Sports: Rick Jussel Column March 01, 2009

Super plan to remake Broncos’ 'D’

And away we go, the remaking of the Denver Broncos.

Free agency officially opened Thursday night with, depending on which Web site or Web sites you paid attention to, anyone from Julius Peppers to Marvin Harrison to Michael Vick to
LaDainian Tomlinson to Ray Lewis eager to don a Denver helmet.

The Broncos have roughly $30 million in cap space to spend from the people they recently jettisoned, the vast majority of which were defensive players. With the salary cap expected to be hiked to $123 million, Denver will actually have closer to $40 million to play with.

So much money, so little time.

It’s not difficult to determine where most of the loot should go. The Broncos have etched in stone only two returning defensive starters, cornerback Champ Bailey and linebacker D.J. Williams. Add Elvis Dumervil, albeit possibly only in passing situations, and that would indicate at least eight defensive slots need to be filled.

I’m not going to mess with linebackers here because the Broncos have some returning talent there and can fill out what they need with draftees or possibly the signing of someone like Baltimore’s legendary Lewis, who has played 13 years. On Thursday, Lewis indicated he would consider Denver because of his past relationship with new Bronco defensive coordinator Mike
Nolan, at one time the defensive coordinator with the Ravens and very tight with Lewis.

While it’s still a bit early to determine whether or not Lewis is serious about the Broncos, Josh McDaniels and Brian Xanders, the new Bronco braintrust, got off to a relatively strange start on Friday by bringing in possible offensive help, free-agent running backs J.J. Arrington and Correll Buckhalter — both of whom reportedly were ready to sign. Neither will put much of a dent in the budget and neither will do much to alter Denver’s offense.

Defense is where the vast majority of the money should go and the spending will have be done quickly.

The Broncos also signed Brian Dawkins on Saturday, a move that make much more sense than dealing with mediocre running backs.

What next?

My priority would be to find a corner to play opposite Bailey.

The top corner out there is Leigh Bodden of the Lions, according to Scouts Inc., with Chris
McAlister of the Ravens rated a close second. Both have been released by their teams in cost-cutting moves. Bodden is a six-year vet, McAllister has been around 10 years.

Also available are Bryant McFadden, a starter with the world-champ Steelers and only a four-year vet, and Ron Bartell, also a four-year vet and a starter with the Rams last season.

I sign McFadden or Bartell for whatever it takes. Both are reportedly after something in the $7 million per year range.

Going with the biggest bang for the buck, Denver next should move to finding defensive ends.

There are some high-quality ends out there — as opposed to the interior line, which has virtually no talent available any better than what Denver released recently.

With Dumervil and possibly Jarvis Moss moving to outside linebacker spots, Denver needs size on the end.

Chris Canty of the Cowboys is the top-rated DE after Peppers and if Peppers isn’t indeed in Denver’s hopes, Canty should be. He is 6-7 and weighs more than 300 pounds. If the Broncos aren’t going to be unmovable in the middle, they had better get bigger and meaner on the outside and Canty fills the bill.

Another DE possibility that fills the need is Igor Olshansky of the Chargers, another 300-pounder.

Inside, Jovan Hayes of the Bucs is the top-ranked available interior defender, but only 285 pounds. Grady Jackson, the 345-pounder from Atlanta is out there and ranked relatively highly, but is a 12-year vet.

One sleeper: Tank Johnson, who didn’t pan out in Dallas after a rather star-cross career in Chicago. He is rated a good pass rusher from the inside, something the Broncos desperately need.

The Broncos have plenty of choices in this effort to rebuild. They can go after veteran free agents, some of whom have been in the league longer than a decade, or they can bet on the come, hoping to sign the younger players who may be approaching their prime years. They likely will sign a combination of young and old.

However it shakes down, after the last couple of years, whatever they do is going to look mighty good — at least for the next six months.


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