After months of speculating if new head coach Sean Payton can revive Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos, the serious work begins for the former Super Bowl champion. July 28th marks the official start of Broncos training camp, and with it a new era of football in Mile High. Fans know that a lot must be fixed if last year's disastrous campaign is not to be repeated.
Payton and Denver general manager George Paton might need to make some roster changes to achieve that goal. Despite trading away Bradley Chubb last season, the organization cannot consider a rebuild at this time. The Russell Wilson experiment is too costly to abandon just yet. Besides, few executives will be able to sleep at night if they took on his contract. That means the team has to either weather the storm or be prepared to plummet to the depths with the veteran quarterback.
Though, there is still potentially a way for the Broncos to patch up some of the holes on their leaky vessel and dock safely with satisfactory results. But it might entail throwing a crew member or two overboard.
Broncos country is all too familiar with the rumor mill after this last tumultuous year, but it might be time for the front office to finally pull the trigger on possible trade candidates.
Although it might be less stress-inducing to just anticipate the impending training camp, we have to take a close look at 3 players who could be dealt elsewhere. Let's get to it.
3. Albert Okwuegbunam, TE
The fourth-year tight end is probably best suited as a cut candidate if anything, but I truly believe there is a team out there willing to give up a seventh-round pick for his potential. Yes, 54 receptions and 546 yards in three seasons is a decent sample size, and one that certainty does not foretell a whole lot of promise, but Albert Okwuegbunam is still just 25 years old.
There is time for him to carve out a viable role for an offense. It will probably not happen in Denver, though. Greg Dulcich did enough in his rookie year to earn the starting job heading into this season. Okwuegbunam had just 10 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, which makes it difficult to pitch him in trade talks. The 2020 fourth-round pick has the size to morph into a fine red-zone option in the future, however.
The Broncos recently acquired fellow tight end Adam Trautman from the New Orleans Saints. Payton coached him for two years, so Okwuegbunam's outlook in Denver is now even bleaker. Paton should be actively looking for suitors and hope a GM views this athlete as someone who can sneakily break out.
Russell Wilson is fired up after his TD pass to Albert Okwuegbunam 🔥pic.twitter.com/AYG6tIX4pB
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) January 1, 2023
2. Josey Jewell, LB
For much of last season, the Broncos were almost entirely dependent on the defense to keep them in games. Eventually, the reliable unit also tailed off and settled closer to the middle of the pack down the stretch. Trading Chubb certainly contributed to the lapse in productivity, but it was a matter of time before the ineptitude of the offense just became to heavy of a burden for the rest of roster to carry.
With that in consideration, it might be risky to part with any more valuable defensive contributors. Their depth at linebacker affords them the opportunity to be a little audacious going into 2023 training camp. Denver drafted linebacker Drew Sanders in the third round of the NFL Draft this year, who many scouts and people in the know believe to be a potential steal.
The First-Team All-American out of Arkansas could challenge for a prominent role on this team right away. That means someone else could take a backseat. Josey Jewell is coming off a career-year and his too productive to just fade out. There should be a respectable trade market waiting for him if George Paton decides to move on from the former Iowa star.
Jewell shines most in run defense, posting a 79.6 grade, per Pro Football Focus. He recorded 128 combined tackles, seven tackles for loss, two interceptions and two forced fumbles last season. At 28 years of age, the 2017 fourth-rounder is a highly appealing option for teams in need of an inside linebacker.
Denver might want to keep Jewell for all of the reasons listed above, but the right offer will make it difficult to be overly stubborn or sentimental.
1. Courtland Sutton, WR
You probably guessed that Courtland Sutton would highlight this list of trade candidates, and while I hate to be predictable, there is just no other choice for the top spot. The 27-year-old wide receiver seems to constantly hear his name floated around in rumors but has stayed put due to the Broncos' reportedly high asking price. Moreover, shipping out a target for Russell Wilson and Sean Payton could contradict the organization's current vision.
2019 Court was a monster 💪
Will he make it back to the Pro Bowl under Sean Payton?
— DNVR Broncos (@DNVR_Broncos) July 11, 2023
Sutton does not fit so seamlessly in that vision anymore, though. Whether you chalk it up to quarterback play or scheme, he has not looked the same since he tore his ACL in the beginning of the 2020-21 campaign. He tallied an unspectacular 64 receptions for 829 yards and two scores last season. Despite those struggles, receivers remain highly coveted around the NFL.
And the SMU alum remains a solid one heading into his sixth year. Executives will be inclined to blame his modest production on the league's least effective offense. They will part with a decent draft pick as long as Denver is finally serious about doing business.
The Broncos already seem to be leaning toward this inevitable split after drafting rookie speedster Marvin Mims Jr. in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Tim Patrick also quietly put together a solid year as a complimentary option in a feeble passing attack in 2021. He missed all of last season after suffering a torn ACL in an August practice. Assuming, the 29-year-old comes back strong like many of his teammates expect, Patrick can further reduce the need for Courtland Sutton.
Training Camp must be turning point
Denver has a lot to consider upon entering a crucial training camp. Bringing in Payton makes this upcoming season an acceptable mulligan for last year's debacle. This is all the team gets, though. Continued stagnancy, even in a deep AFC, is just not something the front office can allow any longer.
The best way to change that might be to make big decisions in the coming weeks. Regardless of what comes of the Broncos, fans are desperate for all of the trade speculation to end and success to arrive.