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Ask Aric: Introducing DenverBroncos.com's new mailbag

Broncos Country —

As the new league year is set to begin, it's time for a new mailbag.

In "Ask Aric," I'll tackle the best questions that you have to offer about the Broncos, the NFL and whatever else is on your mind.

Already know what you want to ask? Click here to submit your questions for a mailbag later this week.

With the legal-tampering period in full swing ahead of the official start of free agency, though, there's already plenty to talk about. The Broncos are headed toward an exciting season as they aim to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015. As we try to get back to the postseason, I can't wait to field your questions along the way.

Let's get going with just a few questions. We'll get to some more after some free-agency news becomes official later this week.

"I understand why teams can't visit draft prospects in person and vice-versa, but why hold the draft as scheduled when you're missing out on those valuable opportunities to evaluate prospects? Beyond video conferences, how will teams adjust when evaluating prospects?" – Mike Wacker

Mike, you make a good point — and I'm sure this wasn't a decision made lightly by the NFL.

First, we should recognize that while COVID-19 is impacting the NFL and sports leagues around the world, that's far from the most serious aspect of what's going on. The novel coronavirus is a public health crisis that has already impacted Denver and the United States — and certainly many other countries, as well. If you're able, please consider helping one of the Broncos' community partners as they try to serve at-risk members of our population. The Broncos previously announced they would donate 100,000 meals to Food Bank of the Rockies, and kicker Brandon McManus added 20,000 of his own.

Back to football. I suspect the overarching theory behind holding the draft as scheduled is to keep the league year on track as much as possible. The NFL already announced that free agents aren't allowed to travel to team facilities, and the offseason program has been delayed indefinitely. It's currently unclear whether organized team activities will be pushed back, or if several weeks (or perhaps all) of the offseason program will be cancelled. In any event, the NFL's main goal — assuming it's safe at that point — should be to ensure training camp, the preseason and regular season continue as scheduled.

Part of the way to do that is to ensure the Broncos and other teams know who will be on their rosters. If the draft gets delayed, that could delay any second- or third-wave free-agent signings. Perhaps if we knew that the COVID-19 crisis would be settled in six weeks, it would make sense to delay the draft. But there's no guarantee that the country's response to the pandemic won't stretch into the summer.

And while it's unfortunate that public aspects of the draft have been cancelled — Bradley Chubb and Randy Gradishar were scheduled to announce picks — it is true that the draft can be held remotely. The Broncos will be able to rely on their phone calls or video chats to get to know some prospects, but you shouldn't forget that they've been evaluating tape on these players for months and months. The Broncos' assistant coaches may not have met players at the Combine, but they were back in Denver watching tape all week. That work — plus the team's normal draft prep meetings that can still be held remotely if need be — will prove invaluable.

One final point: Even if the Broncos met prospects during the 30 in-person visits, that's still a small fraction of the available pool of players. Say the Broncos used 10 visits to meet with their potential first-round pick. That means the remaining 20 visits are spread out over the remaining six rounds of the draft. All that to say: the odds of a team drafting a player they never brought in for a visit are high.

"Why didn't the Broncos make an offer for Calais Campbell?" - @Aryann38198859

First, it's hard to say what the Broncos did or did not do. John Elway and Vic Fangio are two of the few people who really know what the Broncos are prioritizing at this time of year. They already reportedly agreed to trade a fourth-round pick to Jacksonville for A.J. Bouye, so it's clear they're doing their due diligence around the league.

After seeing the Ravens reportedly send a fifth-round pick to Jacksonville for the five-time Pro Bowler, it's fair to ask if the Broncos should have been interested.

There are some differences between the Bouye and Campbell trades, though. Bouye will enter next season as a 29-year-old, while Campbell will turn 34 before the regular-season opener. Sure, Campbell has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last three seasons, but there's certainly a degree of risk when trading for an older player.

Bouye also reportedly makes $2 million less per season than Campbell, and every dollar counts during free agency.

All that said, I would still expect the Broncos to target at least one defensive lineman in free agency. They almost have to: Shelby Harris, Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis are all unrestricted free agents.

"What if we signed Tom Brady? Where would that rank [among Elway's free-agent signings]?" – Scott

This is a fun one, even if Brady doesn't appear like an option for the Broncos.

On Saturday, I released a ranking of the top 10 free agents from Elway's time leading the Broncos' front office. Peyton Manning was an obvious choice to be the No. 1 player, but there wasn't much agreement on Twitter after that. Some said DeMarcus Ware should be second, while others pointed to Emmanuel Sanders. I slotted Talib there.

Scott responded to my rankings to ask where Brady would fit in the list, and it's an interesting question. Brady announced Tuesday that he will not return to the Patriots, but he had not announced his destination as of the publishing of this story.

Before we get to where he might rank, first things first: Elway said at the 2020 NFL Combine that while the Broncos would be happy to talk with Brady, the team planned to move forward with second-year quarterback Drew Lock.

After Lock went 4-1 as a starter as a rookie, I think it's the right move to see if he can develop into the Broncos' franchise quarterback.

But let's just ignore all those signs for a moment — and the fact that Brady has reportedly narrowed in on teams that could include the Buccaneers and Chargers. If Brady were to sign with the Broncos in an alternate universe this week, just how far could he climb up the rankings?

He'll turn 43 years old before the start of next season and he's previously stated he wants to play until he's 45, so let's say he plays two or three more years. I think it's possible he makes at least one more Pro Bowl, and it's not impossible to think he could win another playoff game before retiring. That said, I'm skeptical that Brady is going to lead a team back to the Super Bowl. There were other factors, certainly, but Brady played like an average quarterback for most of 2019. He may improve next year with better weapons, but I doubt he's going to jump back to the elite level at this age. It's far more likely that he simply continues to decline.

In a best-case scenario, let's say he makes one more Pro Bowl and leads a team to the playoffs but doesn't make a Super Bowl. With those credentials, it'd be hard to put him above Manning, Talib, Ware and Sanders. He'd probably make the list for getting Denver back to the playoffs, but I'd be hard-pressed to expect him to do any better than No. 5.

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