AFC West: George Foster

The Denver Broncos are examples of both the best and worst in the NFL at drafting during the 2000s, according to a study by Football Outsiders.

Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders created a system that he has labeled GSAA -- Games Started Above Average.

Here’s Barnwell’s formula: He compiled the games started by a player over the first five seasons of his career for everyone drafted between 1993 and 2007 . Games started by players taken in 2006 and 2007 have been prorated. Barnwell compared a player's total games started to the total of everyone at the same position taken within 10 picks of that player, or within the first 10 overall picks for players taken in the top 10.

That formula (yes, Barnwell is one deep thinker) allowed Barnwell to find out which teams have been the best and worst in the last decade at picking players. He will reveal his full findings in an upcoming issue of ESPN the Magazine.

That brings us back to the Broncos.

Mike Shanahan was both brilliant and a disaster in the 2000s, according to Barnwell’s study. He was gracious enough to give me a sneak preview of his findings.

Barnwell’s study concludes that the 2006 Denver draft class was the best in the decade. That draft netted Jay Cutler, Tony Scheffler, Brandon Marshall, Elvis Dumervil, Domenik Hixon and Chris Kuper. All have been become solid NFL players. Cutler is now in Chicago after being traded for Kyle Orton and a bevy of picks last year. Hixon is with the Giants after he was cut during his second season in Denver. Yes, the class is strong, but it would look a lot better heading into the future if Cutler and Hixon were still in Denver and Marshall wasn’t being shopped.

The great bounty of 2006 came three years after Denver had one of the worst drafts of the decade, according to Barnwell’s formula. Denver had the 20th and 51st picks in 2003, along with three fourth-round picks and two fifth-rounders. The draft netted one starter, George Foster, who was marginal at best after being the team’s first-round pick.

Shanahan had his ups and downs during the draft, but this disparity is shocking. Thanks again to Barnwell for allowing us to preview his impressive system.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The winner of the blockbuster 2007 trade between the Denver Broncos and the Detroit Lions is ... neither team.

The final chapter of the lackluster trade came Monday when the Lions cut tackle George Foster. Foster and running back Tatum Bell were traded to Detroit by the Broncos for cornerback Dre' Bly. The trade was a highlight of the NFL offseason. Three starting quality players usually don't get dealt in the same trade.

But all three players were disappointing in their new homes. Bell -- who finished last season back with Denver -- was cut after one season with the Lions.

Bly, who had several teams interested before Denver won a bidding war, was just so-so in two seasons in Denver. The former Pro Bowl player was cut in a salary-cap move earlier this year. He was recently signed by San Francisco to a one-year deal.

Foster, a former first-round draft choice, fell out of favor in Denver. He couldn't re-energize his career in Detroit.

Moving forward in free agency

March, 9, 2009
3/09/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Free agency is in its 11th full day and it's time for a look at what each AFC West team may do to add help.

Most of the big name players are now off the market and the second tier of free agency has definitely started. Thus, there are some bargains to be had.

Denver

The Broncos have been the busiest team in the NFL in free agency as it has added 12 players in nearly all aspects of the team. The Broncos added five or six new defensive starters, three running backs, a backup quarterback and even a long snapper.

The team could also look at some more help on defense. One name to consider may be New England defensive tackle Mike Wright.

Kansas City

The Chiefs have been very intriguing. They have a lot of salary cap room but they have done little with it. Yes, the Chiefs traded for Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel and re-signed special teamer Jon McGraw, but still there are gaping needs on the defensive side of the ball at offensive line. Perhaps the Chiefs will start adding some defensive help, especially in the front seven, but don't expect any big free agent moves because there are simply none left to make.

Oakland

The Raiders have been very quiet in free agency as they have concentrated on keeping their own players.

Still, the Raiders have been sniffing around offensive lineman, linebackers and backup quarterbacks. Linebacker Kevin Burnett and backup quarterback Kyle Boller are possibilities.
If the team doesn't sign tackle Khalif Barnes, tackles George Foster and Ephraim Salaam are possibilities. Neither would be overly pricey and both are adaptable in the zone-blocking scheme Oakland has adopted.

Another player who could attract attention from Oakland could be defensive tackle Tank Johnson, a talented player whose price is reasonable because of past off-field transgressions.

San Diego

The Chargers traditionally let free agency pass without doing much and then trying to keep their own players. This season, the Chargers are very quiet. They've had some visits but most of their team is consumed by trying to figure out the LaDainian Tomlinson situation which is still percolating.

The team wants linebacker Kevin Burnett and there could be some lesser-named players the team looks at safety, linebacker and on the offensive line.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

A day after the Denver Broncos cut six players -- four of whom started on defense -- to save money, Denver cut another defensive starter.

 Bly

This time it wasn't done to save money. The Broncos cut cornerback Dre' Bly because they want to upgrade at right cornerback. Bly had three years remaining on his contract.

Awash in salary cap room, Denver was easily able to absorb a $2.6 million salary-cap hit to part ways with Bly, an 11-year veteran who has lost considerable speed. Bly had more than $9 million in dead money. The Broncos now have more than $17 million in dead money, including the contract of former running back Travis Henry, which is currently the highest in the league.

Still, Denver has more than $25 million in functional salary-cap room, and it is expected to try to fill several needs on defense in free agency. Denver will need to find five or six defensive starters through free agency and the draft. Expect Denver to look for cornerbacks in free agency. One possibility may be St. Louis' Ronald Bartell.

Bly never made the impact in Denver the Broncos had hoped for when he was acquired from Detroit for running back Tatum Bell and tackle George Foster in March 2007. The deal was considered a blockbuster for Denver, which emerged from a large list of teams pursuing Bly. The Broncos thought Bly would team with star Champ Bailey to make one of the best cornerback tandems in the league.

Yet, Bly, who is now an unrestricted free agent, was just average in Denver. However, he did play fairly well in the second half of 2008 when Bailey was hurt. In the end, Bly was another in a long line of big-name flops in Denver in the final years of the Mike Shanahan era.

The new Denver regime was so anxious to get rid of Bly that it paid to do it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

To start off our AFC West series on drafting a veteran player, the Denver Broncos are now on the clock.

 Polamalu

And I'm giving them Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.

Safety is one of Denver's greatest needs. Polamalu is one of the NFL's greatest players. It could be a perfect fit. And it's been a fit the Broncos have wanted to make happen six years.

The Broncos craved the USC safety in the 2003 draft. However, Polamalu to Pittsburgh to No. 16. He quickly became another legendary hitter and defensive difference-maker in the storied Steelers' defensive history.

The Broncos took offensive tackle George Foster four picks later. He had a disappointing four-season career in Denver before he was traded to Detroit.

Polamalu would give instant credibility to a Denver defense that is in dire need of an identity. A player such as Polamalu could give an instant spark to any defense.

The Broncos have needs all over the defensive side of the ball and an argument could be made for a superstar defender. But Polamalu, 27, is a superstar defender in his own right and he'd be my choice if Denver was able to add any veteran player in the NFL.

Hit the comment section with your choice.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

AFC WEST SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 11/20
Sunday, 11/23