There’s no time to rest in NFL
The Denver Broncos have to get better to contend in the postseason in 2013-14.
You know that. I know that.
And the Broncos know that, from owner Pat Bowlen down to those lucky youngsters who run errands during practices.
It should be simple, this self-improvement process.
And in reality, at least in the scheming, it is simple: Let’s decide who is worth their salt on our current staff and roster, have a good draft, go find a few key free agents and check around the league to determine if there are any players available who could be stolen in a trade. Once done, it’s time to gather, bond, practice and learn, then avoid injuries for the next six or seven months.
Nothing to it, right?
Saying it and doing it are two different things.
Broncos players, save those who have been commanded to appear in Hawaii for the NFL’s dinosaur of a Pro Bowl, are vacationing and healing, taking a little time off before heading back to a wide variety of gyms and health clubs around the country.
This used to be a time for players to spend four or five months selling insurance policies or used cars, fattening up and just being lazy. The current NFL clime won’t allow that; it’s too competitive, too many young studs out there just begging to take your job.
This used to be a time for NFL coaches to play golf, do some hunting and/or fishing, maybe take the family on an extended vacation.
Now? Check out the locale of any NFL coach at this minute: at some obscure all-star practice scouting a specific group of players; in a film room checking out college players or potential free-agent signees; or huddled in secretive sessions with other coaches.
The Denver coaching staff, however, is in Hawaii this week, coaching the AFC team and certainly doing a bit of chatting about what comes next. The team also has scouts galore at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Once those two activities are finished, it will be back to Denver for staff members and back to the big drawing board.
A list of priorities:
First, clean up your own house. The staff already has been addressed with the addition of offensive coordinator Adam Gase, new secondary coach Cory Undlin and quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp.
Then will come the process of looking at the current roster and deciding who stays and who goes.
Players who need be dealt with because of impending free agency include offensive linemen Ryan Clady and Dan Koppen, wide receiver Brandon Stokley, defensive linemen Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson and middle linebacker Keith Brooking.
Some players who could be asked to restructure contracts would include linebackers D.J. Williams ($6 million due in 2013, according to Spotrac.com) and Joe Mays ($4 million) and guard Chris Kuper ($4.5 million). Williams was a situational player late last season after returning from suspension, Mays was injured early and missed most of the season and Kuper is in line for another ankle surgery.
Obviously, other players and contracts need be addressed as the Broncos try to fit under the $121 million salary cap: Third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie is due $1.25 million. Wide receiver Andre Caldwell and tight end Julius Thomas are making more than the league minimum but may be deemed replaceable at a cheaper rate.
Veterans across the board will be closely examined in terms of: “What have you done for us lately?” and “Are you worth what you are going to cost?”
Replacements will then be sought out, be it via the draft, free agency or trade.
Upgrades have been bandied about on the defensive line, at middle linebacker and, yes, in the secondary, where at times eight, even nine pass defenders will be on the field. There has also been mention of addressing needs on the offensive line and at running back and wide receiver.
Scouting combines kick off in early February, clubs can enter into discussion with free agents the second week of March, the 2012 contract year ends on March 12, and the draft is April 25–27.
Then and only then, the Broncos staff might take a breath. But it’ll be a quick one.
Because someone somewhere — maybe in San Diego, Kansas City or Oakland — may be gaining ground on the two-time defending AFC West champs.
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.