Free agency used to be John Elway’s thing. Sure, he seemed to have more misses than hits in the draft, but you could usually expect him to hit a home run during the time where the dollars flowed like wine.
However, the halcyon days of Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Wes Welker – never mind the greatest free agent hit of them all, that guy named Manning – seem so long ago.
Enough of that. In the spirit of buying into Elway’s belief the Broncos have “bounced off the bottom” and are trending up again, I choose to look upon this upcoming free agency bonanza as a chance for the Broncos to make significant additions. The kind of additions that could mean the difference in making the playoffs next season.
So herewith is my four-step plan to winning free agency:
1. Sign Patriots guard Joe Thuney – Too many of the Broncos forays into free-agent offensive linemen have involved guys with red flags. From Donald Stephenson to Menelik Watson to Jared Veldheer to Ja’Wuan James. Thuney is as rock solid as anyone you’ll find on the open market. In four seasons with the Patriots, he’s never missed a game. He played in 99 percent of the snaps. He had zerio penalties in 2019 – or about 16 less than Denver’s left tackle. He is smart, tough and he has championship pedigree having played in three Super Bowls. Sign Thuney, playing him opposite Dalton Risner, and the Broncos are set at guard for the next five years.
2. Sign Titans and former Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan – I’m assuming Chris Harris Jr. is leaving. While I don’t agree with the Broncos reluctance to re-sign Harris, getting Ryan would be a good recovery. Ryan is a do everything corner. He can cover, he can be used as an effective blitzer, he is a willing tackler and again, he has those tough, smart qualities you see in a lot of those former Patriots that were part of championship teams. Last year, Ryan was Tennessee’s leading tackler, along with 4.5 sacks, four interceptions and four forced fumbles.
3. Sign Browns linebacker Joe Schobert – I’ve been pining for the Broncos to draft a three-down linebacker who not only doesn’t leave the field, he covers it sideline to sideline and down it as well. I wanted Devin Bush last year, but I can’t complain with a strategy that ultimately yielded Noah Fant, Risner and Drew Lock. However, my yearning for that type of linebacker hasn’t gone away. Schobert can be that guy. Like Ryan, Schobert led his team in tackles last season (always a plus when you consider what Vic Fangio looks for – willing tacklers). He can also cover, as evidenced by his four interceptions and nine passes defended – second only to Cleveland’s outstanding corner Denzel Ward. Every good to great Fangio defense has featured top linebackers. It’s time the Broncos invest heavily in them. Which brings me to this player.
4. Sign Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski – My original plan was to bring back former Bronco Danny Trevathan. But in looking into Trevathan, Kwiatkoski caught my eye. He was a fourth-round pick out of West Virginia in 2016. All he has done is get better each year, culminating in a 76-tackle, 3.0-sack performance last season. Those are impressive numbers considering he was part of a linebacker core that included Roquan Smith, Khalil Mack and Trevathan. Kwiatkoski is buried behind these guys, which explains why the Bears can’t re-sign him. This is a player ready to really blossom, plus he comes with the added benefit of being someone Fangio knows exceptionally well. This one makes perfect sense and could be the kind of under the radar signing that reaps huge dividends.