Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Broncos still needy in spots
By Jeff Legwold
For the moment, the Denver Broncos have put away owner Pat Bowlen's checkbook, albeit with fewer checks in it than when free agency began.
The team has one or two offensive linemen on its radar that it would consider reeling in. But with just under $6 million in salary-cap space with which to work, the price would have to be right.
So with the heavy lifting behind them in free agency, the Broncos will simply wait to see if there are any veteran players they want to sign to low-impact deals. Two years ago, they added Keith Brooking and Jim Leonhard; last season they signed Quentin Jammer and Paris Lenon.
The Broncos still have some needs on their depth chart to address, either with late-spring deals or in the draft. The biggest of those needs:
Safety T.J. Ward was a starter the moment he signed his new contract, as was cornerback Aqib Talib. And the Broncos are certainly encouraged by Chris Harris Jr.'s recovery from ACL surgery.
Aqib Talib has had difficulty staying healthy in his career, so the Broncos would be wise to bolster their depth at cornerback.
Harris has told plenty of folks he believes he could have played in the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl with a partially torn ACL. But the Broncos put him on injured reserve, not wanting to risk a full tear or damage to the other ligaments and cartilage in his knee.
Talib has never played 16 games in a season. Until he does, the prudent expectation is the Broncos need more depth here. And with defenses playing the nickel and dime so much, the Broncos will need some additional help at cornerback moving forward.
Kayvon Webster will get, and deserves, a bigger role and the Broncos will put as much on his plate as he shows he can handle. Webster has the kind of skills in man-to-man the Broncos want with plenty of speed. But if the draft falls right, the Broncos could still look to use a premium pick on a cornerback.
Once a glamour position on defense, middle linebacker is a situational job these days. The Broncos had four games this past season when the middle linebacker was in the formation 12 or fewer plays.
The Broncos have players they can use at the position already on the roster -- Nate Irving, or possibly Steven Johnson -- but those would be stop-gap moves and the Broncos have tried Webster there before only to make him Von Miller's backup. The Broncos will look for someone at the position who fits their scheme later in the free-agency season.
"People are a lot more worried about middle linebacker than we are right now … we'll get something done,'' executive vice president of football operations/GM John Elway said this week.
Weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan plays in base, nickel and dime schemes, which means the Broncos can look for a two-down player at middle linebacker if they have to.
The list of true middle linebackers is shrinking in the college game and defenses are getting smaller to defend spread attacks, but the Broncos will take a long look at some options at inside linebacker in the draft.
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The Broncos did not make an offer to Trindon Holliday, who agreed to a deal with the New York Giants Monday. The Broncos loved Holliday's touchdowns -- six in less than two seasons, playoffs included -- but they struggled to reconcile those with his spotty work handling the ball and a difficult stretch last season when he had limited impact and made plenty of questionable decisions.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders has been a returner, but he also had a foot surgery early in his career and the Broncos see him as a key piece of their three-wide-receiver set on offense as well as a potential No. 2 receiver. Elway has already used the work "risk'' when talking about the possibility of Sanders handling both kickoff and punt returns.
The Broncos have players who could fill in, but they lack impact players at the position.
The Broncos did the work to get DeMarcus Ware in the lineup and believe the 31-year-old's durability -- he's missed just three games -- has been a hallmark of a 117-sack career to this point. They have high hopes for what will essentially be Quanterus Smith's rookie season as a pass-rusher in '14 after he spent last season on injured reserve. They believe Derek Wolfe will return to form as a strongside end.
But the Broncos need some additional depth here and have to cover themselves if Ware's injury-marred 2013 season turns into something similar in '14 or if Smith isn't ready.
Yes, they signed Sanders and re-signed Andre Caldwell just before free agency opened. But with Wes Welker's concussion history -- he had two last season -- the Broncos would be remiss if they didn't look at the draft's deep class of wideouts.
The Broncos could find a player who could contribute this season, add more speed to the roster and have a player ready to move into the lineup with Welker's contract set to expire after the 2014 season.
They carried four wide receivers on the roster last season, but would be wise to carry five this time around and add some youth on the outside. Whether that means they carry three tight ends instead of four or 10 defensive backs instead of 11, adding a spot at wide receiver would be a worthy investment.