DENVER — Broncos general manager George Paton left the combine with a secret. He had the parameters in place for a blockbuster deal for Seattle.
So as Denver waited on Aaron Rodgers' decision, knowing he was likely returning to Green Bay, Paton waited to finalize the trade with Seattle — five draft picks and three players for Wilson and a fourth-round pick. The Broncos became relevant again, creating howls of celebration as the trade news broke and Wilson headed to UCHealth Center for his physical last week.
The addition of Wilson changes everything. Moves can be made to win now and win from now on. Wilson, 33, should serve as a magnet for free agents. Even as Wilson makes the Broncos contenders, wrinkles must be ironed out. Denver opened free agency on Monday at 10 a.m. with roughly $23 million to spend with needs at edge rusher, cornerback, defensive line, right tackle and tight end.
Paton, more typical of his nature than the blockbuster deal, exercised discipline and patience through the first 10 hours.
The Broncos addressed a glaring need with their first move, agreeing on the framework of a three-year, $30-million deal with $20 million guaranteed with 49ers defensive tackle D.J. Jones, per a source. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones ranked first in run-stop percentage at 13.1 percent, the best among 105 interior linemen with at least 150 run snaps.
Jones, 27, is 6-foot, 305 pounds. He started all 17 games last season, posting 56 tackles and two sacks. He has positional versatility. Per PFF, 70 percent of his snaps over the past three seasons have featured him lined up in the A gap to B gap. He also posted 13 quarterback pressures. But, he brings bulk and beef in the middle of a defense that allowed 111.3 yards per game, 15th best. The problem is the Broncos could not get off the field when it mattered most against the Browns, Eagles and Raiders. Mike Purcell filled this role in 2019, but has battled injuries and ineffectiveness the past two seasons.
There were multiple defensive lineman who came off the board Monday, including Cincinnati's B.J. Hill and the Rams' Sebastian Joseph-Day, who joined the Chargers.
This presence of Jones should help Dre'Mont Jones realize his potential. Paton expects Dre'Mont Jones to morph into one of the team's best defensive players.
Paton's deliberate approach is a reflection of his typical strategy. The draft, even without a first-round pick, can fill some holes, perhaps even at right tackle. Also, good players get paid great money on Day 1, which can bite a team's budget.
While the Broncos examine options at multiple positions, their former quarterback Teddy Bridgewater found a new team. He's going home, the Liberty City product agreeing to a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins as a backup, per ESPN. Bridgewater posted a 7-7 record as starter for the Broncos, leading Denver to a 3-0 launch before sputtering against good teams, while sustaining two concussions. Bridgewater earned the respect of his teammates for his personal approach to leadership and was elected a team captain. He profiles as an ideal backup.
With Drew Lock shipped to Seattle in the Wilson trade, only Brett Rypien, tendered a non-guaranteed contract on Monday, remains from last season's quarterback room. The Broncos will look to add another a player over the next few weeks.
They have more pressing needs.
Looking to add at edge rusher, as of 8 p.m., most of the top players remain on the board, save for for Haason Reddick (three-year, $45 million to Eagles) and Emmanuel Ogbah (four-year, $65 million to stay with Dolphins).
The Broncos have interest Arizona veteran Chandler Jones. At 32, he's a year younger than Von Miller and owns double digit sacks in six of the last seven seasons. He finished with 10.5 a year ago, but only produced 5.5 over his final 14 games. He brings familiarity with coach Nathaniel Hackett, who was an assistant at Syracuse in two overlapping seasons with Jones.
Randy Gregory, 29, is another possibility. The Broncos have called on him, per sources, but multiple teams are involved. Gregory can be a dynamic player, but has struggled with availability due to injuries and suspensions. The former Nebraska star matched his career-high with six sacks last season in 12 games.
Von would be welcomed back with open arms by Broncos Country. The Broncos have interest in a reunion, but at the right price. With nine sacks over the final eight games, including the Super Bowl victory, Miller put himself in position to land a two-year contract in the neighborhood of $36 million. Denver hesitated paying Von $17 million last season, so it's unlikely they would pay more for a player who turns 33 this month. In other words, there would have to be a compromise on both ends and for the Rams and other contenders not to get into a bidding war for Von to return.
The idea of a proven veteran is simple: The Broncos want results and a platform to set up Bradley Chubb to rebound. Chubb nearly set the all-time rookie sack record and reached a Pro Bowl in 2020, but knee and ankle injuries have sabotaged nearly two full seasons. He enters his fifth year, trying to bounce back. No decision has yet been made on whether to tender Malik Reed a contract. He is been a valuable reserve and spot starter the past three seasons.
As for cornerback, it remains one of the priciest free agent items, and it did not disappoint on the first day. J.C. Jackson agreed to a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Chargers. Denver is seeking a complementary player to pair with Patrick Surtain II and Ronald Darby. Darious Williams of the Rams could be a fit, and it's fair to wonder if Chris Harris Jr. could return as a veteran presence.
Regarding right tackle, there are some interesting options if the Broncos choose not to seek the primary answer in a deep draft the position. The Cowboys could cut La'el Collins, who has dealt with injuries the past two seasons which creates pause, but is only 28. Dennis Kelly, 32, is a possible veteran to plug a hole at the position. The Broncos provided depth, if not a competitor for the starting job by tendering a contract to restricted free agent Calvin Anderson.
Monday, Denver also added depth on the interior line by signing former Packers guard Ben Braden. Another former Green Bay player, tackle Billy Turner, is now a free agent as well.