The Broncos basically were the same team from week one all the way to the Super Bowl. It seems crazy to say that a team did not change during a seven week hiatus, but they went 7-2 with Peyton Manning to start the year and finished 5-2 with Brock Osweiler. The quarterback didn’t matter much because the way they won in week 1 was with the defense and field position, and that is exactly how they won the Super Bowl. The Broncos defense is one of the seven best that I have watched with my own eyes (born in 1991) and arguably could be in the top three. They also went 5-2 against playoff teams in the regular season, and whether Manning retires or not the sentiment in Denver is kind of, who cares?
I don’t think anyone is willing to point to the change from Gary Kubiak to Jon Fox having been the huge difference in Denver, However, the addition of Wade Phillips to the defense may have been the key. He pushed every right button, made every right move and took a good defense and made them great. Kubiak essentially controls the offense, which could obviously use some work, but this is essentially the first time he will have a chance to hand pick his quarterback to run his run first offense.
As mentioned who cares? Obviously the Broncos do, but Peyton Manning was the worst statistical quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Osweiler looked fine in his time, but what was noticed was that he was conservative, almost to a fault. He really didn’t like throwing it away under pressure either, but these are things he can learn. Still, here comes the bold prediction and Robert Griffin should take over as the quarterback. The run first offense is perfect, an offense based on roll outs is perfect, and for the first time in his career the team will not go as he goes. Osweiler is obviously the leader in the clubhouse but remember where you heard Griffin.
CJ Anderson got injured in week 1 and it seemed to linger with him through most of the season. Anderson got it going late and while Ronnie Hillman finished the year with more carries, 60% of Anderson’s production came on only 46% of his touches in the second half of the year. He essentially beat out Hillman in the playoffs, and was the go to guy in the Super Bowl. Hillman was intended to be a change of pace guy anyway, so this shouldn’t be shocking news to anyone, and while he is a free agent, whether he is retained or not running back should not be a pressing need because Kapri Bibbs and Juwan Thompson are also signed.
Not enough is talked about Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and how impressive they were given their QB situation. Thomas had to have had the quietest 105 catches for 1300 yards ever. He had drops, and really didn’t progress as a wide out, but he was already so good that the ball in his hands equals production. Thomas is the physically more talented guy, but Sanders was amazing as a deep threat. He always had flashes, but his last two years have been incredible. Cody Latimer wasn’t trusted by Manning early, but started to play in the slot late giving them three formidable guys, and the thought would be to retain Andre Caldwell and move forward with this group.
At tight end, Jeff Heuerman didn’t play a single snap due to injury, but compared to Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis that is the guy who I would be predicting to take over the starting job next year.
Almost as amazing as it is that the Broncos won with Manning is how amazing it is they won with this line. I mean they were shifting people and just hoping something sticks. They have two former rookies, Ty Sambrailo, and Max Garcia and they should get every chance to grow on the left side together. That would mean cutting former all-pro Ryan Clady, but Clady was injured all year, and they won a Super Bowl, so it is tough to say they need to retain him at the same time. They certainly could move Sambrailo to the right side, but given Clady and his age (30), and his injury status it may just be best to move on. Evan Mathis also may not be retained and it leaves holes in basically three slots currently. Louis Vasquez and Matt Paradis can start, but the thought would be that this unit is upgraded as a priority.
How much money did Malik Jackson earn himself? I mean this guy picked an amazing time to be due a contract. He was so dominant, not only in the playoff run, but really for an entire season, and it would be a major blow to see him leave. Derek Wolfe unfortunately is also a free agent, but of the two he will demand far less. Still, the Broncos are going to be trying to retain everyone possible from this defense, and it will be interesting to see how they do it. Sylvester Williams had a strong year at the nose, so at least one position is locked, but the hope is that this unit can be brought back.
Similar to Jackson, Von Miller picked an amazing time to be due a contract. Unlike Jackson, there is no doubt that he will be back on the Broncos. In my Super Bowl preview I said he would win MVP of the Super Bowl in route to being the highest paid defender in the league and I stand by that. The Broncos will do whatever it takes to keep him. It could mean moving on from Demarcus Ware. Ware is due 11 million dollars, and the Broncos can save 10 by cutting him. They would be losing 7.5 sacks from last year and an awesome Super Bowl performance, but Were missed six games this year, and the Broncos were able to see Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray and realize that they can survive without him. The ten million could obviously be used for Miller and Jackson to keep core young players around over a 33 year old vet.
The Broncos also will need that money as Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall are due new deals. Losing those guys on the inside is much more devastating than Ware, and the thought would be at least one will be retained. If not it becomes a huge need, and two of the glue guys on this defense would really be missed.
The front helps, but this secondary is awesome. You can argue that Chris Harris may be the best cornerback in the league, and he really has the total package for a guy smaller than the Revis, Sherman, Normans of the world. Aqib Talib is a hot head and almost cost his team the Super Bowl multiple times, but combined with Harris you are looking at the top corner duo in the league. Bradley Roby was drafted to specifically to man the slot and he did a strong job in year two and should only progress. TJ Ward and Darian Stewart will also be retained, and aside from potentially adding depth or preparing for the future, this secondary will be just as good next year.
Where do they go?
As mentioned, the Broncos will have to lose Ware to retain Jackson and Miller. The hope is that retaining those two doesn’t hurt their chances to resign Trevathan and Marshall. It makes them shopping for free agency a non topic until they figure out how much they are invested in and who. If the majority of the defense is back the line should be the number one focus. In a crazy world, they don’t really have a quarterback, but it is kind of less pressing need. They kind of have Osweiler lingering and if they can get a guy like Griffin cheaper, they certainly will. Basically it is tough to tell because it is too tough to see where they are with the cap given that Miller and Jackson are going to weigh heavily towards it.