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Mason's Mailbag: Seeking a playmaker in the draft, cap space and more

Posted Feb 26, 2017

With the Scouting Combine just days away and the new league year beginning in a week and a half, there's plenty to discuss.

You can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase or use the submission form to your right (if you're viewing on a standard browser) or at the bottom of the page if you're on the mobile site.

Free agency and the draft seem to have meager pickings in the area of OL which many teams are trying to improve. Do you see any sleepers on our roster that might surprise next year e.g. Connor McGovern, Max Garcia etc.

-- Eric Oakley

Those are two good possibilities, although I wouldn't call Garcia a "sleeper," since he started all 16 games last year. Both Garcia and McGovern could benefit from a shift to an offensive-line scheme that incorporates more power concepts into its work, while retaining some zone elements.

Depending on what happens with Todd Davis as a restricted free agent, I could see Zaire Anderson pushing for some more playing time at inside linebacker, and I expect we'll see plenty of Justin Simmons and Will Parks, although neither of them are in line to be starters because of the presence of T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart. Kalif Raymond could also be in the mix for some slot-team repetitions, but the key for him will be proving his value on kickoff and punt returns, building off his performance late last season when he showed an explosiveness that the Broncos' special teams lacked for most of the year.

I do agree with you both sides of the line need help, For the record: Where do we stand as far as cap space is concerned, Do we have some wiggle room this time around?

-- Kaseem Brown

We won't have an exact salary-cap figure until the 2017 salary cap is announced in the next few days -- estimates vary from $166 to $170 million -- but the Broncos should have somewhere in the neighborhood of $42-$46 million of cap space. They will have to account for their rookie draft pool (which should be in the vicinity of $8 million) and the re-signings of restricted and exclusive-rights free agents in their planning, but that should leave them a fair amount of space to pursue some upgrades. The fact that only the top 51 contracts count toward the salary cap in the offseason (starting on March 9, when the new league year begins) also provides a little bit of extra room in the short term.

Why is game day limited to a 46-man roster?

-- John Bunch

Because further expansion of the game-day roster would lead to more specialization, which is something that some on the Competition Committee historically have not favored.

Furthermore, the overall roster size is not likely to expand because of the cost involved and the potential for teams to hoard prospects, which would then dilute the available players on the waiver wire, which can be key for weaker clubs to build the depth on their roster because of a the higher waiver-claim priority that you get with a worse record.

Why do you think so many analysts and pundits are so convinced that Tony Romo will be heading to Denver, when as you have pointed out numerous times, the cap would be better used filling other holes and building around two promising young quarterbacks on cost-controlled contracts, rather than going after an aging veteran with three major injuries in the last two seasons?

-- Alex Visser

I think that when looking at the Broncos' situation from a distance, as national pundits and analysts do, they see up-and-down production from the team's quarterback position in 2016, a new head coach and partially new offensive coaching staff and a team with plenty of veterans with Super Bowl experience and a still-elite defense and figure that one player at the most important position on the field can push the team back over the top.

They also look back to 2012, when Elway landed Peyton Manning, and see how one veteran quarterback with concerns came in and changed the trajectory of the franchise.

And beyond Manning, they look back at how bold the Broncos have been in player acquisition during Elway's stewardship, with high-profile signings of players like Wes Welker, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, among others. Some of those were thunderbolts that seemed to come out of nowhere. The ability of this franchise to surprise and make stunning moves helps fuel any speculation. Further, that speculation is somewhat of a compliment about the Broncos' reputation for big strikes at the start of the league year -- strikes that have typically paid off.

Do you see Denver drafting a playmaker in the first round? A security blanket for who ever is our starting QB like Howard or Njoku. Given we pick up at least two offensive lineman in FA.

-- Robert Mai

Playmakers are not just limited to the tight-end position, of course, and in my Mock Draft 1.0, I had the Broncos taking Stanford running back (although it's more accurate to call him an ultra-back, since he'll line up everywhere if used properly) Christian McCaffrey.

Howard's measurables, film and performance at the Senior Bowl make it unlikely in my estimation that he drops to the No. 20 spot at which the Broncos pick. David Njoku has a better chance of being there. But the depth and quality of this year's tight-end class means you can find playmaking tight ends perhaps through the end of the third round, from better-known prospects like Virginia Tech's Bucky Hodges and Michigan's Jake Butt (who could fall in the draft because of his torn ACL) to quality sleepers like Toledo's Michael Roberts and Mississippi's Evan Engram and lesser-known but uber-athletic non-FBS standouts like Drake's Eric Saubert and Ashland's Adam Shaheen, both of whom will be at the Scouting Combine. Shaheen, in particular, is amazingly fluid and fast for a 277-pounder.

How could the 49ers sign Earl Mitchell when the free agency period hasn't started?

-- Todd Banchor

Because he was a "street free agent," having been released from his previous team. All the players who are unrestricted or restricted free agents and are available simply because their contracts are expiring cannot be signed until 2 p.m. MST on March 9 -- the start of the new league year. The Dolphins cut Mitchell a week earlier, allowing him to hit the market immediately.

I thought he would settle in as a seventh-round pick or an undrafted prospect, but I also thought he would be invited to the Scouting Combine, as well. His lack of an invitation was a surprise. He'll have to nail his Pro Day workout, but it certainly doesn't mean his path to the NFL is closed -- just look at players like Chris Harris Jr. for an example, since he went uninvited in 2011.

Submit a question for the next Mailbag!

The analysis, opinion and speculation in this story represents that of the author, gathered through research and reporting, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Denver Broncos organization.

Mason's Mailbag


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