With the Broncos season over and the Super Bowl fast approaching, it’s as good a time as any to look at how the Broncos could make Super Bowl 53 next year. Starting with the offseason, this article will be about moves that general manager John Elway needs to make to give the Broncos a chance. Then it will focus about the season that the Broncos need to have next year in order to make the playoffs. The Broncos are arguably the best sub-.500 team in the NFL and can turn it around next year if the proper moves are made so without further ado, here’s John Elway’s Path to Super Bowl 53.
To Cut or not to Cut?
Defense: No one really needs to be cut or added this offseason. The Broncos defense finished third overall and should be better in 2018. The young players will be more experienced and the offense should turn the ball over less (31st in the league in turnovers), giving the defense more rest and less time on the field.
Offense: What a mess. There needs to be a bevy of moves made this offseason. While the offense finished 17th overall (a good improvement), the turnovers skyrocketed. The biggest issue causing the rise in turnovers is undoubtedly the quarterback position. If the quarterback position is fixed and the Broncos minimize their turnovers, it’s been proven several times this year that the defense can dominate leading to a commanding victory. However, when the turnovers are as bad as they were this season, it is the Broncos that become dominated. Other improvements can be made at the line and it wouldn’t hurt to add a wideout that could act as a solid third as the Broncos have been lacking a reliable third receiver for several years now.
The Broncos have about $26.5 million in cap space right now according to Spotrac and should look first to save some money by cutting a few players. The first cut should be Trevor Siemian. He is not the quarterback of the future and is the least valuable of the three, really four, quarterbacks on the roster. Cutting Siemian would save roughly $718,000, bringing the space up to about $27.3 million.
The first big decision of the offseason is choosing whether to let Brock Osweiler go to free agency or cut Paxton Lynch. Paxton is more expensive to cut due to his contract (it would cost about $4 million to cut him or $2 million to keep him), but Osweiler is more valuable as a player with a lot more experience. Elway should go to Osweiler first and try to re-sign him to a deal that hovers under $1.5 million. If he says no or proves to be difficult, he should let him become a free agent and keep Paxton as a backup. Assuming Osweiler is re-signed and Paxton is cut, the cap becomes around $23 million.
Finally, the Broncos should cut receiver Isaiah Mckenzie and save the $400,000 because he has struggled all year and cost the Broncos multiple games with no real improvement. That brings the cap to around $23.5 million. Finally, a quick note about Jamaal Charles. Charles wants to be the feature back, and he pretty much said as much in recent weeks. He is a free agent after this season, so it might be in Elway’s best interest to let him sign with another team. Otherwise, if the Broncos can get him cheap, they should keep him as a backup to C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker until he can be traded for a pick like Adrian Peterson was. Now that the Broncos have cut all that they could, now it is time to look at what they could add.
Solving the quarterback situation
There are two real options in free agency this offseason: go after Kirk Cousins or Eli Manning. The Broncos should go after Cousins first because Cousins is only 29 while Eli Manning is 37. If the Broncos go after Eli Manning, they might make a deep playoff run each of the next two or three seasons but then Eli will retire and then the Broncos will be in the same position that they were in last year. It is better for them to focus on Kirk Cousins because he will last about ten more years as opposed to Eli’s two or three.
The Broncos should offer Cousins a staggered deal. He should be offered a contract that starts at around $21 million but it increases every year for the next three years until it is at $27.5 million with a fourth-year option at $28 million. This would make Kirk Cousins the highest paid quarterback in the NFL by this year’s numbers, placing him above Matthew Stafford but not immediately. The Broncos cannot afford to pay him top dollar immediately. However, unlike most of the other teams in the NFL, the Broncos are “Super Bowl ready” as soon as they find a solid quarterback. This fact should entice Cousins as well. This contract means that the Broncos would have to make some changes in 2019 in order to make room for Cousins’ salary but there are three candidates that will be ripe for a cut salary: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Aqib Talib. They’re all 30 years old or older and they’re getting paid a combined $35 million next year (about 21% of the Broncos salary cap). Those contracts are ripe for renegotiation. Personally, it would be nice to see them renegotiated to a lower amount per year but a longer contract. However, that’s a question for next year.
As for Eli Manning, if he needs to be pursued, the Broncos should offer him a two-year contract at $20 million per year. It would probably be mostly Tom Coughlin and John Elway fighting over Manning. Coughlin will have an edge due to a larger salary cap and the previous relationship between the two. Blake Bortles is getting paid about 19 million per year with no dead cap (money that would have to be paid if he is traded or released). Manning is also only getting paid about $19 million.
The Jaguars could effectively swap Blake Bortles for Eli Manning for free or even possibly save a few bucks. Plus, with all of the history that Coughlin has with Eli Manning, it is not hard to think that Manning chooses the Jaguars over the Broncos. However, Elway has already demonstrated that he can go to Super Bowls and win them with one Manning, why not another? When looking at it on paper, the Broncos have the best chance of acquiring Cousins this offseason. Two other quarterbacks that the Broncos should take if they get the opportunity are Andrew Luck and Drew Brees. These are really just pipe dreams but if the miraculous opportunity presents itself, both of these quarterbacks should be sought after before Manning.
Ancillary Pieces to Add in Free Agency
The Broncos should really only look at getting a third wide receiver or bolstering their offensive line in addition to a new quarterback in free agency. Every other position is good for 2018.
Wide Receivers: Surprisingly, Sammy Watkins of the Los Angeles Rams will be a free agent this offseason. It goes without saying he would make a great tie for a second wide receiver and would probably become the next Demaryius Thomas. Second, Taylor Gabriel of the Atlanta Falcons will be a free agent. He would be a great pickup as a solid third wide receiver. He is the most realistic of the top three free agents. Finally, Jarvis Landry will be a free agent in the offseason. He would also make a great third wide receiver. It’s hard to see a scenario where head coach Adam Gase doesn’t keep him, but this is the same man that shipped Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia in the middle of the season so anything could happen.
Linemen: The Broncos really could do with adding another guard and another tackle. The line has been a problem in Denver for quite a while and it would be great for the new quarterback if he could have some more time in the pocket to make reads and throw down the field. It’s up to the Broncos as to who to look at but there are a few recommendations as to where to start. The draft could be more lucrative than free agency but it might be worth taking a look at Joe Berger of the Vikings or maybe snatching another Dallas lineman to work with Ron Leary, who came over last year from that team. Lastly, taking a peek at the Saints’ line might do some good. Panthers guard Andrew Norwell and Giants guard Justin Pugh are attractive options but could prove to be too expensive if Denver spends big on a quarterback. There isn’t a whole lot in free agency this year when it comes to linemen but it is always worth checking out.
The main purpose of the draft this year is to get a quarterback. However, if the Broncos get Kirk Cousins in free agency then obviously this is a great chance to find a lineman or a third wide receiver. On the other hand, if the Broncos get Eli Manning then the Broncos must find the quarterback of the future in this draft as this will probably be the highest draft pick that the Broncos get for some time.
It depends on who the teams pick ahead of the Broncos but the Broncos should be looking at all of the obvious top ten or top five quarterback choices. The draft is like the lottery in that teams never really know what they’re going to get and they usually lose. The Broncos just need to pick a top-ten quarterback and cross their fingers. However, they must be very careful about Baker Mayfield. Luckily, the Broncos coaching staff will get a chance to coach Mayfield in the Senior Bowl at the end of January.
The biggest downfall that could come is that head coach Vance Joseph‘s and Mayfield’s personalities do not jive and Joseph doesn’t see that until it’s too late. It could happen where Mayfield’s loud and sometimes mean personality drowns out Joseph’s nice personality which would lead to a mess of a season. That being said, if the dynamic works then Baker could be a great addition. Either way, Elway needs to pick one of these guys. After picking the QB, the next round should be a wide receiver, then a guard and then a swing tackle depending on what’s available.
Should the Coaching Staff remain intact for 2018?
The reason why this section wasn’t addressed until now was that it needed to be shown how stacked this team could be going into next season. Vance Joseph did not have a quarterback last year and it showed. Sure, it is true that he did worse than his predecessor Gary Kubiak with largely the same roster. Does that mean that he is not as good of a coach as Kubiak? As of right now, yes. Does that mean he is a bad coach? No.
The Broncos have made the right choice in keeping Joseph, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, and defensive coordinator Joe Woods for 2018. They have fired special teams coordinator Brock Olivo and let go of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy during the season and both firings were the right decision. The Broncos can make a Super Bowl with this coaching staff as it is now.
John Fox was a bad coach and his work in Chicago proves it. However, with Peyton Manning at the helm, the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl. The Broncos know what Fox can do with a quarterback but Joseph has never had a quarterback so they really do not know what they really have in him. He deserves another chance. If he is bad next year, then the Broncos can move on at that point. Additionally, it is dangerous to fall into the trap of coach roulette. That is what the Browns have done for the past 20 years or so. The Broncos are not the Browns.
Finally, the Broncos can’t have a new coach and a new quarterback in the same year and expect to do well; there is too much instability when that happens. Especially after the constant changes that have been happening at those positions for the past several years.
A New Roster and a New Season
By the start of next season, the Broncos should have a new quarterback, a solid third wide receiver, a bolstered offensive line and a stable coaching staff with a lot of promise. When predicting the 2018 season this early, it’s easiest to put the games into categories decided by difficulty. First, there are the “easy” games where the Broncos should be expected to have a 90% chance of winning or more and then there are the “medium” games where the Broncos should have a 70% chance of winning or more. Finally, there are the “hard” games where the Broncos should have 60% chance or less to win.
Easy: The Broncos’ easy games next season will be when the Broncos face the Browns and the Raiders in Denver and when they play away the Bengals, Cardinals, and Jets. Out of five games, the Broncos should win all five.
Medium: The Broncos’ medium games will be when they play the Seahawks in Denver and the Raiders and Ravens on the road. Out of three games, the Broncos should win all three but they should be hard fought games.
Hard: The hard games consist of away games at the Chiefs, 49ers and Chargers and home games against the Chargers, Chiefs, Rams, Steelers and Texans. Out of eight games, the Broncos should win three or four of these games.
If the Broncos can win against all of their easy and medium difficulty opponents then they already have eight wins. If the Broncos can then win half or almost half of their hard games then they will be 11-5 or 12-4. With a record of 12-4, the Broncos would probably be in line for a first-round bye in the playoffs, if not at least a high wild card seeding. After that, it’s all about luck and getting hot. Each game is roughly a coin flip and hopefully the schedule aligns and an easy path to the Super Bowl becomes clear. It is very possible that the Broncos make the Super Bowl next year, considering the right moves are made starting with free agency and the draft. The path to Super Bowl 53 has already started, the question is: can the Broncos stay on the path?