After taking a big step back in 2016, the Denver Broncos would be in a much better position if they followed through with these five predictions for 2017 NFL Free Agency.
As most teams fail to do, the Denver Broncos were unable to defend their title in 2016. The losses they suffered last offseason played a big part in their stumble. However, a strong showing during 2017 NFL Free Agency could mean a quick return to “contender” status.
Right now, the Broncos have a number of issues they must address before we start talking about return trips to the Super Bowl. The offensive line needs some serious work, and a few cracks in the defense must also be patched. Free agency will be the perfect opportunity to tend to those concerns.
There’s just one issue—Denver only has so much spending power heading into the 2017 league year. According to Spotrac.com, the Broncos are expected to have about $33 million in cap space available this offseason. It’s not the perfect situation to be in, but at least they aren’t currently in the red like the Dallas Cowboys.
What I’m trying to say is the Broncos have room to maneuver in the coming months. Some cap casualties will likely have to occur before serious damage can be done, but there are a few players who fit the bill.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five moves the Broncos could make as part of the 2017 NFL Free Agency process.
When the Broncos signed Donald Stephenson last offseason, they assumed they were getting a quality starter. Instead, he stepped in at right tackle and turned in one of the worst performances throughout the NFL in 2016. So why would they want to keep him around? It’s simple—they wouldn’t.
Stephenson was a complete train wreck this past season. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the second-worst offensive tackle in the NFL. The only guy who was worse? The Vikings’ T.J. Clemmings, who routinely imitated a turnstile at the left tackle position.
With the quarterback position still uncertain and the ground game a work in progress, the Broncos need to find a way to get their front five settled. Keeping Stephenson at right tackle (or even on the roster) is no way to achieve that. It only makes sense for Denver to cut its losses and admit defeat with this busted free agency addition.
It also helps that getting rid of Stephenson would clear $3 million in cap space. It’s not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but it’ll certainly help when it comes to retaining talent and adding more via free agency.
4. Broncos Decline Russell Okung’s Option, but Restructure
Compared to Stephenson, Russell Okung fared well in his first season in Denver. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t quite what the Broncos had hoped for when they signed him last offseason. The team has a $1 million option due on March 9 that would keep Okung under contract until 2020. Exercising the option would also create an $11.7 million cap hit for the Broncos, which seems less than ideal. So what should the team do?
Well, as the Denver Post’s Cameron Wolfe suggested, the Broncos could choose to restructure Okung’s deal. That would mean working out new terms with the veteran offensive tackle. This would be the best way for Denver to keep him around while avoiding the financial implications of the current contract.
I’m predicting that’s the way the Broncos will go. While Okung was no star in 2016, he held his own for the most part. It was also a bit shocking he managed to stay healthy for all 16 games, something he’s never done in his career.
With all of their issues along the offensive line, the Broncos have to make some tough decisions. While getting rid of Stephenson seems necessary, Okung is worth keeping around for at least one more year. That is, if Denver can find a way to reduce how much he’ll count against the cap moving forward.
With Stephenson out of the mix, the Broncos need to find a new starting right tackle. Some would assume Ty Sambrailo is the natural next in line. However, based on what we’ve seen from the 2015 second-round pick so far, I think Denver will look for alternatives. If that’s the case, they could turn to another veteran to fill the void. Yes, I’m talking about Sebastian Vollmer of the New England Patriots.
Now there is some concern when it comes to Vollmer. Although he’s been widely considered one of the NFL’s top right tackles in recent years, the seven-year NFL veteran is coming off a 2016 campaign lost to a hip injury. At 32 years of age, that’s not a good sign for his ability to hold up for an entire 16-game season.
Still, if he’s healthy when free agency kicks off, he’d be welcomed addition in Denver. He’s got all the tools of an elite right tackle, and was looking good prior to his season-ending injury. However, with the Patriots unlikely to re-sign him, Vollmer could take his talents where they’re needed.
What’s great about that is, after the lost season, Vollmer will likely be forced to sign a discount deal. With the Broncos not in the best of cap situations, they’d love to get a player of his caliber at a reduced price. All of the pieces could fall into place if he’s healthy and available come March 9.
There’s been a lot of speculation this offseason regarding the future of pending free agent DeMarcus Ware. Will he be re-signed by the Broncos, or will he test the open market? Apparently rejoining the Cowboys is also an option (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter).
When all is said and done, though, I believe Ware will come back to the Broncos. It’s where he’s spent the last three seasons, and where he won his first Super Bowl. The Cowboys may have a brighter future right now, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help Denver get back to their winning ways.
Sure, Ware is lkely to see a reduced role in 2016. The Broncos want to get young edge rushers Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett more involved, which means the 34-year-old veteran will need to take on a backup role. That, however, doesn’t mean Denver can’t find pass-rushing opportunities for him.
Ware already told the Denver Post he wants to return in 2016. Realistically, whether or not that happens should come down to money. Spotrac.com predicts he’ll land a deal paying him an average of $5.9 million annually, which isn’t entirely out of the Broncos’ budget. If John Elway can find a way to make the financials work, I believe Ware will be back in the Mile High City in 2017. Heck, he may even take a discounted deal just for continuity’s sake.
One of the biggest issues facing the Broncos this offseason is improving their run defense. They finished the 2016 campaign ranked 28th against the run, and seem likely to let starting nose tackle Sylvester Williams walk via free agency. So how do they make the necessary upgrades during free agency? Sign arguably the top defensive tackle scheduled to be available, of course.
Brandon Williams is one of the most underrated nose tackles in the NFL right now. And yet, chances are he’s going to sign a massive deal this offseason. Whether it’s with the Baltimore Ravens (his current team) or another club, there’s little reason to believe he won’t get paid Damon Harrison-type of money next month.
While the Broncos don’t have a ton of cap space to work with, I think they can muster enough to sign Williams. He’d immediately fix one of their biggest problems, providing the Denver defense with a run-stuffing anchor in the middle.
It’s never easy landing the big fish during free agency. However, I’m sure the Broncos could convince Williams to give it a shot–they have the defense to make another Super Bowl run. Adding him to the equation would be the icing on the cake that is Denver’s almost-elite defense.