Following the Russell Wilson deal, some experts predicted that the Denver Broncos would win the Super Bowl this season. That was obviously a wash. Now the Broncos are stuck with Wilson, while former coach Nathaniel Hackett left the building after 15 games. Wilson and the Broncos now have Sean Payton at the helm. That gives the team some level of optimism. Remember that Payton once turned around a dormant New Orleans team to win the Super Bowl. Here we’ll look at three players whom Payton and the Broncos must target in the 2023 NFL Offseason.
At the end of the 2022 NFL season, the Broncos have 23 players who are set to become free agents. Apart from them, there will be a host of other free agents available in the offseason Obviously, this leaves a ton of work for Payton. He will need to consider which Broncos they should try to re-sign and which other free agents they must run after.
The Broncos are expected to focus their attention on improving their offense, particularly in terms of the offensive line and running back positions. However, they should not overlook the potential impact of defensive free agents. They may need to look into securing interior defenders. That mainly depends on the status of Dre’Mont Jones.
While Jones has shown some promise with the Broncos, he hasn’t been a game-changing player. As a younger player, he may have a chance to earn a big contract in free agency. That’s if the Broncos don’t extend his contract soon. It is wise for the team to consider other options among interior defenders, in case they lose Jones in free agency.
Looking ahead, coach Payton should consider only players who have played 55 percent or more of the defensive snaps in the past season. These are the types of players who could potentially start for the Broncos and make big impacts in the 2023 season.
Check out our picks for the three players the Broncos must target in the 2023 NFL offseason.
1. DT Daron Payne
Recall that Daron Payne was the 13th overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. He has certainly established himself as a reliable player for the Washington Commanders. Throughout his first four years in the league, he has recorded a total of 26 sacks.
In the past season alone, he exceeded his personal best by wrapping up QBs 11.5 times. That’s in addition to 32 solo tackles, 25 pressures, and five hurries. He is clearly the top option among all interior defenders eligible for contract extensions.
That said, there’s a chance Payne will not evens reach free agency. If the Commanders do not extend his contract, they are highly likely to use the franchise tag to retain his services. Therefore, fans of the Broncos should not hold out hope for signing Payne. Still, on the off chance he enters the market, Denver needs to snap him up fast.
Remember that Payne is an absolutely disruptive defender with foot quickness and lower-body agility who can play on numerous fronts. He is a large, muscular mover who stands 6’3 and weighs 320 pounds. His inside pass rush victory percentage (12.7 percent) also placed him 12th in the NFL.
2. DT Fletcher Cox
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has had a decorated career in the NFL. He has boasted 65 sacks and 85 tackles for loss in his 12 seasons. He also proved to be a wise investment for the Eagles this season. Remember that they actually selected him with the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Fletcher Cox is getting his sacks early today 💪
📺: #PHIvsWAS on FOX
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/OC8Yw9hask pic.twitter.com/MD1qwjJygd
— NFL (@NFL) September 25, 2022
Cox signed a one-year contract with the Eagles that includes a dummy year in 2023 for salary cap purposes. This allows the Eagles to designate him as a post-June 1 cut if needed. In practical terms, Cox will become a free agent in 2023. That’s unless the Eagles offer him a new contract.
Despite being 32 years old, Cox remains a dependable player for the Eagles. Throughout his 12 seasons, he has only missed four games. If he becomes available on the open market, the Broncos should surely give him a look.
3. WR Mecole Hardman
The frequent injuries sustained by Broncos wide receiver KJ Hamler have impacted his availability over the past two seasons. Given his injury history, he cannot be considered a dependable option for the upcoming season. It is time for coach Payton to have a new weapon in his arsenal to challenge the AFC West.
This is where Mecole Hardman enters the picture. His speed offers a significant threat in both the running and passing games. Remember that he displayed his quickness with a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the Combine. Like Kansas City’s head coach, Andy Reid, Payton will utilize Hardman’s abilities to their fullest potential and put him in the best position to succeed.
Take note, however, that after the Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins in the offseason, Hardman just hasn’t lived up to expectations in Kansas City. However, we can chalk up his inability to consistently produce numbers to his injuries.
When healthy, Hardman has demonstrated he possesses exceptional speed, which the Broncos badly need. By signing Hardman, they would have another weapon who can contribute in the slot and give Wilson a pretty dangerous target.