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Mason's Mailbag: What's next for the changing front seven on the Broncos' defense

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.

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The Super Bowl 50-winning front seven has lost four players in two offseasons (DeMarcus Ware, Sylvester Williams, Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson). While I feel confident about Shane Ray filling one of the slots, what are the plans for the very middle of the defense (NT, DE and ILB)? Domata Peko, Adam Gotsis and Todd Davis? IMHO, this is an area of concern if the run defense is to improve.**

-- Jose Borrero

On the defensive line, Peko is the likely starter at nose tackle; Head Coach Vance Joseph will count on him to draw the double-teams he warranted in Cincinnati. Free-agent pickup Zach Kerr will factor in at defensive end. Kerr should allow Jared Crick to be used as more of a pass-rush specialist than he was last year, when Vance Walker's injury forced Crick into an every-down role that was not part of the original plan up front. As for Gotsis, much will depend on the result of his work in the weight room. Defensive Line Coach Bill Kollar noted in February that strength had to be Gotsis' highest priority. He should be in the rotation; whether he becomes a starter depends on how much he improves.

At inside linebacker, the Broncos gave a restricted free-agent tender to Davis. This is only his second season as a full-time starter; he should improve. Joseph noted last Tuesday that better play up front should give Davis and Brandon Marshall more room to operate and more chances to make plays against the run. Marshall should also be better if he can avoid the nagging injuries that slowed him last season.

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If a player is drafted, is he under any legal obligation to go with the team that drafted him?**

-- Jesse Conroy

There is no legal obligation, per se. It's not like being drafted into the military. If a player wants to avoid playing for the team that picked him, there's nothing to stop him from that. But he can't go play for any of the other 31 clubs unless he is traded.

The drafting team holds a player's rights for his first potential season -- even if he remains unsigned. If a player does not sign a contract with the team that drafted him, he goes back into the pool for the following year's draft.

The most famous example of this situation involves Bo Jackson in 1987. After he did not sign a contract with the Buccaneers -- who drafted him No. 1 overall in 1986 -- and opted to play in the Kansas City Royals' organization, he went back into the draft one year later. The then-Los Angeles Raiders picked Jackson in the seventh round, with the 183rd overall selection.

If the Broncos decide to trade up in the draft to get a guy like Christian McCaffrey or O.J. Howard, how far could you see the Broncos trading up?

-- Ethan Stanton

Based on past draft trades and the standard draft-trade value chart, the Broncos could get up to the 13th or 14th pick by sending their second-round pick in a trade. That's about as far as I would expect the Broncos to move, and even that would be a greater leap than their moves up in the 2015 and 2016 first rounds (five picks each time).

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For the past year or two I've seen articles and heard talk about a developmental league so players can get used to playing in a pro system. What I don't get is why can't college football teams transition from spread offenses to pro-style. It would make the learning curve less steep, especially for quarterbacks and linemen.**

-- Tosh Holmes

Because on the field, college teams have the same goal as those in the NFL: to win. The college game is not a designated feeder system to the NFL -- even though for all intents and purposes, it is. Therefore, player development for the next level is not the priority, unlike in minor-league baseball or basketball's D-League.

Spread offenses and other schemes that are unorthodox and don't translate well to the NFL -- such as the triple-option attack favored by service academies -- can neutralize size disadvantages and help level the playing field a bit.

Further, colleges want to get their players up to speed in a system quickly; you've only got five seasons (including a potential redshirt year), and truly elite talents often turn pro with multiple seasons of eligibility remaining. Spread offenses are often simpler to learn than pro-style schemes, which is crucial given the limits on practice and meeting time at the college level.

The only way you'll see the kind of developmental process you want is if the NFL creates its own version of the D-League. Although chatter about a developmental league always bubbles just below the surface of league matters, there is no substantive potential plan at this time.

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Who do you think would be the best TE for the Broncos next year? Many of the mock drafts I have seen have the Broncos picking Bucky Hodges, Jake Butt or Evan Engram but do you think that would be giving up on Derby too early?**

-- Nathan Seiler

Drafting a tight end does not mean you're "giving up" on A.J. Derby, Jeff Heuerman or Virgil Green. If anything, if the Broncos draft a tight end in the first three rounds, I expect to see more two-tight end formations, just like the ones Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy used at times in San Diego last year to get Antonio Gates and then-rookie Hunter Henry on the field together.

As for those tight ends you mentioned, I think Hodges is the most versatile and the most capable of causing mismatches, with the best blend of size and speed in that group. Engram has plenty of potential, but is 23 pounds lighter than Hodges, so can he be an in-line tight end? If he can handle that part of the role, he should flourish and would be an outstanding Day 2 pick. South Alabama's Gerald Everett does a lot of the same things that O.J. Howard can do and will be an outstanding Day 2 bargain.

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Why are so many people acting like it's the end of the world if the Broncos don't pursue Tony Romo or get him and stay the course with their young QBs? Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch were both essentially rookies last season and are young and everyone is treating them like five-year veterans who can't get any better.**

-- Katherine S

Because panic and fear of the unknown collectively comprise the default state of humanity. Both are exacerbated by the communications environment of 2017, driven by speed above patience. For example, just imagine if John Elway's rookie season was subject to the need for immediate judgment that drives the current landscape of discourse.

As I've said on radio appearances and podcasts more than a few times this offseason, I'm baffled by the notion some possess -- this school of thought that Siemian cannot get better. Maybe he and Lynch have different ceilings if everything breaks right, but to think that the third-year quarterback cannot improve in a new scheme with more experience -- and better health -- is short-sighted.

If Siemian starts in 2017, yes, he will be at a fork-in-the-road point in his career -- his second season as a starter, his third in the NFL. That's the time when you must display your long-term potential (and this is true at most positions). Some quarterbacks have regressed in their second seasons as starters. But plenty have improved. Why can't Siemian?

Now, into the wayback machine ...

Green had some knee troubles in 1992, yet still managed to play in 14 games that year. But he never shook off a slow start to the season; he averaged just 2.66 yards per rush in the first six games. In nine of 14 games, he failed to even average 3.20 yards per carry. Green's size (190 pounds) also worked against him, leading to questions about his durability. Thus, the Broncos considered running back a need in 1993 -- the first year of the current free-agent system -- and signed Rod Bernstine and Robert Delpino.

It said a lot about how far Green fell into disfavor early in 1993 that the Broncos were willing to trade him within the division, to the then-Los Angeles Raiders. It said even more about what Green had left that the Raiders released him in Week 2 of that season, having averaged just 2.2 yards per carry in preseason play. He never carried the football in an NFL regular-season game after the trade.

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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.

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