Denver Broncos | News

Ask Aric: Are the Broncos now contenders?

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the first wave of free agency ended, Broncos Country had plenty of questions.

In this edition of "Ask Aric," we take a look at how recent moves impact the roster, what could come next for Denver, if the Broncos are contenders and much, much more.

If you want to leave a question for the next mailbag, click here!

With the signing of Vannett, where does that leave Heuerman? - Nick Henson

The Broncos added a veteran tight end Saturday when they reportedly agreed to terms with Nick Vannett, who has played for both the Seahawks and Steelers during his four-year career. Vannett's strength comes largely as a blocker, which overlaps with Jeff Heuerman's skill set. The two players were teammates at Ohio State, and they've put up similar numbers during their careers. Vannett has 61 career receptions for 591 yards and four touchdowns in four seasons; Heuerman has caught 63 career passes for 678 yards and five touchdowns in the same time frame. Where Vannett holds an edge is his availability. Heuerman missed his rookie season in 2015 with a torn ACL, and he's missed at least two games in each of his four healthy seasons. He's appeared in 51 of a possible 80 games since entering the league. Vannett, meanwhile, has appeared in 55 of a possible 64 games and has missed two games over the last three seasons. But the addition of Vannett does not mean Heuerman cannot play a role for this team. The rest of the tight end group also features a lot of uncertainty, as Jake Butt, Austin Fort and Troy Fumagalli have all dealt with serious injuries. Heuerman, though, will seemingly have something to prove as the Broncos move toward the season.

Do we try to go after one of Cam, Dalton or Jameis on a short-term deal or is it time to hand Lock the keys and see what he's got? - Anonymous

I think you've got to roll with Drew. After so much turnover at quarterback the last few years, it's time to see if Lock can be the long-term guy. That may mean going through some bumps during the upcoming season, but that's worth it if Lock can develop into a franchise player. Plus, with Lock on a rookie contract, the Broncos are more able to fill in quality pieces around him. If you pay a veteran, you may lose the opportunity to sign several key players. Most importantly, I think Lock has earned this chance. He went 4-1 in his five starts, energized the team and played decent football. That should be more than enough to ensure No. 3 is under center for at least 2020.

How many corners are enough? Should we try to get a few more in free agency or just draft one or maybe even [two]? Or get lucky like we did with Chris Harris Jr. - Chris Ohearon

Chris, you can never have enough good corners. And as a defensive-minded head coach, Vic Fangio likely shares that opinion. With Bryce Callahan and A.J. Bouye in the fold, the Broncos have a solid starting duo. That said, I think it would be wise to find a third starting-caliber corner (either in the draft or later stages of free agency) to complement Bouye and Callahan. If that's a slot corner, great. Callahan can stay outside. If that's an outside corner, shift Callahan back to the slot where he played in Chicago. Having options, though, is extremely important. Over the last few years, we've seen the Broncos have to piece together secondaries at the end of a season because of a rash of injuries. That will also be a concern, but adding another quality player would help calm it a bit. As you're looking to do that, I don't think you can count on finding another undrafted All-Pro. That might be pushing the team's luck.

With the first wave of free agency having passed, and the front office has made some low-key quality additions that address the glaring holes in the roster, what are some options to address our deficiency at middle linebacker? [Alexander] Johnson is great, but i feel we still could use a better coverage backer. Thank you. - Kyle Orr

The Broncos were never seriously linked to the top inside linebackers in free agency once the legal-tampering period began. There was speculation that Nick Kwiatkoski could rejoin Fangio, who coached him in Chicago, and some floated the idea of Cory Littleton. Neither option developed for the Broncos, who prioritized other needs and picked up Todd Davis' option before free agency began. If the team still wants an upgrade, the draft could be the way to go. Isaiah Simmons feels like a pipe dream unless the Broncos trade up into the top 10, and even that may not be enough to have the chance to select him. Patrick Queen from LSU and Kenneth Murray from Oklahoma could be more realistic options, and it's reasonable to suggest the Broncos could trade down a few spots and still be able to select one of these two players. Queen is a smaller player (6-foot, 229 pounds), but both are known for their coverage ability.

With all the additions we got, are we contenders? - Mark Heydt

Over the first few days of free agency, the Broncos traded for A.J. Bouye and Jurrell Casey and reportedly agreed to terms with Graham Glasgow, Melvin Gordon, Jeff Driskel and Nick Vannett. The team also reportedly re-signed cornerback De'Vante Bausby and linebacker Joe Jones and tendered a host of players including Elijah Wilkinson and Mike Purcell.

I take a deeper look at the roster here, but I do think the team's roster has more playmakers through the first wave of free agency. Bouye, Casey and Gordon are all former Pro Bowlers, and they (reportedly) addressed positions of need. But we can't look at this in a vaccum. The Chiefs just won the Super Bowl, the Chargers added Chris Harris Jr., Trai Turner, Linval Joseph and Bryan Bulaga and the Raiders signed Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski, Nelson Agholor, Eli Apple and a handful of others.

These moves suggest the division should be much improved in 2020, and it wouldn't shock me if the AFC West has three playoff teams in the new seven-team format. But here's why I expect the Broncos to be right in the mix and contend for a playoff spot and potentially a division title: Drew Lock. When every team adds talent, it comes down to the quarterback position – and I believe Lock is the second-best quarterback in the AFC West. Is it possible that he someday passes Patrick Mahomes? Sure. But he has a lot to do to prove that. I do, however, think I'd choose Lock over Derek Carr in Oakland or either Tyrod Taylor or a rookie in LA.

With Lock under center and an influx of talent, the Broncos should be greatly improved in 2020.

Why did the Broncos not get a receiver during free agency? - Abel Carrillo

Teams have to make choices, especially during the first wave of free agency when costs are at their highest. The Broncos chose to prioritize their offensive line, defensive line and secondary in their highest-profile moves. That doesn't preclude them from signing a veteran wide receiver, but it likely says the Broncos thought there were better uses for their cap room. And other teams seem to agree. Several of the top receivers remain on the open market nearly a week after the legal-tampering period began, which suggests teams are hesitant to pay this crop of receivers. That could have a lot to do with the upcoming NFL Draft, which is supposed to have the deepest group of receivers in years.

Seems like we've made a lot of free agency moves for the defensive side. do you see Denver making any other big moves on the offensive side besides Glasgow? - Jordan Rose

I think the reported addition of Glasgow will be the big splash on the offensive line, and Melvin Gordon's reported deal is certainly a solid move for the running back core. I would expect any other moves to be for depth purposes — like reportedly adding Nick Vannett — or through the draft.

Who will be playing left tackle for the Broncos this coming season? - Luis Munoz

The Broncos haven't given any indication that anyone other than Garett Bolles will be manning that spot. The team seemed pleased with his progress late in the season, and Fangio praised his consistent availability. It's possible that the Broncos could draft a tackle or slide Elijah Wilkinson into a starting spot, but I would think it's Bolles' position to lose, and I think he'll jog out as the Week 1 starter. The bigger question will be if the Broncos pick up Bolles' fifth-year option. They must decide whether to do so by May 3.

What is your opinion on the Chris Harris signing? - Zacc Romero

I'm happy for Chris, who reportedly agreed to terms with the Chargers. Once the Broncos traded for Bouye, it seemed clear to me that Harris would be moving on — and I'm actually glad it's to a divisional rival. I think it will be a lot of fun to see Harris battle Courtland Sutton or whichever receiver he matches up on. Will it be weird to see him in Chargers' colors? Sure. But that's part of the game. I know he still has a lot of respect for his former teammates and his time with the Broncos, and that won't change. I'd encourage Broncos fans to remember that when he comes to Denver. The likely Ring of Famer should be remembered for his journey from undrafted rookie to All-Pro. Don't let his shift to the Chargers cloud your judgment in how you remember him.

Hey Aric! I know it's still early in free agency but with Denver not targeting any receivers it leads me to believe they're looking to the draft. Which of the big 3 (CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs) do you think will compliment Courtland Sutton the best? I could see a trade back happening but I think Ruggs would be a great fit. What do you think? - Seth Newton

I agree, Seth. I think Ruggs' speed would be the best complement to Sutton. He had a higher yards per catch average than Jeudy, and he has really good hands. He could also contribute on special teams, as he returned kicks at Alabama. I worry, though, that his 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the Combine will raise his stock and he won't make it to No. 15. If none of the three are there at 15, which is certainly possible, I think I would trade back and draft a linebacker. I'd then go after a wide receiver in the second round.

Related Content