The Denver Broncos are about to go through their first offseason under new Head Coach John Fox. There will be plenty of roster transactions from now up until the start of next season, as Denver tries to put together a winning team.
The team is going to make the switch back to a 4-3 base defense, moving some players around and parting ways with others. Entering his fifth season, Elvis Dumervil is expected to be moved back to defensive end, where he recorded 21 sacks the first two years of his career. Another former 3-4 outside linebacker, Robert Ayers, will also be moved to defensive end, where the Broncos hope he will be as disruptive as he was in college.
With the defensive end position seemingly set, that leaves the defensive tackle position as the only area needing to be addressed on the front four. The Broncos current nose tackle, Jamal Williams, will be turning 35 in April and is better fit as a 3-4 tackle than a 4-3 one. Without much depth behind Williams, the Broncos must pursue the position.
The linebackers are in a pretty good position. Outside linebacker Wesley Woodyard will be a free agent, but most of the others are expected to return, unless the Broncos have other plans for them. Entering his third season with the Broncos, Mario Haggan is coming off a career season and should be retained. As versatile as they come, linebacker D.J. Williams has started for Denver at both outside and middle linebacker and led the team in sacks and tackles last season. When healthy in 2010, Joe Mays was an excellent middle linebacker for the Broncos and dominant against the run. The above mentioned three linebackers could very well end up being Denver's three starters next season.
In the secondary things are a little shaky. Cornerback Champ Bailey just signed a four-year deal and is still one of the premier corners in the game, even at age 32. Behind him however, things start to fall apart. Fellow cornerback Andre Goodman is turning 33 and struggled with hamstring and quadriceps injuries all of last season, while second year cornerback Perrish Cox's status for next season is in question after some off-field allegations. Don't rule out Syd'Quan Thompson just yet though, a former 7th round draft pick, Thompson could compete for playing time in 2011 after a stellar rookie season.
At safety, the team has two aging players and two others that are injury prone, that's not promising. Set to turn 38 years-old in October, Brian Dawkins is still better than most free safeties in the game, but he's not the same Dawkins he used to be. Across from Dawkins is 32 year-old Renaldo Hill, who is still playing at a high level, but won't be able to forever. The two young bucks, David Bruton and Darcel McBath, have shown some potential but not enough to be full-time starters. The safety position is one Denver will have to address.
On offense, things aren't half as messy.
The team has three quarterbacks that they think could start today in Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn. While all of them may not be around next season, one of them will be the starter.
At running back, the Broncos have Knowshon Moreno (who has yet to fully live up to fans expectations), Correll Buckhalter who is unlikely to return, and 25 year-old Lance Ball, who fought his way from the practice squad to relief back last season. The Broncos have retained running backs coach Eric Studesville, who is working with Moreno and is a fan of Ball, so expect those two players to stay. Veteran back LenDale White will also be back and is hoping to see some playing time. Denver will probably go after another back as well, either through free agency or the draft, aiming to find a good back to pair up with Moreno. Fullback Spencer Larsen had a solid season last year and will most likely return as well.
On the offensive line the Broncos may not make many adjustments. That may sound absurd to some fans after the lines' dismal performance at the beginning of last year, but remember, the line had three first year starters and they showed great improvement towards season's end. The team may add a tackle and center, putting some depth behind second year center J.D. Walton, and tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris. Harris will be a free agent and may not be re-signed. At tight end, the Broncos have Daniel Graham, who may not return, Daniel Coats and third year player Richard Quinn, who is looking to prove himself in 2011. Expect the Broncos to add another receiving tight end to the squad and release another.
At wide receiver, things are a little complicated. Fourth year receiver Matthew Willis will be competing for playing time after missing most of 2010 while on injured reserve, Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Lloyd will be returning, fourth year player Eddie Royal is recovering from an offseason hip surgery but is also expected to back as early as May, and second year receiver Eric Decker, who impressed coaches at seasons end last season, will also be returning. The team will also have the option of retaining Jabar Gaffney, who has been solid, and Demaryius Thomas may be ready to go by the start of the season. The team may deal Gaffney and ink another receiver, or just draft another and let the squad compete for roster spots in Training Camp.
Please note that unless a new CBA is agreed on, there will be no player signings or trades this offseason. Teams will have to be prepared for either outcome though (a new CBA or a lockout and a Draft). If a new CBA is agreed on, here are some players Denver could target to fill their team needs:
Offense: Tight End, Running Back (depth), Offensive Line (depth)
Defense: Defensive Tackle, Cornerback, Safety, Linebacker (depth)
Sleeper positions (positions where the team doesn't nessarily need depth at but they still may address): Wide Reciever, Defensive End
Possible additions to fill the offensive needs:
TE Jeremy Shockey, formerly of the Saints, Shockey was released on Tuesday. Although he is going on 31 years--old and is somewhat injury prone, Shockey would provide a nice addition to the Broncos as both a receiving and blocking Tight End. Signing one in free agency would also allow the Broncos to go after more defensive players in the draft.
RB DeAngelo Williams, drafted by John Fox in Carolina back in 2006, Williams is set to become an unrestricted freegent. If Denver does go after and sign Williams, he would provide an excellent running-mate to Moreno. Having two capable backs would enable Denver to have a fresh running back in the backfield on every drive.
OL Broncos Tackle Ryan Harris is going to be a free agent after the new CBA is worked out. If the team resigned him he would provide vital experience and continuity to the offensive line. If the team lets Harris walk, they'll have a chance at other offensive lineman in later rounds of the Draft and they'll also have four starting offensive line returning.
Possible additions to fill the defensive needs:
CB Patrick Peterson of LSU is entering the NFL Draft scouted by many as being one of the best defensive backs to come around in years. The Broncos will most likely select the best defensive player on the board, because with so many defensive needs, they cannont afford a bust. If the team thinks Peterson is the best player on the board, they'll probably draft him 2nd overall. Peterson would join Bailey in the Broncos secondary instantly forming one of the greatest cornerback tadems in the League.
S Bob Sanders, who was just released by the Colts, is 30 years old and coming off multiple injuries; however, he is a risk worth taking for the Broncos, at the right price. Another option is moving Peterson to saftey, a position some scouts say Peterson is better suited for. If Perrish Cox is not suspended for the season, the Broncos need at cornerback will greatly decrease, so the team could afford to move Peterson to saftey, that is, if they do draft him.
LB Jon Beason is a young (26) middle linebacker who also played under Fox in Carolina, and has been the anchor of the Panthers defense. He is entering the final season of his contract, however, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Fox try to deal for him. The Broncos linebacker corps currently consits of Joe Mays at middle linebacker, with veterans Mario Haggan and D.J. Williams on the outside. Denver also has some nice depth behind the assumed starting three linebackers in linebackers Jason Hunter and Wesley Woodyard. However, the Broncos run defense has struggled of late and speed is not one of the defeneses strong points. So the Broncos may do some swapping of linebacers in trades and/or draft one or more in April.
DT Jarvis Jenkins, a defensive tackle out of Clemson, is expected to be available in the 2nd-3rd round(s) and is a possible option for the Broncos. Another of many options at defensive tackle for the Broncos is free agent Brandon Mebane of the Seahawks. Mebane is one of the better 4-3 young (26) defensive tackles in the game and would be a nice addition to Denver's defense. If the Broncos opt to not take Patrick Peterson second overall, Auburn's defensive tackle Nick Fairley would also be a solid addition to the defense. Denver also has the option of trading down, accumulating more picks, and ultimately, more defensive players.
Those are some players to keep an eye on, for now though, just keep and eye on the develpment of the collective bargaining agreement.