Broncos wildly successful during free agency

Denver Bronco fans, as free agent signings mounted over a full week, can sit back, relax and take it all in.

Their team earned an A-plus in that span, addressing holes not with a spade, but with a treasure chest.

With John Elway at the helm, the Broncos signed three defensive players early:  backs T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib and lineman DeMarcus Ware.  They then added wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on Sunday and were talking with center Will Montgomery on Monday.

Mission accomplished.

Denver’s one remaining hole, middle linebacker, will likely become a draft priority.

What the Broncos – lest you forget, the best team in the AFC last season – have done is make sure no one has gained ground.  Matter of fact, they have separated themselves from their AFC brethren and gained ground on defending champ Seattle by signing four surefire starters, with Montgomery likely to make it five.

Let’s look at Denver’s closest AFC competition, the team the Broncos played in the AFC Championship Game, the New England Patriots:

Bill Belichick’s team has done its best to keep up, signing the highest-paid corner, Darrelle Revis, after he was released by Tampa Bay, another corner in Seattle’s Brandon Browner and wide receiver Brandon LaFell.  The Pats also re-signed their own free agent wide receiver Julian Edleman after he took a tour of other interested teams.

One problem still looms for the Pats, however, the middle of the defense.  Defensive lineman Vince Wolfork says he wants to be released and the team lost middle linebacker Brandon Spikes.

Another AFC playoff team trying to stay on pace with the Broncos is the Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts have been impressive in re-signing four of their own free agents including superb starting corner Vontae Davis, as well as outbidding Denver for middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.  Other quality signings were wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (remember, Reggie Wayne is also due back from a knee injury) and defensive end Arthur Jones.

Four other AFC teams have made impressive strides in free agency:  Miami, Cleveland, Tennessee and Jacksonville.

Jacksonville signed six probable new starters, including two starters from Seattle’s defense, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons.  Miami had signed five surefire new starters, Cleveland three and Tennessee three.  Miami, with Ryan Tannehill on the rise at quarterback, could become scary.  Jacksonville, Cleveland and Tennessee are still hunting for that QB that could get them over the hump.

Those are the AFC teams that appear to have significantly improved.

Noticeable by their lack of effort are several playoff perennials :  Cincinnati, a playoff team last season, has signed not one free agent. Pittsburgh has signed one.  Baltimore one.

And I haven’t come to the AFC West.  As mentioned previously, Denver’s first priority is to win the West.

With the miserable schedule next season for the AFC West teams – they all play NFC West foes, meaning some combination of defending-champ Seattle, rough-and-tumble San Francisco, 10-win Arizona and the rapidly improving St. Louis Rams – it would be prudent to win the AFC West and not depend upon a wild-card berth.

Here’s what the Kansas City Chiefs have done to this point:  They lost three starting offensive linemen and a starting defensive lineman.  In return, they signed Jeff Linkenbaugh, an offensive tackle from Indianapolis, defensive tackle Vance Walker and middle linebacker Joe Mays.

All are graded as C’s or worse on ESPN’s free agency grading scale and Mays, you’ll recall, couldn’t hold a starting job in Denver.

The Chargers have signed four free agents from other rosters, only one of whom is notable in running back Donald Brown from Indy.  The Chargers now are roughly what they were last season.

And then there are the Raiders, with General Manager Reggie McKenzie in charge of retooling.

They have made a bit of progress with their $60 million to dish out, signing linebacker LaMarr Woodley from Pittsburgh, defensive end Justin Tuck from the New York Giants, and corner Tarell Brown from San Francisco.  Still, they lost three of their best players in defensive end Lamarr Houston, running back Rashad Jennings and offensive tackle Jared Veldheer.

The Raiders will not be a factor and, in fact, face the toughest schedule in the league, with opposition winning percentage .578 and a “home” game in London.

Free agency’s explosion has passed – and been kind to the Denver Broncos.

Now it will be onto the more mundane:  a “bargain” signing or two, the draft, and those all-important and always exciting mini-camps.


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