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Mason's Mailbag: Franchise tag thoughts, Cody Latimer, QBs, and more

Posted Feb 13, 2015

An assessment of Latimer's rookie season, and where he could be headed, leads off this installment of Andrew Mason's mailbag.

As always, you can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase, use the submission form or scroll to the bottom of this page.

Were I a professor, I would have to give a grade of "Incomplete."

I can point to some brilliant catches during OTAs and training camp, and to his 57-yard preseason catch-and-run in which he ran from the middle position among three wide receivers to the left flank, ran a quick drag route and used his long stride to separate himself up the field. But there weren't enough snaps in the regular season for an accurate gauge.

His progress -- and his use -- in 2015 bears monitoring. If the Broncos go heavy with two-tight end formations or two-wide receiver sets with a fullback in front of the tailback, then his role might be limited.

But if the Broncos continue emphasizing three-WR sets, and Wes Welker does not return, there's a role for him, perhaps lining up outside with Emmanuel Sanders moving into the slot in that package, or even in the slot, on routes like the one he ran in Dallas in the preseason finale last summer.

One aspect of Latimer's skill set that must be noted is his blocking ability, considered by some to be the best among last year's wide receiver class. If he can take his outside blocking skills and transfer them to the inside -- not as a tight end, but standing up in a tight slot alignment -- then the Broncos could have the blocking effectiveness of a two-tight end set with a three-wide receiver formation.

Latimer is unproven, but presents possibilities that the new coaching staff will likely explore.

Do you think Peyton Manning's "second-half slump" was due to his age? If it was his age, do you think that if he returns he can still be effective and possibly lead us to a Super Bowl title at 39?
-- Jacob Quaglino

With a quarterback of Manning's skill set -- whose success is predicated more on anticipation and timing than raw arm strength -- age is mainly a factor in that it lengthens the recovery time from even slight injuries. We know about the quadriceps injury, but as you approach your late 30s, even strains and bruises that you play and work through linger. I'm in the same age bracket and I know this, which is why it takes me 20 minutes to properly stretch before a workout.

So knowing this, you want to do everything you can to protect him, and to minimize his risk at absorbing damaging contact. Since he joined the Broncos, this has always been a priority because of the neck surgeries he endured in 2011. If you keep him upright and healthy, you have your best shot at a Super Bowl, because it's not realistic to expect a first-year starting quarterback to take the Broncos all the way, even with a talented overall roster.

If Manning returns do you think Gary Kubiak and the Broncos will try and play Brock Osweiler more in the regular season especially if Manning is not playing well or is off his game? There were games last year where I felt he should have been pulled and Osweiler put in. They would leave Peyton in there and it would end up being a loss. Will they share playing time in some games? They have to start getting Osweiler in there with the first team.
-- Monte Miller

The message that sends to the rest of the team -- it could be perceived as surrender -- is why that won't happen if Manning returns to the roster. You're talking about pulling a quarterback who was still among the top five in the league last year. This isn't baseball, where you can send a long reliever out there when your starter is getting shelled to eat some innings and save the top arms in the bullpen for another day. With only 16 games, you can't make that change until late in the game, when there is no reasonable chance of victory.

And, seriously, are you talking about pulling Manning? Even in the last six games plus the postseason, he was still around league average for a starter. Would you pull Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady if they had a bad start to a game?

My question has to do with the Broncos' use of the franchise tag. A lot of people have them using it on Demaryius Thomas, but if the goal is to keep both him and Julius Thomas, I think makes a lot more sense to put it on JT instead. The reason is that the 1-year value for a TE is much lower than for a WR (see Graham, Jimmy), by about 3-4 million. With Julius's contract out of the way, those savings can be used as additional firepower to absolutely make sure DT stays a Bronco for a long time.
-- Alex Aguilar

There is one problem with that: if you don't have a long-term deal struck with Demaryius Thomas before the franchise-tag deadline, then you're taking a grave risk. Let's say there's a snag in negotiations -- and this can happen; the back-and-forth between the team and the agent over a contract can be more dizzying than anyone outside the game realizes.

Then, boom, a two-time Pro Bowl receiver is on the market, and he instantly becomes the most coveted offensive player available this offseason.

Do you really want to take the chance that leaves you open to that sort of risk? This isn't like going for it on fourth down from midfield when the score is tied in the second quarter; taking this sort of gamble would be like hitting on 20.

If Peyton steps down, Brock would seem to be the next man up, but I have a feeling Zac Dysert has the attributes and skills to fit well with Kubiak's offense. Why aren't people talking about him, too?
-- Larry Johnson

"People" might not be talking about him, but John Elway mentioned Dysert by name at in January, along with Osweiler. So the people that matter are aware of him. But at the same time, Dysert's had two years in practice -- which is a significant sample size -- to show more than Osweiler and move into the No. 2 slot, and has yet to do so.

Should C.J. Anderson be paid more than both Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman? I think eventually this will have a negative effect on Anderson; does he deserve a new starter's pay contract?
-- Bob Hoshijima

Knowing Anderson, I don't think it will. He gets it and understands that with another outstanding season, the pay will take care of itself. His play last year puts him in line for a bulbous check from the league's performance-based bonus program.

And don't forget that Anderson is a restricted free agent next year. If he has a big 2015, then the Broncos will need to give him a high tender to prevent someone else from making a bid on the market. All Anderson has to do is keep doing what he's been doing, and his future will take care of itself.

I'm not trying to be that guy but why is Manning so bad in the postseason? Is he even worth the money at this point?
-- Brando D

Well, you weren't trying, but you ended up being "that guy," anyway. These are some of the quarterbacks who are less efficient than Manning in the postseason:

Troy Aikman
Brett Favre
Steve Young
Philip Rivers
Ben Roethlisberger
Terry Bradshaw
John Elway
Roger Staubach
Jim Kelly

That doesn't include Tom Brady, whose rating is a half-point better than Manning's, rendering them near-equals, at least stastistically speaking. Sure, Manning would like more wins in the postseason. But it's still a team game, decided by more than just the quarterback, and the narrative that Manning is "so bad" in the playoffs has little basis in reality.

There have been rumors swirling around about the Broncos getting new jerseys for the 2015 season. Any chance of this happening?
-- Joe Geist

No chance.

Is it likely that Shaquil Barrett could compete for backup inside linebacker or even possibly backup DeMarcus Ware?
-- Dennis McConnell

I'm not sure about him as an inside linebacker; his skill set, particularly in the pass rush, lends itself best to working from the edge, and at 260 pounds, he's 20 pounds above the average size for a 3-4 inside linebacker, so he's not the most snug fit for that position.

His best fit would appear to be on the strong side, battling with Lerentee McCray for a spot behind Von Miller. But giving him a look on the weak side as a potential relief option for DeMarcus Ware is intriguing, especially if Quanterus Smith's knee remains problematic after he ended the season on injured reserve.

Barrett could be one of the players who benefits most from the scheme change. He will be among the players I closely monitor during OTAs.

With all due respect, I don't believe in making bold predictions just for the sake of doing so, so I'll pass here. Second, I'm not going to make any kind of prediction for 2015 production until I have a better idea how the roster will look -- as I write this, we still don't know with 100 percent certainty whether the Broncos will have their same starting quarterback.

And third, your 3,000-yard prediction is a bit outlandish. No team has rushed for at least 3,000 yards since 1978, and only two teams did it in the NFL (another, the 49ers, had a 3,653-yard season in the All-America Football Conference). In the last 30 seasons, only one team has come within 200 yards of 3,000 for the season -- and that team, the 2006 Falcons, needed a running quarterback (Michael Vick) to make that production possible. Yours is a bold prediction, all right -- bold as to have no realistic chance of coming true. Scale back your forecast to 2,500 yards and you'll have at least a plausible chance of seeing it come to fruition.

Do you think the Broncos could or not go after Marshawn Lynch?
-- Greg Brown

Why would they? You have a Pro Bowl running back who is six years younger and doesn't have the accumulated wear and tear to go with 2,469 career touches. There would seem to be plenty of better ways to use their salary-cap room, what with eight starters due to become unrestricted free agents and more pressing needs elsewhere on the roster.

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