Right around this time every year I’ve written for Mile High Report, I’ve tried to write a “way-too-early” future needs article. For each of the last two, I’ve bombarded with a lot of flak for being way too early, so I just wanted to let you know that is exactly the point. For some, looking ahead to draft season and the team building aspect of professional sports is their favorite thing. I love it too, even if I’m just as big a nerd for the match-ups, plays, ridiculous athleticism, etc.
All this is to say that I know for some, this is way too early. I get it. If it isn’t for you, just wait, as we’ve got a ton of stuff to talk about in the coming days. Tennessee is going to be one heck of a opening game.
It should be obvious, but on the chance Drew Lock falls flat on his face this year, quarterback becomes the biggest need. At this moment I’m confident that will not be the case. Last thing before I get rambling: I promise I planned to write this post before Von Miller got hurt. I even have a receipt.
After failing to extend him, the Broncos can not work out a long term deal with Justin Simmons until the season ends. It’s no guarantee they will hold onto him after that. While I’d argue applying the tag a second time makes more sense than watching an All Pro walk if negotiations break down again, it’s entirely possible Elway deems the 27-year-old replaceable at the cost he’ll demand.
Even if Simmons is extended, there is a pretty strong chance Kareem Jackson will be moved. He’ll be 33-years old and count more than $12 million against the cap in 2021 if he’s on the roster. The Broncos would incur just $2.882 million in a dead cap charge if he’s released or traded.
Replacing one or even both will be difficult in the short-term. After all, there’s a good reason they’re getting some recognition as one of the best safety duos in the NFL this year. Fortunately, Fangio has a track record for developing defensive backs across his time in the league. Keep an eye on how Duke Dawson, Trey Marshall, and perhaps Michael Ojemudia are used this season, as that could provide a hint into the long-term plans.
4. Off Ball Linebacker
There is a distinct possibility Vic Fangio considers this a much bigger long-term need than I do. He spoke about a desire to get faster on the second level back at the NFL Combine. The Broncos kicked the tires on Joe Schobert, Nick Kwiatkoski, and even Patrick Queen at different parts of the off-season. In the end they wound up with Josey Jewell and Mark Barron starting beside Alexander Johnson.
When Barron signed, I suggested the move was a clear indicator that the hope is to get more athletic in nickel sets. It would not surprise me to see him find his way to the majority of the linebacker snaps over Jewell, as the 2018 4th rounder has many of the same athletic limitations Todd Davis did. The 30-year-old Barron does not look like a real long-term answer, however, and his own weaknesses will put more stress on Johnson and others against the run.
How the Broncos rank this need will come down to how Bradley Chubb looks this season and Elway’s plan for a 32-year-old Von Miller in 2021. Even before the future Hall of Famer was hurt, his contract made next off-season a sort of crossroads.
Let me make myself as clear as possible: the Broncos are a better defense with 2019 Von Miller on it. The talk about how he slipped last year due to lower sack numbers overlooks his supporting cast and how he had more than double the pressures as the second best pass rusher. Even beyond the numbers, the tape makes it abundantly clear how Miller has a gravitational pull on blocking schemes, which helps to free up other defenders.
What no one will know next March is how close 2021 Von Miller will be to his old self. The questions about Chubb’s own health, a large cap number, and shrinking cap only complicate things further.
It’s easy to look at the reports out of training camp about A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan and believe this position group has been solved. If Ojemudia, Dawson, or Essang Bassey can settle in and stand out at the third corner spot, the Broncos should have a stronger secondary top to bottom than they had a season ago. I suspect this is why some believe corner isn’t a long-term need anymore, even if they’re wrong.
Since he came into the league in 2015, Callahan’s never played in a full 16 game season. Not once. That combined with his injury last year had to have played into the Broncos’ decision to get him to take a pay cut this last spring.
Bouye’s had injury questions of his own to go with declining performance a year ago. There are reasons to believe he’ll see a career resurgence in the Fangio defense, but it’s no certain thing and his contract carries no guarantees.
Even if both the veterans check out, stay healthy, and a youngster emerges, there could still be a need. Fangio has mentioned a desire to play with more six DB sets and it makes sense. With Patrick Mahomes’ aerial circus looming over the AFC West, the Broncos can never have too many pass defenders.
1. Left Tackle
I’ve been accused of hating Garett Bolles more than once, so let’s put that to bed. I don’t hate any player on the Broncos and I hope Monday marks the start of a true breakout year for the 2017 first rounder. I just have reasons to believe that won’t be the case.
Even if Bolles turns it on this year, the fact Elway declined his fifth year option means a career year would lead to a potentially massive payday. It’s hard to imagine the Broncos will be the ones to pay that if Mike Munchak remains the offensive line coach.
What is the Broncos’ biggest 2021 need?
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“We have to get him going,” Broncos general manager John Elway said last Saturday. “That, I think, will take some time, but we know what he can do.”
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Robinson and Vrabel played their cards close to their vests with a quiet confidence. They knew they represented a destination that made the most sense. They had the money to pay him, a shot at winning and could surround him with a sense of familiarity. Clowney has played in this scheme before and will come across several familiar faces from his time in Houston, both on the coaching staff and on the roster.
Similar to when the Broncos were able to land Manning, the Titans had an X-factor that helped convince Clowney to sign in Tennessee. With Denver, it was general manager and president John Elway. With the Titans, it was Vrabel and his proven history of understanding how to best utilize Clowney’s skillset on the field.
The talkative, tough defender retired in classic Talib fashion. Amid saying his goodbyes via a social media video, the 34-year-old said he was asked by Bill Belichick to return for one more season to help cover tight ends.
Talib said while he would have liked another payday, the more he considered covering the likes of George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, etc. on the Pats’ schedule, he realized it was time to retire. (Side note: Given the TEs the Pats face, one could see why Belichick might check in on Talib’s willingness to return).
“I just wasn’t feeling it no more, honestly,” he said.
“I think it’ll be a huge adjustment for everyone out there,” Shanahan told reporters. “You don’t realize just what constant noise is like. It’s not about being loud or too low. It’s about just constant. I mean, usually when the play starts, you get to hear the pop and you get to hear football. When things aren’t going on, you can have conversations with people and stuff.