The Denver Broncos are hiring former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton to fulfill the same role. With one order of business complete, leadership may now turn its attention to building a roster fit to compete not only in the AFC West, but the NFL, as a whole.
Denver has roughly $12 million in salary cap space, according to Spotrac.com. It can build a larger war chest with a few moves: cutting defensive back Ronald Darby and interior offensive lineman Graham Glasgow. Those moves will result in roughly $20.6 million in salary cap savings.
Payton's primary task has to be diagnosing and correcting the offense. How will they fix Russell Wilson?
The veteran quarterback faced the lowest pressure rate (36.1%) since 2012, according to TruMedia. However, he was sacked on 27.0% of his pressures -- the highest rate since that same 2012 campaign. With just a 13.0% play-action rate, the Broncos confined Wilson to the pocket and he was seeing teams drop seven-plus defenders into coverage more often. On those plays, he had a -0.09 EPA per dropback -- the first time in his career he has posted a negative figure in that area.
Wilson is a shorter quarterback (5-foot-11) so he benefits by moving and creating his own pass windows. Denver should benefit by the return of a healthy Javonte Williams at running back and KJ Hamler at wide receiver, in addition to getting Wilson out of the pocket a bit more. During Payton's tenure in New Orleans, he ran play-action on just 6.6% of his dropbacks. Was that a byproduct of having a less mobile Drew Brees at quarterback, and will he be willing to adapt with Wilson?
It would make sense for the Broncos to retain offensive guard Dalton Risner. Spotrac projects his market value at $9.5 million. If they could sign a veteran quarterback, such as Jacoby Brissett, to hold Wilson accountable then it could be in everyone's best interests. Wilson had Geno Smith by his side in Seattle those last three seasons.
Beyond those two offensive moves, focus turns to the defense. Although the unit stacks up well in regards to yards and points allowed, it is a roster that requires attention at all three levels. The Broncos will need to shop in that second tier of defensive free agents, like cornerback Eli Apple, unless defensive tackle David Onyemata would take a little less to join his former coach in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.
Denver's resources to further address the defensive line have been depleted through trades for Payton and Wilson. It is left with back-to-back picks in the third round and one selection in each of the fourth and fifth rounds. It is impossible to plan on taking particular positions that late in the draft because it is all dependent upon how the board falls. However, here is one scenario that could theoretically play out for the AFC West franchise:
- Byron Young, DL, Alabama
- Henry To'oTo'o, LB, Alabama
Young would be the latest Alabama interior defender to not star for the Crimson Tide, but be taken on Day 2 of the NFL Draft. Those players do not fill the stat sheet but fulfill their roles at a high level. Dre'Mont Jones is scheduled to become a free agent and Shelby Harris was part of the trade for Wilson the prior year.
The addition of To'oTo'o is strictly to find a long-term contributor at that position. Josey Jewell has missed 18 games over the past two seasons. There is no harm in adding two former Crimson Tide players considering the program generally ranks highly in run defense.
- Daniel Scott, S, California
Scott is just a savvy player with good range. He slides in alongside Justin Simmons on the backside of that secondary. The late-round defensive backs finding success have been those that understand what the offense is trying to do against them and have the skill to communicate it.
- Atonio Mafi, OL, UCLA
At this stage in the draft, the objective is to find role players who could serve as spot starters down the line. Mafi is an attempt to find that along the interior offensive line.
The 2023 NFL Draft will be held April 27-29 in Kansas City, Missouri.