The Denver Broncos need to re-tool to get back to the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl. These big-name targets in 2017 NFL free agency would help.
Just a bit over one year ago, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos were celebrating as Super Bowl 50 champions. Fast-forward through the 2016 season, though, and they were nowhere to be found in the postseason. Playing in the toughest division in the NFL, the Broncos are now faced with trying to make improvements quickly. They’ll certainly try to do that in 2017 NFL free agency.
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According the Over The Cap, the Broncos will enter 2017 NFL free agency with just over $31 million in cap space. However, they have simple moves on the books that could free up at least $20 million more of room. With that kind of money to burn, Denver would then be able to go out and make a splash on the open market.
John Elway and company will have to sign a big name in this uneven class of free agents. Though that’s not the way they’ve built this team, it may be necessary if they want to win now. Having said that, these are five big-name targets the Denver Broncos should target in 2017 NFL free agency.
Jan 3, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys guard Ronald Leary (65) in action during the game against the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium. The Redskins defeat the Cowboys 34-23. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
5. Ronald Leary, OG – Dallas Cowboys
Many people who watched the Denver Broncos very little or without much attention might point to Trevor Siemian as the biggest issue for the team’s offensive struggles. Admittedly, he was deserving of criticism more than his fair share of times throughout his first campaign as the starting quarterback. However, Siemian was also running for his life much of the time behind one of the most pitiful offensive lines in the league. If the Broncos are going to be any kind of postseason factor, they must fix that going into 2017.
Most would agree that the Broncos’ biggest need on the offensive line is at tackle—we’ll get to that later, though. However, Dallas Cowboys offensive guard Ronald Leary kicks off the list as Denver could stand to upgrade there as well. Max Garcia and Michael Schofield are nothing to write home about and one could be let go this offseason in a cap-saving maneuver. As a result, the Broncos are in position to bring in Leary, who would be their best guard by far.
As part of the Cowboys vaunted offensive line last year, Leary may have been the unsung hero. He was a consistent force in opening up holes for Ezekiel Elliott and helped to keep another rookie, Dak Prescott, clean when he dropped back to pass. However, with La’el Collins waiting in the wings, Dallas may not see the need to re-sign Leary. As such teams are going to make a big play for the guard and the Broncos should be among them.
Even with Peyton Manning at the helm en route to the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos were never going to be mistaken for anything but a team led by their defense. Led of course by Von Miller, Denver watched Malik Jackson walk in free agency last season. Now they’ll see Sylvester Williams, their starting nose tackle in 2016, do the same. Subsequently, the Broncos should be in the business of addressing their defensive front to keep them fearsome on that side of the ball.
If you’re going to address a need, why not swing for the fences? That’s the type of move trying to sign Kawann Short of the Carolina Panthers would be. The defensive tackle was surrounded by high-end players on the defensive front seven of the Panthers, but still managed to sign. He’s a disruptive force in every phase of the game and is a true weapon for any defense that can land him. Not only would he fill the hole in Denver’s defense, but he may improve the unit overall.
In all likelihood, there’s no way that Short is going to get away from the Panthers. Even with Vernon Butler coming in through the 2016 draft, Short is too valuable a commodity to let walk and hit the open market. Carolina should be in the business of protecting those types of assets. If they aren’t, though, John Elway and his brain trust should be calling across the country to Short as quickly as humanly possible.
Sep 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Baltimore Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner (71) defends against Oakland Raiders defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (97) at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Ravens 37-33. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
3. Ricky Wagner, OT – Baltimore Ravens
There is uncertainty throughout the entirety of the Denver offensive line, as evidenced by Leary being the first player mentioned among these big-name targets. However, there may not have been a more problematic spot on the roster than at right tackle. Donald Stephenson was never one to inspire a ton of confidence prior to the 2016, but last year may have been his worst yet. If nothing else, the Broncos have to replace him this offseason.
While the high-end left tackle market is scarce, the right tackle market is far from it. There are several fantastic players at the position that teams will surely look to enlist the services of. However, if the Broncos really want to make an impact for the 2017 season and then beyond at right tackle, then they should be looking at a relatively young player at the position set to see a massive pay increase.
Ricky Wagner has been underrated for his entire career with the Baltimore Ravens. The big man out of Wisconsin was taken in the fifth round and has been proving himself ever sense. Though he made under $1 million last year, he’s going to be seeing a lot more on his paychecks because of the level that he’s played at to this point in his career. A tackling dummy might be an upgrade over Stephenson, but Wagner would be a monstrous upgrade.
Oct 9, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (90) rushes against Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth (77) in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
2. Andrew Whitworth, OT – Cincinnati Bengals
For the third time, we again turn our attention to the offensive line. The Broncos offensive tackles, as stated, were a revolving door last season. However, their biggest hole entering the offseason is at right tackle, where Wagner plays. With that being said, there is a very good chance that left tackle Russell Okung is also gone too. The veteran was horrible in 2016 and the Broncos could save $10 million on their cap hit by cutting him pre June 1.
If the Broncos do wind up cutting Okung (and they should), that leaves a big hole on the edge protecting their quarterback’s blind side. Subsequently, they would then need to make a splash at one of the bigger names at the position on the open market. No left tackle available in 2017 NFL free agency can match the body of work or the proficiency of Andrew Whitworth at the position, which is why Denver should look to sign the Bengals veteran.
Whitworth is 35 years old and that’s certainly something the Broncos have to consider. Even if he was still quality in the 2016 season, there are no guarantees when you’re talking about a player that age, no matter the position. However, he truly showed no signs of slowing down and handing out a short-term deal the veteran tackle would be a fantastic way to shore up the line as a whole.
Aug 13, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA;Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) runs onto the field prior to the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
1. Tony Romo, QB – Dallas Cowboys
The Tony Romo sweepstakes (Re: saga) is going to be arguably the most important storyline to follow in the NFL offseason. There are numerous dominoes that need to fall that truly hinge—to varying degrees, of course, on what happens with Romo. And yes, it’s worth mentioning that he’s not been released by the Dallas Cowboys. Therefore, there is still a chance that he could be traded. But whether by trade or through free agency, he needs to be a top option for the Broncos.
As stated, the Broncos had issues in the 2016 season that made it near impossible for an inexperienced quarterback like Trevor Siemian to succeed. However, there’s a good chance that Siemian or Paxton Lynch aren’t the quarterback that can lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl. As pieces of their defense are already starting to break off, Denver should continue to be in win-now mode. Landing Romo is the ultimate win-now move this offseason.
Injury concerns are certainly a factor in the decision for any team considering going after Tony Romo. However, the veteran Cowboys signal caller looked both healthy and like he had plenty left in the tank in Week 17 when he saw limited work. One drive, one touchdown isn’t a bad ratio for a guy trying to prove himself. With weapons like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders still in play in addition to an improved offensive line from the offseason, Romo could be every bit the guy necessary to lead the way back to a Lombardi Trophy.