The opening of NFL free agency is still 54 days away but it’s never too early to start thinking about the future for the Denver Broncos.
How will GM George Paton address the Broncos’ need under center? Draft? Trade? Free agency?
That remains to be seen but action must be taken if Denver is to have a puncher’s chance of making the playoffs, let alone making a postseason run, over the coming years. One possible free-agent option for Denver is former Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft by Tennessee, Mariota never lived up to his draft pedigree for the Titans. Despite remaining as the second fiddle for the Raiders behind Derek Carr, there seemed to have been some internal push for Mariota to get some play this past season.
Given the quality of quarterback play Carr displayed this season and in his career, perhaps there is still something there with Mariota at quarterback. Brad Speilberg of Pro Football Focus at least believed so enough for him to list Mariota as the Broncos’ best free-agent target this offseason:
We’re not necessarily suggesting the Broncos target Mariota to be their starter in 2022, but a backup quarterback who brings a different skill set and can be deployed in certain packages has proven to be a growing trend in the NFL the past few years.
Over the past two seasons with the Raiders, Mariota has 175 rushing yards on just 18 carries (9.7 yards per carry), 14 of which went for first downs. The Broncos don’t have to trade draft capital like they did to bring in Teddy Bridgewater and can have a serviceable option while they continue their quest to find the next franchise signal-caller.
Adding Mariota to a quarterback room alongside Drew Lock in 2022 without making a much bigger splash either via trade or draft might feel like a different variation of obtaining Teddy Bridgewater last season. Perhaps Denver is unable to trade for the likes of Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson and finds the price to obtain Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo untenable given their level of play.
If so, Denver could do much worse than bringing in Mariota. He is not likely to solve the Broncos’ quarterback woes long-term, but he might help keep the room from being bottom-5 in the NFL entering the 2022 season.
With such key contributors like RB Melvin Gordon, OT Bobby Massie, LB Josey Jewell, LB Alexander Johnson, LB Kenny Young, S Kareem Jackson, CB Kyle Fuller, and CB Bryce Callahan set to hit free agency, on top of massive needs at quarterback and edge rusher, GM George Paton will have his hands full this offseason.
Who the Broncos should target in free agency will depend greatly on a number of factors yet to be determined. First and most importantly will be the head coach hire. That head coach will hire his own offensive and defensive coordinator, and what scheme is deployed on each side of the ball will play a big part in what free agents make sense for Denver.
A deviation from a Pat Shurmur West Coast Offense that featured a lot of 11 personnel and inside zone runs, as well as a shift from Vic Fangio’s match-quarters defense with gap-and-a-half roles from the defensive line could mean Denver will need to target specific kinds of players to help transition schemes for the new coaching staff.
Further mucking up whom the Broncos should bring in during free agency is that teams have yet to release players. Given the number of talented players that will be hitting the market, the free-agent pool will shift considerably over the next month.
Regardless of scheme change or how the market shifts, the Broncos have a known quarterback need, and until they solve it, the team will be linked to every player at this position from now until the end of time.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickKendellMHH.
Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!