Jussel: It’s time to beef up the Broncos’ D

So much conjecture, so little time.

Free agents on the horizon. Mock drafts galore.

John Elway, Matt Russell, John Fox and staff are trying to piece together the possibilities for the 2013 Denver Bronco roster, with free agents to be evaluated and a draft plan to be constructed. There are variables ad infinitum in acquiring new players.

Teams can start talking turkey with free agents March 2, and can start signing them March 12, which is the end of the 2012 contract season. The draft will be held April 25–27 in New York.

Denver will start with the 28th selection in the first round, which certainly doesn’t mean they will stay there. Last year, the Broncos started with the 25th pick, then made a trade with Tampa Bay to pick up the 36th selection (defensive lineman Derek Wolfe) and the 101st selection (defensive back Omar Bolden).

The Broncos will be trying to shore up certain positions, mostly where age or injuries are issues. Foremost on many minds is the defense.

The interior has been an issue for several seasons. Last season’s effort was better, particularly against the run. But the two interior starters, Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannon, are free agents and both on the shady side of 30.

There are talented free agents out there, starting with Chicago’s Henry Melton, 26 years old and possessor of six and seven sacks in the past two seasons. Melton, however, will cost a big chunk of change.

Others who will be highly sought after include Alan Branch of Seattle, Desmond Bryant of Oakland and Randy Starks of Miami. Starks is the oldest of that trio at 29.

One big piece of curiosity will be Richard Seymour of Oakland. At 34 years of age, Seymour missed half of last season with knee and hamstring injuries. But he is a monster at 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, and if healthy, will still be a factor. Question is: At what cost?

Here’s something Denver will consider: Bannon had 42 tackles last season and Vickerson had 40. Only Chicago’s Melton, who had 43 tackles, had more among the top free agents.

Denver could re-sign Bannon and Vickerson at bargain prices compared to what it would cost to sign any of those mentioned above and put their rebuilding effort into the first and/or second round of the draft.

Scouting services have as many as six defensive tackles going in the first round. Beef that could be available at Denver’s 28th draft spot: Kawann Short of Purdue (15.5 tackles for loss last season), Sharrif Floyd of Florida (has played tackle and end and had 13 tackles for loss last season), John Jenkins of Georgia (a 360-pound run-stuffer), and/or 320-pounders Johnathan Hankins of Ohio State or Jesse Williams of Alabama.

As for other needs defensively, there are free-agent options at safety pending the need to balance the checkbook.

Want to buy a Cadillac? Try to talk Ed Reed into playing another year or two and pry him away from Baltimore. Or grab Dashon Goldson from the 49ers. Other high-caliber (read high-priced) options include Jairus Byrd from Buffalo, William Moore from Atlanta and LaRon Landry from the Jets.

There is only one strong or free safety consistently graded in the first round of the draft, that being Texas free safety Kenny Vaccaro, who likely will go in one of the top 15 spots.

If Denver wants to upgrade at either safety spot and wants to do it immediately, it likely will be via a free-agent signing.

If the Broncos want to upgrade quickly at corner, Darrelle Revis of the Jets is reportedly on the trading block. He was, bar none, the best shutdown corner in the game. Problems? A torn ACL that was/is still healing, a big price tag and impending free agency the next season.

Other impact free agents might include Brent Grimes from Atlanta and Sean Smith of Miami, but again we’re talking big bucks.

Cheaper and younger would be possible draft choices Xavier Rhodes of Florida State (217 pounds), Johnthan Banks of Mississippi State and Jordan Poyer of Oregon State. Rhodes will likely be gone at the 28th pick, and Banks and Poyer might be had in the second round, possibly by trading up a few notches if they are still on the board in the middle of the round.

With the Broncos in good shape at the speed positions on the front seven with Von Miller, Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan, Elvis Dumervil, Robert Ayers and Wolfe, the one other area that could be addressed is middle linebacker.

The Broncos already have D.J. Williams, Joe Mays and Nate Irving on the roster and, with a bit of contract restructuring, all might be back.

However, a huge drop in draft stock may have Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o available at the 28th spot, and if he is available, he would seemingly fit a need.

Next up: Speaking offensively.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.


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