To buy or to sell, that is the question. The Denver Broncos’ 2020 season has gotten off to a rather rough overall start.
Earning a 2-4 record through six games, is it already time to write the Broncos off in a chance to make the playoffs this year and end their five year playoffless streak?
Not just yet.
Yes, making the playoffs after starting 2-4 is a tall order but given the NFL expanded the playoff field this year to include an extra team per conference, there has never been a better year to be 2-4 and still have playoff aspirations. The ship is taking on water, but flooding hasn’t reached the engine room just yet.
The Broncos will likely need to finish the final 10 games remaining on the schedule with no worse than a 6-4 record if not 7-3, but crazier things have happened in the NFL. After all, while Denver does sit two games below .500, all four of its losses have come against teams with a combined 22-4 record.
The Broncos do need to beat the teams on their remaining schedule if they have any hope of making the playoffs, but considering just how talented the Titans, Steelers, Buccaneers, and Chiefs are, perhaps Denver can turn things around and quickly going forward.
With the NFL trade deadline approaching fast on November 3, the question remains: should the Broncos be looking to add a few pieces to make a playoff push?
Or rather, is this another team that is in a rebuilding year with an overly-young and injured roster?
Depends on the Outcome of Week 8
This week, the Broncos are slated to play the Los Angeles Chargers. Led by leading Rookie of the Year candidate Justin Herbert at quarterback, the Chargers look as dangerous as they have in years.
L.A.'s defense is dealing with injuries and looks less of a threat than it did entering the season, but with the way Herbert is playing, surrounded by weapons and pushing the ball down the field, the Chargers are a tough out for any team.
However, Herbert is still a rookie, and it is not a stretch to say he has yet to play a defense of Denver’s caliber just yet. This means that the Broncos’ passing offense can’t be the worst in the NFL, something the team is honestly competing for so far this season, and that the special teams needs to, for the love of everything, not give up a backbreaking play.
But as long as Denver’s defense continues the level of play the unit has shown recently, the Broncos should have a chance against most teams in the NFL.
The Chargers are 3.5-point favorites coming into the game as of now, according to SportsBetting.com, but don’t be surprised if the Herbert Hype Train hits a little speed bump this weekend. If the Broncos win, the team will sit at 3-4 and have the season and their goals still in front of them.
If Denver was of a mind to cash in on the trade market with the deadline approaching and add talent to the overall roster, with a quick glance, the team should be looking to upgrade the offense. But who do the Broncos replace?
It appears the offensive line is finally solidifying with Demar Dotson offering even play at right tackle and improvements from the interior trio as the season progresses. The Broncos shouldn’t be looking to add a running back with Melvin Gordon’s contract and Phillip Lindsay’s play.
The tight end and wide receiver positions have been up and down, but they're also exceedingly young. The young players at those positions shouldn’t lose reps to a player added via trade most likely.
Even though the Broncos' defense is the strength of this team, with injuries at edge rusher and lack of coverage ability at linebacker, these are two positions the team probably should at least gauge the market to see if they can improve the unit. That is, if the Broncos lose to the Chargers in Week 8.
If Denver wins, it’s probably most likely the Broncos’ stand pat at the trade deadline but losing would open up a whole range of potential outcomes.
The Broncos and the ownership team are purportedly in a tough financial spot. With the ownership situation in flux and lacking a deep wallet in comparison to their fellow owners on top of a revenue loss and a shrinking salary cap due to COVID-19, the Broncos are likely to lose some popular faces to teams with the means to spend more money. What happens next offseason may well come down to the outcome of Sunday’s game.
If Denver loses and falls to 2-5, GM John Elway and the front office would have an obligation to see what the market is like and shop players that will be free agents this coming offseason, as well as other players the organization doesn’t have in its long-term plans. It always hurts the more sentimental fans to lose familiar players, but the NFL is a results-based business and if Denver loses, its best option would be to reset, get young, give less-heralded players more reps, and plan towards trying to compete again in 2021.
No one wants to be in this situation, but the teams that can be honest with where they are in their current window fare much better than teams that continually deceive themselves and sacrifice long-term opportunity for a chance at short-term success. Look no further than Houston's ex-GM/head coach Bill O'Brien for an obvious example of this mistake.
If the Chargers win on Sunday, the Broncos should be obligated to look for trade partners for players; specifically players on the last year of their current contracts. Here are the top candidates.
Garett Bolles | LT
Bolles is the least likely of the bunch to be traded, given the compensation that it would take to move him. The left tackle has had an up-and-down career to start, but so far in 2020, he has been one of the best tackles in football (and the best tackle in football according to Pro Football Focus).
Also, considering the trials and tribulations Denver went through during the first three years of Bolles’ career, to move on from him after it finally is clicking seems unlikely. However, if a team offered a first-round pick and more, Denver may at least listen. As it currently stands, though, Bolles is the least likely to be moved and the most likely back in 2020 whether that be via a new contract or the franchise tag.
Shelby Harris | DL
Harris is more likely to be moved in such an event. After returning to the Broncos on a one-year deal after a surprisingly quiet market for him this past offseason, he is playing the best football of his career in 2020 and is likely going to earn a solid payday this around in free agency.
However, if Denver is very likely out of the playoff picture following a loss this weekend, the team should be looking to flip Harris for an early Day 3 pick. With Harris turning 30 next offseason and Denver just having paid Mike Purcell and spending Day 2 picks on the interior defensive line over the past two draft classes, Harris may not be in the team’s long-term plans.
Furthermore, Harris is deserving of a big deal, and the Broncos may not be in a position to give it to him. It's unfortunate, but a very possible reality.
Justin Simmons | S
The one that is perhaps the most shocking, Simmons has drawn some ire from Broncos Country this season for his less-than-All-Pro play. But perhaps that is somewhat related to he and Denver failing to reach an agreement on a long-term contract earlier this year.
Playing on the franchise tag currently, Simmons is young, versatile, and one of the top-10 best safeties in football. The safety position is not as valuable as left tackle is, but after what the Seattle Seahawks gave up to acquire Jamal Adams, there should at least be a conversation involving a first-round pick (if not two seconds) for Simmons.
Denver should not simply give these players away, but in the event of potentially losing to the Chargers, Denver would be negligent to not at least explore the trade market. Any trade would need to net better value than what Denver could potentially earn via a compensatory selection if the player in question were to depart in free agency next spring.
But just like the Broncos trading Demaryius Thomas two years ago and Emmanuel Sanders last year, the team has shown it has the resolve to move on from players it was likely going to lose anyway in the coming free agency cycle.
If the Broncos pull out a win on Sunday, this conversation will be have been for not. At 3-4, Denver would be right in the thick of things and could easily sneak into the back of the AFC playoff bracket.
However, a loss likely puts Elway and the Broncos on the phones to see what type of interest there is for vets with expiring contracts. No one wanted to be in this situation but it is the reality of the 2020 Broncos.
A win and Denver has a legitimate chance at playing in the postseason. A loss and Denver should be looking to acquire draft capital, free up cap space and reps for younger players, and shift focus to building a better future to come, even if that means sacrificing a bit in the present.
Two completely opposite directions and the path likely reveals itself this Sunday.