The time is drawing close. The several weeks of calm that hits the NFL after the Super Bowl is about to give way to a flurry of activity with free agency, the draft and mini-camps.
While the Broncos gear up, let’s take a look at what has happened to this point and what might come.
First, the Broncos have solidified their coaching staff. The biggest change came at defensive coordinator. Out is Mike Nolan; in is Don Martindale, the team’s linebackers coach a year ago.
On the one hand, I was sorry to see Coach Nolan go. Clearly there were some issues between head coach Josh McDaniels and Nolan. While some people like to read into such a parting, to me this is a merely routine occurrence in the ever-changing world of the NFL. Sometimes two people see things differently. Such seems to be the case here.
Certainly Coach Nolan has proven himself to be a quality defensive coordinator over the years. But I like the fact that McDaniels promoted Coach Martindale. He has a good coaching resume and many of the Broncos’ defensive players gave their endorsement of the selection. That tells me Martindale has the respect of many of the guys on the roster. That is key.
Make no mistake: This is not a charity hire. Josh McDaniels won’t give any coach more opportunity just because that coach has been with the team. McDaniels has to feel that Martindale is ready and able to lead the defense. That’s why I like the hire. Sometimes the good candidates are already working for you.
Second, free agency will begin in the next couple of weeks. No doubt the uncertain labor situation will play a part in what teams do and it makes predicting what teams will do even more difficult.
To me, the Broncos biggest questions surround three players already on the roster: QB Kyle Orton, WR Brandon Marshall and DE/LB Elvis Dumervil. I believe all will be back with the Broncos next year.
I’m not sure how long Orton’s deal will be but from what he has said, he wants to be in Denver. Plus, I still believe that he can be the quarterback of a team that makes a run in the playoffs. He is more than good enough to me. Plus, the list of possible free agent replacements is less than exciting.
Brandon Marshall makes Orton even better. I don’t have any inside information. I don’t know if discussions have or haven’t been going on. But I have to believe Marshall will be back with the Broncos next year. Of course, I also thought the Broncos and Jay Cutler would work things out before the trade with the Bears.
I sure hope Dumervil is back and also expect him to be. He showed he can be a playmaker and seemed to adapt to his new position pretty well. Last I checked, 17-sack performers don’t grow on trees. One of the keys to building a quality team is to identify your core players and sign them. Orton, Marshall and Dumervil are, in my opinion, core players for the Broncos.
Third, I don’t think the Broncos will sign any top-dollar free agents. Nor do I think they will send multiple high draft picks to a team that has already tendered a free agent that the Broncos want to sign. Remember, the free agent landscape will look a little different with the likelihood of an uncapped year looming.
The one possible exception I have to leave room for is New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, if he is indeed available. We know Coach McDaniels brought more than one former Patriot to Denver and Wilfork clearly fits a need. Whether or not he fits financially is a completely separate issue. All of this assumes the Patriots don’t sign him to a long-term deal or fail to put the franchise tag on him.
Fourth, I would expect the Broncos to focus on the offensive and defensive lines in free agency. The start of the season was terrific but the Broncos weren’t as tough up front by the end of the season. Injuries played a part but they need to upgrade up front on both sides of the ball.
What do you think the Broncos will do as we move into free agency and the draft? I always enjoy your thoughts.