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Broncos news: John Elway’s A+ Offseason

SB Nation logo SB Nation 3/19/2019 Just_JoRo
a close up of John Elway wearing a hat and glasses: Elway has his faults, but he’s knocking this offseason out of the park so far. © Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports Elway has his faults, but he’s knocking this offseason out of the park so far.

Has John Elway and the Denver Broncos made the right moves to improve their football team in 2019?

Broncos Country only has to look back at a piece I wrote called The Good, The Bad, and the Elway last fall to see how I’ve been as critical of Denver’s general manager as anyone. It took some noticeably large gaffes to get to Vic Fangio and Joe Flacco, but here we are.

With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the moves made so far.

Broncos sign Ja’Wuan James - A-

I looked at this at length for last week’s GIF Horse, but long story short, I like the move. James is very talented and should see a jump under Munchak, and the financial ramifications aren’t nearly as scary as the mainstream media wants to paint it.

Broncos sign Kareem Jackson - A

MHR’s Jeffrey Essary did a film study of Jackson over the weekend and had this to say:

Denver Broncos film breakdown for cornerback Kareem Jackson - Mile High Report

I said this when I previewed him in free agency, but I think Jackson paired with Fangio’s defense makes way too much sense. I’m really excited to see him excel here under the new scheme, and it sounds like he’s excited too.

“They played some great defense. I’m pretty good friends with [Bears CB] Kyle Fuller and has said nothing but great things about Coach Vic,” Jackson said. “For me, just getting a chance to play with my eyes, be instinctive and react. I don’t know a DB in this league that doesn’t want to be in these types of defenses where they can kind of see the quarterback, read, react and make some plays on the ball.”

Broncos re-sign Jeff Heuerman - B

I wrote this about Heuerman back in January

If the former Buckeye posted a 49-564-4 line in 2018, he would be a bit higher on this list. Alas those are the 5th-year pros career numbers after injuries have limited him to a grand total of 37 games as in the NFL.

If I were managing the Broncos I would probably move on from Heuerman in 2019. By all accounts this is a loaded draft class at tight end and Heuerman’s shown nothing worth breaking the bank for. He’s a serviceable dump-off receiver and blocker, but don’t let his game against the Houston Texans fool you; he has yet to show he can be a true X-factor against a team that adequately defends tight ends. If he’s retained the cost is worth a bit of scrutiny.

So let’s take a deeper look at his contract. If Heuerman gets cut before the 2019 season begins (ie: he gets cut at the end of training camp) Denver would owe him $2 million in dead money. It’s doubtful that happens, in all reality.

In year one of the deal it looks as though Heuerman will count $4 million against the cap. In year two he could make as much as $5 million if he stays healthy and reaches certain incentives. If neither of those things happen he’s sitting at a $3 million cap hit. There is no dead money on the second year of the deal, so the Broncos could move on if they find better options at tight end.

Looking around the league at the time of his signing, 10 tight ends had been paid. Heuerman has a higher average per year than Dwayne Allen, Demetrius Harris, Matt LaCosse, Marcedes Lewis, and Charles Clay. Given his age and play when healthy, this looks like a pretty fair deal.

Broncos sign Bryce Callahan - A-

At first glance, it’s an A+ signing from a scheme fit, talent and cost perspective. Denver’s paying around $7 million a year for a corner who looked like one of the best in football under Fangio last year. He’ll turn 28 in October so he’s comfortably in the prime of his career as well.

Things get a bit more complicated as you dig into this deal. Callahan has never played 16 games in a season and his 2018 season was derailed by a foot injury in December. There were a few rumors floating around that his medicals were a reason teams balked at paying him. While I’m all but positive his visit also contained a medical, those durability concerns should help explain his surprising contract that contains only $10 million in guarantees.

The last big question is what this deal says about Elway’s plan for Chris Harris. Denver’s homegrown slot phenom has an expiring contract in 2019. On the same day that Callahan was signed, the Broncos GM said this:

I was on Twitter when Elway first said as much, and this was the first thing I saw when I refreshed my feed.

Now chances are the Broncos resign Harris at some point before the 2020 offseason. They have oodles of cap room and he’s the kind of foundational player you take care of. But this isn’t the sure thing some would have you believe. The future Ring of Famer is going to be 30 years old at a position that notoriously slows down around that bench mark. He also missed games to injury in 2018, and the Broncos now have a new corner with a lot of overlapping skills in Callahan.

Where things go from here could be interesting, but this season? It’s a great move.

Broncos re-sign Zach Kerr - A+

I wrote this a little over 2 months ago.

Zach Kerr is one of those underrated signings that smart franchises make. Championship teams have guys like Kerr up and down the roster, which gives them the cap flexibility to pay their best players and maintain a healthy core. Kerr will never be the best at his position group but has quietly been an above average player for a number of years now. He’s a decent run stopper, but it’s his pass rushing prowess that really boost his value.

Kerr is an unrestricted free agent heading into the offseason and at 29 he’s in the prime of his career. He’s a tossup to return with a loaded defensive line class in both the draft and free agency, but the Broncos could do a lot worse than extend the versatile 330 pounder’s stay in the Rockies.

Love this move. For one, the strength of the 2018 Broncos was their front 7 talent, specifically at the DE and Edge spots. Kerr’s return means that will should be a strength once more.

I am curious to see how Fangio plans to utilize all of the talent in the defensive line room going forward. As I mentioned in my GIF Horse on Shelby Harris, he played the least snaps of the group last year as he was used almost exclusively as the backup to, and pass rush rotation player for Domata Peko. Even though Kerr is significantly heavier than Harris, he played mostly behind Wolfe and Gotsis last year. He was kind of the 3rd guy at the 0 or 1 technique. That said, his athletic profile is much closer to Fangio’s ideal nose candidates in the past, so how “the Don” uses his talent bears monitoring.

Lastly, one of the best parts of the terms of the deal is that it provides some insurance against the 2020 offseason exodus of Shelby Harris, Derek Wolfe, and Adam Gotsis. All three see their contracts expire this year and their cost could become onerous to Elway’s budget for the position. Kerr serves as a pretty solid insurance policy that the Broncos won’t have to completely rebuild the position next year.

The Flacco Trade - B

Now, I’m nowhere near sold on Flacco as a sizeable upgrade over Keenum, but I like his contract and believe he’s the best option of a woeful QB market.

One of the best things Elway did with last years free agency period is use it to create a situation where there were no gaping holes on the depth chart. That way, Denver’s in the position to chase value in the draft. It looks like he’s doing it again with the 2019 one.

OFFENSE

QB: Joe Flacco

RB1: Phillip Lindsay

RB2: Royce Freeman

FB: Andy Janovich

XWR: Courtland Sutton

ZWR: Emmanuel Sanders

SWR: DaeSean Hamilton

LT: Garett Bolles

LG: Ronald Leary

C: Connor McGovern

RG: Elijah Wilkinson

RT: Ja’Wuan James

TE: Jeff Heuerman

DEFENSE:

EDGE: Bradley Chubb

DE: Derek Wolfe / Zach Kerr

DE: Adam Gotsis / Shelby Harris

EDGE: Von Miller

ILB: Todd Davis

ILB: Josey Jewell

CB: Kareem Jackson

S: Will Parks

S: Justin Simmons

CB: Chris Harris Jr.

SCB: Bryce Callahan

So where do we go from here?

So far, Elway’s earning passing marks, and with a little over $15 million left under the cap, it shouldn’t be a shock if the Broncos sit out free agency until the draft. There’s only a couple of moves that really make sense this far out.

One would be a possible trade for the New York Jets former first rounder Darron Lee. He was a disappointment since coming out of Ohio State but fits the kind of highly touted prospect Fangio has said he likes to help rebuild. He’d come in as an upside trade at the inside linebacker spot. The cost is also manageable as he’s in the last year of his rookie contract.

The other move that makes sense is looking to resign Domata Peko to a short term deal. Zach Kerr may well fill this role adequately, but ideally the Broncos have a couple of 320+ pound beefcakes to man the nose tackle position.

Neither move is a dire need, but adding either or both would give Elway another feather in the cap of a very successful Spring.

What do you think Broncos Country?

Your Broncos Links

2019 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Scouting Missouri quarterback Drew Lock - Mile High Report

Drew Lock has all the tools, but needs development. Could Rich Scangarello turn Lock into a superstar?

NFL Draft: Is the 2020 NFL Draft Quarterback Class Overrated? - Mile High Report

There is a lot of hype surrounding the 2020 quarterback class, but is it actually overrated? The tape doesn’t lie as they say.

Denver Broncos free agency tracker: News, rumors, and updates - Mile High Report

When it comes to the Denver Broncos and free agency, we have you covered. Check back often for updates on news, reports, and rumors from free agency.

Aaron Rodgers, Khalil Mack lead 2019 All-Paid Team - NFL.com

Edge: Von Miller, Broncos ($19.1 million AAV) Full contract: Six years, $114.5 million | Signed: 2016 Guaranteed at signing: $42 million (36.7 percent) 2019 cap hit: $25.1 million (13.4 percent) | 2019 cash: $17.5 million Arguably the NFL’s best edge rusher, Miller leads the NFL in sacks (98.0) and forced fumbles (25, tied) since being drafted second overall in 2011. The Broncos have club options on Miller in 2020 and 2021, which will surely be picked up, given his superior play. He will continue to have cap charges north of $22 million in each of the next three seasons and carries the largest cap hit ($25.1 million) of all defensive players in 2019.

Simulated Mock Draft: 5 First Round Fits I Really Like | The Draft Network

Let me tell you this: Devin Bush at No. 11 would not be a reach.

How about at 10?

Charles Davis 2019 NFL mock draft 1.0: Steelers fill AB void - NFL.com

School: LSU | Year: Junior Expect GM John Elway to take a LONG look at Missouri QB Drew Lock despite the acquisition of Joe Flacco, but ultimately Denver opts for this multi-talented LB who leads vocally and by example. Not to mention, he’s a hard hitter.

Solak Mock Draft 6.0 | The Draft Network

Broncos Drew Lock QB, Missouri In the least shocking development of this century, my predictive mock gives Drew Lock to John Elway and the Broncos. Ho-hum. I’d love to see the Broncos really go all-in on the Joe Flacco era, eschewing a quarterback for a penetrating DT (Ed Oliver?) or rangy LB (Devin Bush). Not because it’d be good process; but because it’d be very entertaining. Instead, Elway tries to solve the mistake he made in Manning’s waning years, by drafting the young QB before the old veteran retires. All luck to Drew Lock here.

2019 NFL Mock Draft: Giants Start Rebuild with Pair of 1st-Round Picks | Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

The Denver Broncos are fully committed to Joe Flacco as their starting quarterback. ”I think we’re getting Flacco at the right time,” general manager John Elway said, per the Denver Post’s Mike Kiszla. “He’s got a chip on his shoulder.” The Broncos must now build around their new 34-year-old signal-caller, and Flacco has always been fond of throwing to his tight ends. Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson immediately helps Denver’s offense in two areas. First, he’s a weapon in the passing game. Hockenson might not be the same caliber of athlete as his former teammate Noah Fant, but the reigning John Mackey Award winner still tested in the 88th percentile for tight ends, according to Three Sigma Athlete’s Zach Whitman. He can stretch the field and create mismatches. Second, Hockenson’s value rises so high because he’s a true in-line option. His outstanding blocking will help a suspect offensive line.

2019 NFL Mock Draft: Giants Start Rebuild with Pair of 1st-Round Picks | Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

The Denver Broncos are fully committed to Joe Flacco as their starting quarterback. ”I think we’re getting Flacco at the right time,” general manager John Elway said, per the Denver Post’s Mike Kiszla. “He’s got a chip on his shoulder.” The Broncos must now build around their new 34-year-old signal-caller, and Flacco has always been fond of throwing to his tight ends. Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson immediately helps Denver’s offense in two areas. First, he’s a weapon in the passing game. Hockenson might not be the same caliber of athlete as his former teammate Noah Fant, but the reigning John Mackey Award winner still tested in the 88th percentile for tight ends, according to Three Sigma Athlete’s Zach Whitman. He can stretch the field and create mismatches. Second, Hockenson’s value rises so high because he’s a true in-line option. His outstanding blocking will help a suspect offensive line.

NFL Links

In Defense of Jon Gruden, a Smart GM - The Ringer

The Raiders’ de facto decision-maker was criticized for his preseason trade of Khalil Mack, but dealing Amari Cooper shows he may know what he’s doing long term. Can Coach Gruden make good on the moves?

No 1st Rounder, No Problem? | The Draft Network

All four of the teams without a first round pick in 2018 (Texans, Chiefs, Eagles, Rams) made the playoffs and combined for a record of 45-19

Russell Wilson: ‘Great potential’ to become top-paid QB - NFL.com

Asked by giggly talk-show host Jimmy Fallon this week whether he expects to become the league’s highest paid QB with his next deal, Wilson said, “There’s a great potential in that. We’ll see what happens. ... It’s not like it’s gonna make me feel bad.”

Haloti Ngata announces his retirement – ProFootballTalk

Fresh off an AFC Championship loss, I still remember mock drafts pegging him to Denver. Shanahan took Cutler instead, and here we are.

Dorsey: Freddie Kitchens will hold players accountable - NFL.com

”From a planning standpoint,” Dorsey told King, “you want to surround a first-year head coach with quality coaches at all levels. I think we’ve done that. Surround him with a strong coaching staff [veteran offensive coordinator Todd Monken, ex-head coach Steve Wilks as defensive coordinator]. And remember: This head coach is very direct, very honest. He’s going to tell it like it is, and he’ll tell Odell like it is. He will hold players accountable. He’ll let players express themselves, as he should do.

Giants GM: Idea Eli is overpaid, can’t play a ‘crock’ - NFL.com

Giants GM Dave Gettleman spoke for the first time since shipping Odell Beckham, Jr. to Cleveland. He stands behind that decision and also made it clear Eli Manning isn’t going anywhere.

FMIA: How The Odell Deal Got Done, and an NFL Free Agency Wet Blanket – ProFootballTalk

What should be the goal be? If I were owner Stephen Ross, I would want to be absolutely sure that everything my franchise did in 2019 was to set up the team to have my long-term starting quarterback in place in 2020. That, plus establishing coach Brian Flores’ culture, is what matters in 2019. In other words, if my scouts and GM and coach say the best guy for our team for the long term is Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, then figure out a way to get in position to jump from 13 in the first round (Miami’s pick) to however high it takes, using 2019 and 2020 draft currency, to do it. If that isn’t possible, or Haskins isn’t the guy, then you put it off till the Justin Herbert/Tua Tagovailoa draft year, 2020, and do the same thing next year. But if you don’t solve the QB question this year, it makes no sense to scratch and claw to win seven games this year. Picking 14th next year just makes it next-to-impossible to get the dream quarterback in 2020.

SKOR North – How much better do the Vikings have to be to compete for the Super Bowl?

The concern with this approach is that the Vikings’ biggest area of weakness last season was on offense and teams that are reaching the Super Bowl of late have generally been the best of the best in passing effectiveness. Teams that dominate on defense have sometimes reached the Super Bowl, but normally they have been paired with strong passing games.

NFL Free Agency: 2018 playoff teams aren’t spending big | SI.com

Most NFL clubs had Hill off the draft board in 2016. As one personnel chief explained his team’s 2016 draft opinion of Hill to me on Sunday: “He was fast and explosive at Oklahoma State. But untouchable off the field.” The Chiefs took Hill in the fifth round and benefited greatly in the three seasons since, to the point where they were ready to reward him this offseason with a contract that was set to stretch into nine figures. The potential outcomes here range from Hill being exonerated and getting that windfall, to never playing in the league again. Clearly, there’s still a lot learn here.

Counting down the top 100 NFL draft prospects

Jackson’s 20 best throws from last season might blow your hair back. His 20 worst plays might make you want to pull all that hair out. He absolutely is an intriguing project here who is worth developing over a year or two, maybe to a team such as the Los Angeles Chargers that needs to start thinking about its next QB. Jackson considered a grad-transfer option after last season before entering the draft, and perhaps another year of college football might have made him a top-50 pick next year. But a stripdown of some mechanical flaws, such as an elongated throwing motion and a penchant for carrying the ball at his hip while he’s scrambling to throw, would do Jackson a lot of good. And before long, you might have something really special.

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