While much of the focus for the 2021 Denver Broncos appears to be on the NFL draft for new GM George Paton, there are a few holes that could be addressed in free agency.
In its 2021 'Broncos Draft and Free Agency primer', Pro Football Focus listed a few veteran free agents that could be affordable options to fill key holes at quarterback, offensive tackle, edge rusher, and cornerback.
While I still do not believe that Drew Lock should be considered a 'hole' on offense at QB, PFF threw out Jameis Winston as a possible option at quarterback, assuming the Broncos do not pull the trigger on a massive trade for Deshaun Watson, or land North Dakota State star Trey Lance in the first round of the draft.
Here’s what PFF had to say about a possible Winston fit in Denver:
If the Watson deal doesn’t materialize, then free agency and the draft will offer several options for the Broncos. Winston won’t be overly pricey after spending most of the 2020 season on the sideline, but he has five years of mid-tier quarterback play on his resume and brings a real high end to the table with his ability to push the ball downfield.
Winston certainly has the arm talent and the experience to thrive in Denver under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur as he is unafraid to push the ball down the field. However, if the Broncos were to go the route of a turnover-prone quarterback in 2021, the team should just run it back with Lock for one more year and get one last long look at the former second-round pick.
Aside from a possible Winston fit at quarterback, PFF identified right tackle as a hole for the Broncos with Ja’Wuan James’ contract situation up in the air.
Though the Broncos spent big bucks on the former Miami Dolphins first-rounder, Paton could look to cut some salary and bring in a reliable veteran, such as PFF’s possible fit in ex-Packer and Lion Rick Wagner.
Here’s what PFF had to say about a possible Wagner fit in the Mile High City:
Even with reports that James is no lock to be on Denver’s roster entering next season, it’s tough to see them choosing to release him. Even a post-June 1 cut would lead to the Broncos eating $13 million in dead salary cap, and there is a reason that Denver gave him the contract that they did two offseasons ago. James profiles as a quality starting option at right tackle.
If they do look for another solution, Wagner is a cheaper option on the free agent market that makes some sense. He’s coming off an effective season as the Green Bay Packers‘ starting right tackle, having earned a 78.2 PFF grade across 756 offensive snaps on the year. Wagner has graded at 70.0 or higher in six of his eight NFL seasons.
This one I actually agree with PFF quite a bit. I’ve always been a fan of Wagner’s game as a sound, if unspectacular, right tackle in the NFL. He’s a solid pass blocker and has some people-mover skills in the run game.
After being cut by Green Bay in a salary cap move, Wagner could come cheap and really help solidify what has the makings of an elite offensive line in Denver under Mike Munchak.
Defensively, PFF listed edge rusher and cornerback as two holes for the Broncos.
While Von Miller is still under contract, there is a question as to whether Paton cuts the Broncos' longtime star to free up salary cap space, or bring back the veteran who has struggled to stay healthy and produce in recent years.
Should the Broncos move on from Miller, PFF eyes ex-Jaguars, Vikings and Ravens pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue as a possible fit.
Here’s what PFF had to say about Ngakoue in Denver:
These targets really only make sense if the Broncos do part ways with Von Miller. In that scenario, Ngakoue could be a guy Denver targets to step in and provide high-level play as a pass rusher opposite Bradley Chubb. Ngakoue has recorded pass-rushing grades of at least 74.0 in each of the past four seasons. The biggest problem for any team looking to add the former Jaguar and Raven is that he will not offer much support against the run.
Paton should be quite familiar with Ngakoue, having played a role in trading for him in Minnesota last year, before then flipping him to Baltimore once the Vikings were out of contention.
He’s an outspoken pass rusher, but he brings speed and power to the edge with a knack of getting to the quarterback. But, as PFF states, he’s not much of a run defender, which could be a no-go in Vic Fangio’s defense.
At cornerback, PFF listed former CU Buffs star and ex-Cowboy Chidobe Awuzie as a possible free agency fit for the Broncos in Fangio’s scheme.
Awuzie is coming off a down 2020 season that included missed time with injury, but he has multiple years of solid play in coverage on his resume prior to this past season. Awuzie earned a 75.0 coverage grade across the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons. That number only gets better when isolating for zone-coverage snaps. He profiles as a good fit on Denver’s defense who won’t cost top dollar at the position.
Awuzie came into the NFL out of Colorado and played well right away, providing Dallas with a sound cornerback on a poor defense. He has some impressive ball skills and has some special teams ability as well. It would make sense, at a low cost, to bring back the former collegiate star to try and solidify the position.
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