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Free agency offers chance to bolster defense

Broncos could spend on D, draft offensive help
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Posted at 9:02 AM, Mar 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 11:02:47-04

DENVER -- The sports world remains dark.

Monday, the NFL enters spotlight. For now the plan remains for free agency to begin at 10 a.m. with the legal tampering period. Deals can become official Wednesday at 2 p.m.

There has been some pushback internally on whether to move forward, questioning whether it is appropriate for teams and players to be agreeing to huge contracts as other professional leagues sit on the sidelines. While the optics remain a fair issue, the schedule has not changed.

As such, there is no denying this represents the most critical offseason for Broncos general manager John Elway.

He seeks upgrades on the line on both sides of the ball, with the possibility he will use free agency to address the defense and the draft to bolster the offense.

Let's start upfront.

The one big ticket item the Broncos could pursue is Patriots guard Joe Thuney. Only 27, Thuney is smart and reliable. He wasn't penalized last season and has played every game since 2016. If deemed too expensive -- he could command a five-year, $70 million contract --then the Lions Graham Glasgow becomes an option. While pricey, he would cost less and brings the added versatility of having started at center and guard, making him an ideal replacement if Connor McGovern signs elsewhere.

Defensively, there could be massive changes in the trenches if Shelby Harris (likely) and Derek Wolfe (50-50 he stays) both depart. The team already decided it will not bring back Adam Gotsis, who is rehabbing a repaired ACL. That leaves promising second-year pro Dre'Mont Jones, sturdy nose tackle Mike Purcell and tackle DeMarcus Walker.

A veteran remains needed. How much will the Broncos spend? If they want a pure run stuffer Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams profile. If they seek a high-end truck off the showroom floor, D.J. Reader (pictured) will be in play. They are interested in him -- he can stop the run and get to the quarterback -- but could land $11 million per season. Other defensive line options include Javon Hargrave and Brandon Williams.

What about linebacker? The Broncos picked up Todd Davis' $6 million option last week. However, it only guaranteed $500,000, and his minimal dead cap hit means his future remains uncertain.

Denver needs more versatility in pass coverage. Cory Littleton profiles perfectly. Over the past two seasons, the Rams linebacker has delivered more big plays than Shakespeare. He owns 259 tackles, 7.5 sacks and five interceptions. Nick Kwiatkoski represents a more reasonably priced addition, and is on the Broncos' radar after he played well for coach Vic Fangio in Chicago. He should be available after the Bears agreed to a three-year deal with Danny Trevathan last week.

Cornerback Prince Amukamara is also tied to Fangio. He has made no secret about wanting to reunite with his former defensive coordinator, and Fangio told me at the combine that they could address linebacker coverage issues by playing more dime packages if they bolster the secondary. Kendall Fuller is another name connected to the Broncos as they look to replace Chris Harris Jr., who expects to leave via free agency with 10 teams showing strong interest, among them the Seahawks, Browns, Jets, Texans, Raiders, Chiefs and Chargers.

The race to ramp up the roster begins Monday. The Broncos' ability to find the right fits will go along way in not only shaping their draft strategy, but ending the team's four-year playoff drought.