ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos move into life after Von Miller, there are plenty of questions to answer.
How does this team move on in 2021? Could Miller be back in the future? How could this impact next year's draft?
In this edition of "Ask Aric," we touch on several of those topics — and on a parallel to the trade deadline 10 years ago.
If you'd like to submit a question for a future mailbag, click here or tweet your question to me.
Do you see any comparisons between John Elway's first trade deadline and George Paton's? - Brandon W.
This is a really interesting question, Brandon. In 2011, when Elway assumed control of the team's football operations, the Broncos made a deadline deal to trade away wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. At that time, Lloyd was coming off his first career Pro Bowl appearance — a 1,448-yard, 11-touchdown campaign in 2010 — and was the team's leading receiver in 2011. The Broncos dealt Lloyd, a veteran player who was on an expiring contract, to the Rams for a fifth-round pick that would later become Malik Jackson. According to ESPN, there were veteran players who were disappointed to see Lloyd leave.
"One of the most talented players I've played with," Champ Bailey told ESPN. "I wish him well. It (stinks) to lose a guy with that kind of talent."
The Broncos were just 1-4 at that point in the season, but they rallied after the trade — with Tim Tebow under center — to finish 8-8 and make the playoffs. Second-year player Eric Decker posted a strong second season to lead the team in receiving, and Demaryius Thomas returned from injury to contribute more than 550 yards in 11 games. That season, the Broncos' faith in their young players paid off.
Obviously Lloyd's impact on the franchise and his career accomplishments don't begin to rival Von Miller's, but there is a bit of a parallel with the team trading away a top contributor and relying on young players. When Bradley Chubb returns in a few weeks, perhaps he can mirror Thomas' production as a first-round pick still early in his career. And with Denver in a better spot than that 2011 team after the deadline, it's possible another playoff run could be in the cards.
Where do you see this team headed going into the final nine-game stretch? What should give Broncos Country some sense of optimism for the remainder of 2021? - @RCJHDB4L
Both of these questions are worth discussing. Let's start with where this team is headed in the final nine games of the season. Despite the team's four-game losing streak, the Broncos remain in the thick of the playoff race. In the wild-card race, the Bengals sit at 5-3 and hold the fifth seed in the AFC. The Steelers and Chargers are both 4-3 and currently hold the final two wild-card spots. Behind them, four more teams — including the Broncos — are at 4-4 and just a half-game back in the playoff race. Denver has five home games remaining, and if the team can get to nine wins on the season, the Broncos should have a good chance of earning a wild-card spot. The four-game skid hurt the Broncos' playoff chances, there's no doubt. But this team should still be in the mix as the season enters December. As for optimism for the rest of the season, I think there's plenty still to watch. Jerry Jeudy looked solid in his return for injury and should continue to improve as the year continues. Pat Surtain II has been as good as advertised. Bradley Chubb will be back on the field in a couple of weeks. There's plenty to still look forward to here in Denver.
What projected first round pick do you think we have, and what player are you hoping we get in the first round? - Emilio O.
Based on the rest of the schedule, I'd guess the Broncos will finish within a game of .500 in either direction. Currently, Denver is slotted to hold the 16th-overall pick, which would be their lowest assigned selection since picking 20th following the 2016 season. It's still a bit early to project which players will be available at that point — a lot will change with the Combine and pro days — but I'd think right tackle, inside linebacker, edge rusher and defensive line would all be a consideration for the team's first-round pick. And, of course, until the Broncos have a guaranteed franchise quarterback, it's impossible to rule out that they'll go that direction in the draft.
Is there any real thought on the Broncos re-signing Von Miller at year's end? - Tom A.
Tom, that'd be something, huh? To acquire a pair of Day 2 picks and then get Miller back for the 2022 season would be quite the coup. Miller didn't rule out a reunion after he was traded, pointing out that Shannon Sharpe once left the Broncos and then came back. "Maybe that could be me," Miller said. "Maybe I could have a little bit more here in the orange and blue." Asked about Miller's comments the next day, Paton said the team would "never shut the door on Von." All that said, I'm not sure it's the likeliest scenario. The Rams have expressed a desire to work out an extension for Miller, and if he has a strong finish to 2021, he could have major interest across the league. That's not to say Denver couldn't be involved, but there will likely be plenty of competition. I certainly won't rule out Miller eventually coming back to Denver to play — that'd be a fitting ending at some point — but I don't necessarily expect that to happen next season.
Why not clean house and trade a few more expiring contracts and stack more draft capital for this offseason? - @JDCrussell
It's a fair question, and if the Broncos were out of the playoff race, perhaps it's something they would've considered. But at 4-4, the Broncos are right in the mix in the AFC, as I explained in an earlier answer. Plus, as Paton explained this week, the Broncos have too many good players — Justin Simmons, Courtland Sutton, etc. — to tear this down to the studs. There's value, in my mind, for the team's core players to be in meaningful games late in the season. And to do that, you have to continue to field a competitive roster. Let's also keep in mind that any other trades for players on expiring deals likely would've involved Day 3 picks. You can find valuable players on Day 3 of the draft, but I'm not sure one or two more Day 3 picks are worth the message you send to the locker room if you trade away another player or two. This team can be in the mix all the way until the end of the season — and that will be valuable both this year and beyond.
What are the team's plans for Kyle Fuller? - @EthanJefferso
Ethan, despite Kyle Fuller playing just four defensive snaps over the last three weeks, he remains on the roster following the trade deadline. And after the injury to Bryce Callahan, it's quite possible he'll need to be reinserted into the lineup. After playing outside cornerback earlier in the season, though, it sounds like the Broncos will test out Fuller in the slot. Head Coach Vic Fangio said this week that Fuller is among the options to play the nickel cornerback position, and Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell said his experience in the system should allow him to be very effective. The Broncos built up their secondary to be able to withstand injuries, and holding onto Fuller should allow them to do that. After a few weeks of relative inactivity, it's quite possible Fuller finds his way back onto the field in a meaningful way.