Jussel: Free agent signings a good start for Broncos

The Denver Broncos, as has been the case since John Elway won the recruiting battle for quarterback Peyton Manning two seasons ago, have again made a huge splash in free agency.

This time around over the first couple of days of what even the National Football League is dubbing “Free Agent Frenzy,” Elway and the Broncos dropped another cannonball on the league by agreeing to contracts with Pro Bowl selections T.J. Ward, a strong safety, and cornerback Aqib Talib, and a legend from the Dallas Cowboys in defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

Big stuff.

So, what hath Elway wrought?

Has the team improved significantly, or is this just so much rhetoric combined with too much false hope?

Check out what the Broncos will have after these departures: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Shaun Phillips, Robert Ayers, Champ Bailey and Mike Adams on the defensive side and Eric Decker, Zane Beadles and Knowshon Moreno on the offensive side:

We’ll start with the offensive side since there are fewer changes there.

With Beadles gone, word has it the Broncos will go one of two ways on the line.

One change would be to move right tackle Orlando Franklin to left guard, where he played in college.

Add injured All-Pro Ryan Clady and put Franklin next to him, then go with Manny Ramirez, Vasquez and Chris Clark, who filled in for Clady, at the right tackle spot.

Another thought is to move Ramirez to left guard and draft or sign a free-agent center.

Whatever happens there, you’ve got Manning handing off to Montee Ball, with youngsters C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman as backups.

When Manning is throwing, it would be to Welker, Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas. The team re-signed versatile backup Andre Caldwell.

Offensively, it looks as if there is still room for a change-of-pace running back (hello, Darren Sproles?), a receiver to replace Decker and depth on the interior line.

One way or another, the Broncos with Manning at the helm will again be among the top offenses in football — maybe not last season’s numbers, but much better than most.

Let’s look at the defense with the three new free agents and a host of injured returnees:

Across the line, from left to right, you would have Ware and Derek Wolfe splitting time on the outside, with Wolfe moving to the interior on passing downs. In the middle, you would have Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams, Mitch Unrein, Malik Jackson and the returning Kevin Vickerson.

At linebackers, right now you would have Danny Trevathan on the weak side, Von Miller on the strong side where he will mostly rush the passer, and Nate Irving in the middle.

Irving played very well in replacing Miller on the strong side, but there is room for a free agent or draftee in the middle.

And the secondary:

I now give you Talib and Chris Harris at the corners, Ward at strong safety and Rahim Moore at free safety. Talib and Ward are strong, physical defenders with nasty attitudes. They will change the way opposing offenses think about the Broncos.

Replacements in the secondary would include safeties Duke Ihenacho, David Bruton and Quentin Carter and corners Kayvon Webster and Tony Carter.

The Broncos have plenty of depth at safety. You can bet they still will be looking for more corner help.

One other thing to think about in this NFL Free Agent Frenzy is the AFC West as a whole. Remember, for the Broncos to earn a playoff spot, it certainly is nice to win the division.

The Kansas City Chiefs and their ground-oriented offense lost three starting offensive linemen Tuesday in a four-hour period.

San Diego’s Chargers signed a running back in Donald Brown, a duplicate of what they already had in Ryan Mathews, and re-signed a couple of their own free agents.

And the Oakland Raiders, with a boatload of money and a team in need of total rebuild, re-signed oft-injured running back Darren McFadden and signed offensive tackle Roger Saffold — whose contract was negated after his physical Wednesday. But the Raiders lost tackle Jared Valdheer and linebacker LaMarr Houston, two of its better players.

Denver, which won the West the past two seasons, has improved. The Chargers have been stagnant. The Chiefs and Raiders have tumbled backward.

Yes, a good Free Agent Frenzy start (again) for Elway and the Broncos.

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. His Broncos-related columns also are published on SI.com’s “Predominantly Orange” and “Fan-sided” websites.


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