Many experts have weighed in on the Denver Broncos’ moves in this year’s free agency, and the results have been somewhat polarizing.
Last season, the Broncos finished with a losing record for the second consecutive year. This hasn’t happened to the decorated franchise since 1971-72.
General Manager John Elway is still finding it hard for his ball club to find success following the glory days of the Peyton Manning era. However, could 2019 be the year that the Broncos find their title-contending form once more?
Let’s take a look at the three biggest free agency developments in Mile High below.
3. Is Ja’Wuan James Worth It?
Considering the mid-season departure of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas last year, the Broncos sure could’ve used an upgrade in the passing game other than at quarterback (more on that later).
Instead, Denver chose to shore up its offensive line by signing Miami Dolphins right tackle Ja’Wuan James to a huge four-year, $52 million deal.
Offensive linemen do receive some of the more lucrative contracts in the NFL given how undervalued they are to the offense’s overall production. However, and as mentioned in our coverage of James’ signing when it happened, the 26-year-old out of Tennessee is merely ranked as the 34th-best offensive tackle in the NFL per Pro Football Focus.
James hasn’t hit elite level of play just yet, but the massive contract he got says otherwise.
With this lone upgrade on offense thus far, it appears as though Denver will continue to focus more on the run game, and that that’s where the signing of James could ultimately pay off. The former first-round pick was instrumental to the success of the Dolphins’ improved rushing attack last season.
Denver’s own homegrown workhorse back Phillip Lindsay, who broke out last year and made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, would benefit greatly from the addition of James.
2. Growing Some Fangs on Defense
One could argue that for all the upgrades on defense that the Broncos signed in free agency this year, the biggest upgrade of the offseason actually came in the coaching staff.
Denver signed defensive mastermind Vic Fangio as the team’s new head coach earlier this January. The NFL’s 2018 Assistant coach of the Year had very successful stints as the defensive coordinator of the 49ers and Bears, and he’ll look to impart his defensive prowess to a Broncos franchise that has always taken pride of their D first and foremost.
Obviously, Fangio looked to add some key pieces on defense in free agency right from the get-go. His first big signing was cornerback Kareem Jackson from the Houston Texans.
Jackson’s 2018 season in Houston flew under the radar of other NFL teams, but Fangio was quick to pick up on the former Crimson Tide standout’s potential. Jackson finished the previous season with career-highs of 87 tackles and two forced fumbles. He also had two interceptions, giving him five-straight seasons with at least one pick.
The other key addition to Denver’s secondary is Bryce Callahan, who served as Chicago’s slot corner in all three seasons that Fangio was the DC at the Windy City. Familiarity with Fangio’s defensive schemes and playbook will benefit both the 27-year-old out of Rice and the Broncos pass coverage immensely.
1. Back to Experience Over Potential at Quarterback
Over the last three seasons, Denver’s experiments with Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, and Case Keenum didn’t really pan out as expected.
Expectations were high for the three disappointing quarterbacks mentioned, but such is the case for the supposed successors to the all-time great, Peyton Manning.
Elway, a legendary Mile High QB himself, finally realized that play-callers with potential might not be the right route for Denver’s offensive improvement. As such, he traded for another Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Joe Flacco in hopes of bringing actual winning experience to the table.
Flacco slowly lost his job to fleet-footed rookie Lamar Jackson in Baltimore last season as the Ravens went all-in with a revamped offense of their own. In turn, Flacco became dispensable, and the Broncos were the ones to seize upon the availability of the former Super Bowl MVP.
However, Flacco’s already 34-years-old and has proven that he’s more of a traditional pocket passer than a mobile one. Then again, Denver’s offense seems to be counting on its running game to carry the load rather than going through the air, and Flacco’s overall offensive awareness might just be enough to make up for his shortcomings.
The Broncos also gave Flacco a three-year deal with no guaranteed money, meaning that the veteran has to earn every bit of his pay if he’s to remain the team’s lead signal-caller.
In a thin QB market in this year’s offseason, Elway and Co. made the most out of their choices by going with a proven winner with some downsides. They’ll take what they can get with Flacco and hope their defense will do well enough yet again to vault the franchise back to title contention.