Opinion Time: With free agency beginning Thursday, which players should the Broncos target?
Sentinel sports columnist
Denver General Manager John Elway has roughly $42 million to play with in free agency. Take away roughly $6 million to sign up to 10 draft choices and that leaves $36 million.
It’s a story problem worthy of high school sophomores or juniors (seniors have already checked out and are spending all of their time partying in the desert).
The Broncos are in good shape when it comes to finding a few free agents, but keep in mind the unemployed who want the really big bucks are going to go to places like Cleveland, San Francisco or Tampa Bay — teams that all have far more money to offer than Denver.
For Elway, the answer to the complex question begins with quarterback: Do the Broncos want to spend a quarter, maybe even a third, of their free agent budget on a Tony Romo or Jay Cutler? Or do they stick with cheap young labor in Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch?
If Denver opts for a veteran QB, it likely means re-signing left tackle Russell Okung ($5 million?), a right tackle like Ricky Wagner, Menelik Watson or Mike Remmers ($4 to $5 million?) — and hoping Connor McGovern can step in as a starter at right guard in his second season.
If Denver opts for a veteran QB, it also means most of the help needed on the defensive side of the ball comes from the draft or some relatively cheap late-summer veteran waiver wire fodder.
If the Broncos, on the other hand, opt for the young in-hand QBs, look for Andrew Whitworth at left tackle ($10 million), Ron Leary at guard ($6 million), and Calais Campbell on the defensive line ($12 million) to be signed.
Sentinel sports writer
The lay of the land in this year’s draft makes free agency an interesting proposition for the Denver Broncos.
A few strengths from the draft line up with Denver’s needs — middle linebacker and tight end, for example. But the Broncos’ biggest weakness, offensive tackle, doesn’t have a lot of depth in this year’s draft class and even the top-flight prospects are questionable at best. That makes offensive tackle extremely important in free agency.
Andrew Whitworth, Riley Reiff, Kelvin Beachum and Ricky Wagner are available. The Broncos could even bring Russell Okung back on a team-friendly deal. All of those options, even Whitworth, wouldn’t break the bank.
Here’s where things get interesting — assuming Denver addresses its tight end and middle linebacker deficiencies in the draft, there’s still plenty of Denver’s $40 million salary cap space left over after signing one or two offensive tackles.
That leaves the Broncos free to make what would perhaps be the largest free-agency splash of this offseason — they could sign Tony Romo. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback is a trade liability with a cap hit averaging $24 million over the next three years. There’s a good chance, with the emergence of Dak Prescott, that Dallas would release Romo to clear cap space and further build an already talented roster.
Trevor Siemian is a nice story, but he’s not the way forward for Denver. He’s a lot like Alex Smith, but throws more interceptions. He spins a very nice football that lacks the pop to make all the NFL throws.
I’d love to see some return on investment for Paxton Lynch, a far superior physical specimen, but Tony Romo, even on a short-term deal, immediately puts the Broncos back in Super Bowl contention if he can stay healthy. Granted, that’s a big if, but it’s a chance worth taking if the Broncos can get Romo on a short-term, cap-friendly deal.
Sentinel sports editor
For being a playoff contending team, the Broncos have some major needs.
Offensive line is the big one and it’s major.
That said, I’m intrigued with the Tony Romo chatter. If Dallas cuts Romo loose and he hits the market, I want to see this happen even though all rational discussion is against the move.
Trevor Siemian did an OK job as the starter last year and Paxton Lynch shouldn’t look like a scared third grader next year. The two also come with super low salaries, which means the Broncos have free-agency investment money for other positions.
Bringing in Romo has to come with a bargain price tag but it will still be more than $10 million a year. It would also be a major risk. An injury prone quarterback playing behind a very bad OL could mean disaster and a waste of a big paycheck.
But this is still a team with a great defense and some playmakers on offense. Romo could be that missing piece to another Super Bowl run.
This move would have the natural comparisons to Peyton Manning. Even though the circumstances are very different, the reasoning behind this move would be the same. Good, veteran QB’s can make a difference and are worth the risk.
When healthy (that’s the scary part) Romo is a heck of a veteran QB. Denver’s Super Bowl window is closing with this stellar defense. Romo could make Denver’s offense potent once again. A veteran QB, a new offense under coordinator Mike McCoy, a great defense — sounds like a good formula.
Risky? You bet. But the payoff could be huge.
Sentinel sports copy editor/designer
First things first: As of right now, Tony Romo is not a free agent, therefore the Broncos can’t sign him.
Even if Denver decides to upgrade the quarterback position, what does adding Romo do to the development of Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch?
If Romo couldn’t stay healthy behind the best offensive line in the NFL, he’d get killed behind the porous line the Broncos currently have.
Upgrading the offensive line should be the first, second and third step Denver takes in free agency. With no left tackle on the team, the Broncos need a blind-side protector for whoever plays QB. Of all the names mentioned already, Andrew Whitworth would be the cheapest option. He’s older and wouldn’t command as much money. However, could you sign someone like Riley Reiff to fill in at left tackle and draft someone to groom for the future? There are several guards the Broncos could sign to upgrade that position — getting one of them is a must.
For me, the biggest signing would be a defensive end — Calais Campbell.
He won’t come cheap, but Campbell would provide the Broncos with a stout end capable of stopping the run and rushing the passer. The ability to stop the run would return Denver’s defense to its elite status of two years ago. Stop the run and teams are forced to throw into the best part of the defense — the No Fly Zone. Stop the run and Von Miller and Shane Ray can meet at the quarterback a lot. Stop the run and the Broncos are again one of the top teams in the NFL.
Tony Romo may be the biggest puzzle piece, but a run-stopping defender would help finish the puzzle more efficiently.