Broncos need speed to compete for title

Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno, 27, could be one player who isn’t with the team next year. Moreno is a free agent and will likely draw plenty of interest, and demand big money.

Now what?

Barring nuclear holocaust or a seriously misplaced asteroid, there will be another Super Bowl in roughly one year, this one slated for Phoenix.

And, guess what? The Broncos are the early favorite to represent the AFC and go up against — you guessed it — the Seattle Seahawks.

One hour after the Broncos had finished being mopped up Sunday by the Seahawks to the tune of 43-8, they were touted as the second pick at 8/1 to earn another Super berth. The Seahawks were favored at 7/1.

By the look of the odds, the only AFC team the Broncos have to worry about is 12/1 New England. Cincinnati (25/1) and Kansas City (30/1) are the only other AFC teams in the top 15.

Let’s take a huge leap of faith and assume Peyton Manning finds a way to lead his team through the AFC minefield and the Denver boys meet up again with the Seahawks.

What needs kept and what needs jettisoned to keep up with Seattle?

The Seahawks won this game with pressure and speed.

Manning struggled with a Seattle pass rush, and although Denver’s offensive line was given much credit for protecting Manning throughout the season, it was overrun by Seattle.

The entire offensive line was given negative grades for pass blocking by Pro Football Focus and right tackle Orlando Franklin was the lowest-graded Bronco the entire game on both sides of the ball.

Left guard Zane Beadles, the team’s best pull and screen blocker, is virtually always graded down as a pass blocker, as he was Sunday. And he is a free agent starting now.

The Broncos will have left tackle Ryan Clady coming back next season and have developed a starting left tackle in Chris Clark in Clady’s absence.

A trade, perhaps? Free agent signing? A position switch for Clark?

Some way, the offensive line needs to become better.

Another reason Manning couldn’t get the ball downfield isn’t talked about because his four favorite receivers, wideouts Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas, have been record setting.

But Seattle exposed a lack of speed. Denver’s receivers are superb with the screens, the picks and across the middle. Speed is needed, however, and Decker is a free agent.

The Thomas duo and Welker will be back. What about bringing in someone who will keep the free safety down the field where he belongs?

Speedy free agents include Seattle’s Golden Tate and Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones (ironic on both counts) and Carolina’s Ted Ginn.

You can also bet free agent running back Knowshon Moreno will command a salary that, with Montee Ball now established and cheaper, will send him elsewhere.

Defensively, the Broncos were respectable against the Seahawks, slowing the running game of Marshawn Lynch throughout. They gave up too much on third-down plays, but kept big plays to a minimum.

Still …

They did not pressure Sea-hawk QB Russell Wilson, who was not sacked or hit in the pocket.

The return of Von Miller will help, as should the return of linemen Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe.

But there are oodles of free agents, starting with linebackers Shaun Phillips, Wesley Woodyard and Paris Lenon, defensive end Robert Ayers, corners Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Tony Carter and safety Mike Adams.

Two defensive backs who were injured, safety Rahim Moore and corner Chris Harris, will be back.

Still …

You can’t have enough D-backs and more must be found.

Rodgers-Cromartie was Denver’s best cover corner all season and must be re-signed, as must Champ Bailey, who finally found health.

He must agree, however, to come back far cheaper than the $9 million he is due.

Free agent defenders who could help immediately include corners Alterraun Verner of Tennessee or Brent Grimes of Miami and safeties T.J. Ward of Cleveland, Donte Whitner of San Francisco or Jairus Byrd of Buffalo. Pass rushers to look at include Justin Tuck of New York and Jared Allen of Minnesota.

To compete with Seattle, Denver needs to import not one, but several of the above — an expensive proposition for sure.

I hate to be the one to bring it up, but Manning is due $15 million next season.

Would he defer some of that to close the gap between the Super Bowl champs and the AFC champs?

Mr. Manning, here’s the deal: If you would take less money next season — say roughly the price of another corner or safety — I promise, I will eat more Papa John’s, buy a Buick, drink more Gatorade and Bud Light and pay for it all with my MasterCard.


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