When the NFL free agency kicks off on March 18, the Broncos figure to be very active. For one, they have a lot of holes to fill, so there are plenty of reasons for John Elway to go shopping. But in addition, Denver’s general manager will have a lot of money to spend.
Currently, the Broncos are $58 million under the 2020 salary cap, but that number could grow to as high as $76 million once Ron Leary and Joe Flacco come off the books as expected. And if Elway really wants to get crazy, he can free up nearly $9 million in additional cap space by parting ways with Todd Davis and Jeff Heuerman.
How should the Broncos put all of those dollars to use? In the weeks leading up to the start of free agency, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the best players projected to be on the open market, as well as analysis of who would be a realistic fit in Denver.
It continues today with a position where the Broncos will look completely different in 2020 – defensive end. More than likely, both Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis will not return this season. That means Denver will have two new starters on the end of their d-line. Dre’Mont Jones projects to be one of the two, coming off of a strong rookie season, but the other spot is up for grabs. Does DeMarcus Walker finally become a starter? Do the Broncos draft someone who can step right in? Or do they sign someone in free agency to fill the void? If it’s the latter, there are plenty of options.
Top Five Available
1. Jadeveon Clowney – After three-consecutive Pro Bowl seasons in Houston, Clowney found himself in Seattle for the 2019 season. While he had flashes of greatness, the former No. 1 overall pick in the draft wasn’t very productive as a member of the Seahawks. Posting just 3.0 sacks and 13 QB hits and seven tackles for a loss just isn’t up to his norm. That said, Clowney is only 27 years old, so he has a lot of good football left in him. And if he can stay healthy, which is an if with him, 10.0 sacks should be a normal season.
2. Chris Jones – On the heels of a 15.5-sack season in 2018, Jones followed it up with a solid 9.0 sacks a year ago. The decline came in part due to injuries, as Jones missed three games during the Chiefs run to a Super Bowl title. But overall, his last two seasons combined have been fantastic; 24.5 sacks and 49 QB hits are the definition of being disruptive in the passing game. But he won’t come cheap. Many project that Jones will garner a five-year contract pushing $100 million.
3. Yannick Ngakoue – After four very productive seasons with the Jaguars, Ngakoue is looking to escape the perennial nightmare that is Jacksonville. And for good reason. During his time with the team, the former third-round pick has put up great numbers, but hasn’t enjoyed a lot of on-field success. He’ll find plenty of suitors, given the 37.5 sacks, 85 QB hits and 14 forced fumbles. And at just 25 years old, his best days are still in front of him. Get ready to open the checkbook, however, as he’s a $15-20 million per year player.
4. Vic Beasley – After five years in Atlanta, the former eighth-overall pick in the draft is no longer in the Falcons plans. In part, that’s because he’s seen a decline in his production. After an All-Pro season in 2016, when he posted 15.5 sacks, Beasley has posted just 18.0 sacks total across the last three seasons combined. While those aren’t terrible numbers, they aren’t elite. That’ll bring Beasley’s price tag down on the open market, making the 28-year-old pass rusher a good value.
5. Robert Quinn – Back in the day, Quinn was arguably the best pass rusher in the NFL. But that was a long, long time ago. He was a All-Pro in 2013, when he racked up 19.0 sacks with the Rams. He hasn’t been able to come close to that production since, which is part of the reason why he has bounced from Los Angeles to Miami to Dallas. And last season with the Cowboys, Quinn had a bit of a resurgence, recording 11.5 sacks, 13 tackles for a loss and 22 QB hits, his best totals since that magical 2013 campaign.
Realistic Options for the Broncos
1. Quinton Jefferson – Jefferson never had a dominant season during his four years in Seattle, but he has been more productive as his playing time has increased. The gamble will be that he can build upon the 3.0 and 3.5 sacks he posted in 2018 and ’19 if given more time on the field. The good news is the cost will be reasonable, as Jefferson is projected to be a $5 million per season player. That’s a worthwhile risk to take on a 27-year-old player who seems to be blossoming.
2. Leonard Williams – Williams hasn’t quite been a bust, but he’s been close. After going No. 6 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, he never lived up to expectations with the Jets. Yes, he had a Pro Bowl season in 2016, but that appears to be the outlier. His other seasons were pedestrian at best. And last year, Williams hit rock bottom, recording just 0.5 sacks in a season split between the Jets and Giants. That’s concerning, no doubt. But it’ll also keep his cost down, as the talented-but-underachieving player is most likely in the $8 million range.
3. Arik Armstead – Anybody who saw the 49ers practice against the Broncos last year during training camp couldn’t help but be impressed with the way San Francisco’s defensive line got after quarterbacks, running backs and everyone else in sight. They were a dominant group. Among them was Armstread, who had a breakout season heading into free agency. Was the 10.0-sack campaign in 2019 a sign of things to come? Or is he the player who posted 9.0 sacks combined during his first four seasons? That’s the gamble.