of the roster is looking as strong as it has since maybe the 2016 team that still had an elite defensive presence. The Broncos have a large variance in how this upcoming season could shake out and that is showing up in both the local and national media either being too high or too low on the 2020 Broncos.