The Broncos free-agent shopping list should focus on the defense
Mar 14, 2022, 6:00 AM
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
George Paton is about to go shopping. And he should spend everything he has, both in free agency and the draft, on one side of the ball.
Given that the Broncos have been so bad on offense the past few years, most would think that’s the phase of the game that needs an upgrade. But with last week’s blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson, Denver is pretty set on that side of things. They could start the season now and all 11 starters would be in place.
Wilson is the quarterback, with Javonte Williams joining him in the backfield. Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton are the wide receivers, with Albert Okwuegbunam at tight end. And in the trenches, it’s Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow and Calvin Anderson, with Quinn Meinerz pushing for a spot in the starting rotation.
The same can’t be said for the Broncos defense, however. Even though that’s the phase that was statistically superior a season ago, Denver has a lot of holes to fill this offseason.
In part, that’s because a lot of players aren’t returning. At least not yet.
Shelby Harris was part of the Wilson trade. Bryce Callahan, Kyle Fuller and Kareem Jackson are unrestricted free agents. So too are Josey Jewell, Alexander Johnson and Kenny Young. And Malik Reed is a restricted free agent.
Outside of the defensive backfield, it’s hard to piece together a starting 11. Patrick Surtain and Ronald Darby are the cornerbacks, while Justin Simmons and Caden Sterns are the safeties, but then it’s anyone’s guess.
Dre’Mont Jones will start on the defensive line, but who will be alongside him? McTelvin Agim and Mike Purcell are the likely candidates at the moment.
Baron Browning is one middle linebacker, but he doesn’t have anyone next to him. There’s Jonas Griffith and Justin Strnad, but three players who started multiple games on the inside in 2021 are currently free agents.
And at edge rusher, it’s Bradley Chubb and Jonathon Cooper. One is coming off of an injury-plagued season that netted 0.0 sacks. The other showed promise as a rookie, but was a seventh-round pick a year ago who racked up just 2.5 sacks. And that’s the best of the bunch.
Along their front seven, the Broncos have no stars. They have some promising players. They have some guys with upside. But they don’t have any playmakers.
They need to find someone to get after the quarterback. They have to add players who can force turnovers. Otherwise, Wilson is going to spend a lot of time standing on the sidelines. All those fancy toys are going to remain parked in the garage.
Paton has to upgrade the defense. He has to assemble a group that Ejiro Evero can turn loose. The Broncos new defensive coordinator’s task of improving a unit that finished 18th in sacks and 21st in takeaways in 2021 depends on it.
The Broncos offense is set. Sure, they could use some upgrades at tight end and right tackle. A backup running back would be nice. But all of those things are luxuries.
Additions on defense aren’t. They’re necessities.
Chandler Jones, Von Miller or Haason Reddick would solve problem at edge rusher. Chubb as the No. 2 guy, with Reed re-signed to join Cooper as backups, would be a nice combo.
Bobby Wagner or De’Vondre Campbell, with Jewell and/or Young brought back to provide depth, would fix things at inside linebacker. Sebastian Joseph-Day and Calais Campbell would be nice additions along the defensive line.
The problems can be fixed. But they need desperately need to be addressed.
When free agency starts, defense is where Paton needs to spend money. And when the draft rolls around, that’s what he should use most of his picks on.
The Broncos are suddenly an offensive-heavy team. They need to act accordingly.