ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — With the franchise tag window officially open and just a few weeks before free agency, we're diving into a look at how the Broncos' roster could change in the coming days.
In today's edition of "Ask Aric," we'll take a look at Justin Simmons, Von Miller, free-agent cornerbacks and — yes — the quarterback position. There's lots of uncertainty this time of year in the NFL world, but that's what makes the guessing and prognosticating fun.
If the Broncos get a deal done with Justin Simmons before placing the tag on him, is there anyone else you would expect them to franchise? - Tim M.
Tim, the window to apply the franchise tag began Tuesday, and the Broncos have until March 9 to decide if they'd like to use it. I could certainly see them placing it on Simmons if they're unable to get a deal done before then — it would buy them another four months of negotiating time — but there's probably not another logical candidate. Sometimes, teams have several options — the Cowboys with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper come to mind — but the Broncos don't have another player whose contract is up that it would make sense to use the tag on. The franchise tag averages the salaries at the top players at a given position, which makes it an expensive proposition. The Broncos could certainly miss a player like Shelby Harris, but it doesn't seem like they'd want to pay the exorbitant price the franchise tag would require. This could become a more interesting question in future years. In 2023, for example, the Broncos could see contracts expire for both Bradley Chubb and Dalton Risner. In that situation, it may be more likely that more than one player on the roster are options for the tag. Of course, General Manager George Paton has made it clear he hopes to re-sign young talent, so it's quite possible the Broncos could extend players like Courtland Sutton, Chubb, Risner and several others before they're pressed up against the deadline.
What are the realistic chances Von Miller restructures to a team-friendly deal, and would signing Bud Dupree be any cheaper than Von? - Corey B.
Well, for starters, there's been no official indication the Broncos have asked Miller to restructure. It's possible that happens, but there's several options to move forward. They could pick up the option, they could restructure the deal for one year, they could extend Miller or they could decline the option and let him enter free agency. I would say it's at least a possibility that Miller has played his last snap in Denver.
Dupree certainly doesn't have the proven output that Miller had when he was eligible for a new deal, but the market has also gone up in the last five years. Pro Football Focus estimates Dupree will sign a one-year, $10 million "prove-it" deal, so he could be a cheaper choice in the short term. Sportrac.com, meanwhile, estimates his market value is $18 million per year, which is in line with Miller's reported salary. Dupree is a younger option, but Miller is more proven — so it's difficult to say which is preferable. I do think it's fair to assume that if the Broncos and Miller part ways, the Broncos will need to make some sort of addition at outside linebacker.
Could we see Paton making moves for [Richard] Sherman, [Patrick] Peterson or someone along the quality of those two guys? Or will they look younger to see what we could get in the draft?
The short answers are yes and yes. After releasing A.J. Bouye, the Broncos may need to add multiple cornerbacks. Depending on Paton's evaluation of Bryce Callahan — who played really well in 2020 but has yet to play all 16 games in a season in his career — and Michael Ojemudia, Denver could be looking for two outside cornerbacks or an outside corner and a nickel corner. I'd imagine they'll look for some help in free agency. It remains to be seen whether that's a top name like Sherman or William Jackson III or a Shaquill Griffin, Chidobe Awuzie, Quinton Dunabar. I think they'll also add at least one player in the draft, perhaps with the ninth-overall pick. Both Alabama's Patrick Surtain and Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley have been linked to the Broncos in mock drafts. In today's NFL, you need three very capable cornerbacks — especially in a division that features Patrick Mahomes.
Who are some names you expect the Broncos to pursue in free agency? -@thedadpocalypse
We've already talked about cornerback, so I'll skip that here. The other two positions that make a lot of sense to me are inside linebacker and backup quarterback. Tampa Bay's Lavonte David is the top option at inside 'backer, but I suspect the Bucs won't let a player of his caliber leave Tampa. There's kind of a drop off after David, but Buffalo's Matt Milano is considered the next best option. According to Pro Football Focus, he has the 11th best coverage grade among linebackers since 2018 and can cover running backs and some slot receivers. He isn't the best run defender — which could cause Vic Fangio to think twice — but it's clear the Broncos need someone to match up with tight ends like Travis Kelce and Darren Waller. Tennessee's Jayon Brown and Seattle's K.J. Wright could also be options. At quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Andy Dalton could be good options if the Broncos are looking for a true backup quarterback. Perhaps a player like Mitchell Trubisky or Jacoby Brissett is a good option if the Broncos want to hold a training camp competition for the starting role. Depending on the Broncos' other moves, outside linebacker and defensive line will also be areas to watch.
When free agency officially begins on March 17, the Broncos will aim to add a new crop of talented players to their roster. The goal every year is to add Pro Bowl caliber players to the roster, and the Broncos have done that often during their free-agent history. Before free agency gets underway, we're taking a look back at the team's previous unrestricted free agent signings — and a few players who were released and chose to call Denver home.
Odds of getting Deshaun Watson? - Noah K.
I wouldn't run out and buy your jersey yet, if that's what you're asking — there's simply too many variables. If you check some odds sites, the Broncos are the betting favorite to land the Houston quarterback. Others have the Broncos with the second-, third- or fourth-best odds. That said, this is a situation full of uncertainty. I think with a deal like this, all you can ask for is to be in the conversation. Every interested team is going to offer a lot — both from a draft capital standpoint and a player standpoint. Some of it would have to do with where Watson wants to go, some has to do with what the Texans hope to get in return. And that's if the Texans even trade him at all. There's been no public indication from the team that they're open at all to trading the Pro Bowl quarterback. Broncos fans will have to trust Paton to make the best offer — if he decides to make an offer — that he sees fit. No one truly knows what's going to happen at this point, but it certainly makes for good offseason chatter.
What are they going to do if Lock does not work out and hypothetically do not sign a veteran backup QB? - Hunter K.
Hunter, I'd be surprised if the Broncos didn't make some sort of quarterback move this offseason. Whether that's signing a veteran to compete to start, drafting a quarterback or adding a veteran to serve as a backup, I'm not sure. But I would be somewhat surprised if the Broncos made no move at all. That said, if the Broncos did stand pat, it would likely give you a strong and final evaluation of Drew Lock. Ideally, he'd improve and thrive and help lead the team to the playoffs. Worst-case scenario, the team would struggle again. In either case, the Broncos would likely have seen enough of a sample size by the end of 2021 — more than 30 games — to know what they have with the 2019 second-round pick. If Lock is still not a consistent enough option, the team would move into the 2022 offseason with a clear objective to either draft, sign or trade for a starting quarterback.
What's the plan at running back? - Connor W.
Connor, I'm glad you asked this. Lost in the conversation about the quarterback position is that the Broncos have some uncertainty at running back. Melvin Gordon III likely faces a multi-game suspension, and Phillip Lindsay is a restricted free agent. Let's start with Gordon, who could be suspended for three games following his citation last fall. The Broncos must make a decision on whether they can weather that three-game stretch — and what their backup plan is in the meantime. Plus, while Gordon improved as the season went along, he did struggle with fumbles throughout the year. Were it not for the impending suspension, I think it would be a safe bet that Gordon remained the starter in 2021 as he enters the final year of his two-year deal. With that added element, I'm just not sure. As for Lindsay, the Broncos must decide if they're going to tender the 2018 Pro Bowler — and at what level. Given Gordon's contract, paying Lindsay a second-round tender may seem exorbitant to the team after his production dropped relatively significantly in 2020. A late-round tender, though, may not be enough to keep Lindsay in Denver. It's possible both return, but it's also possible the Broncos feature an entirely new backfield. If they have to replace just one player, I'd be in favor of picking someone up in the draft. I'd prioritize defense in the early rounds and then snag a running back early on Day 3. The Broncos have a long history of finding successful running backs late in the draft or in college free agency — Terrell Davis is obviously the best example — and this could be another chance to unearth a gem.
Now that Carson Wentz is in [Indy], what are the chances Andrew Luck unretires [and is] traded to the Broncos? - Taylor
I appreciate the ingenuity, but it's not happening. Colts owner Jim Irsay reiterated recently that Luck is retired — and staying retired. Even if he did unretire, the Colts would still have Luck's rights, and it's a near certainty that they'd turn back to him over Wentz. But say, for some reason, they chose to continue forward with Wentz, the Broncos would then have to compete with 15-20 teams for Luck's services. His market would be just as competitive as Deshaun Watson's. Drew Lock and Andrew Luck may have similar names, but only one of them has any chance of lining up for the Broncos this year.