Looking for Edge. Broncos seek pass rusher like Chandler Jones in free agency

Legal tampering begins Monday with Denver's needs: OLB, RT, DL, CB
Chandler Jones
Posted at 9:46 AM, Mar 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 22:20:47-04

DENVER — It's a good thing life threw Russell Wilson a curveball. Plenty of them.

In 2011, Wilson, a fourth-round draft choice of the Colorado Rockies, was hitting .229 in Class-A Asheville. He pursued baseball believing he could be, perhaps, a less amplified version of Deion Sanders. He was a strong defender with a plus arm, and never failed at anything in sports, so the idea of a part-timer on the diamond at North Carolina State failing to reach the big leagues seemed outrageous to him.

But, there's an expression in baseball, if you hit you don't sit. Wilson struggled mightily at the plate, quit baseball enrolled at Wisconsin for a final season of college football where he was teammates with Melvin Gordon. The Rockies required Wilson to repay the bulk of the $200,000 signing bonus because he stopped shy of 1,000 at-bats.

It was a brilliant decision. Wilson went from a no-namer in baseball to a future Hall of Famer in football. Now, rather than dreaming of a World Series at Coors Field, he is consumed with returning the Broncos to a Super Bowl, cementing his legacy as an all-time great.

Everything about the Broncos has changed with the acquisition of Wilson. Including free agency, which begins with the legal tampering period on Monday at 10 a.m. mountain time with signings and trades becoming official on Wednesday at 2 p.m.

With Wilson in the fold, the Broncos become a destination location again, not unlike when they had Peyton Manning. Money always matters in the open market, but free agents gravitated to Manning, who helped Denver land Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker, among others.

While Wilson has made the Broncos relevant again, he cannot win alone. The Broncos must play complementary football and add some more pieces. Denver enters free agency with needs at outside linebacker, right tackle, defensive line, cornerback and potentially inside linebacker, depending on who re-signs among the trio of Josey Jewell, Alexander Johnson and Kenny Young.

A look at the pursuits as GM George Paton aims to be aggressively disciplined:

According to sources, the Broncos will make a strong push for edge rusher Chandler Jones to pair with Bradley Chubb. He played with Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett and running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley at Syracuse in 2010-11. While the Cardinals would like to keep him, Jones, 32, will have a healthy market. He has posted double digit sacks in seven of his 10 seasons, made the Pro Bowl four times and All-Pro twice. He posted 10.5 sacks last season. Jones should land in the neighborhood of two-year, $32 million with in excess of $22 million guaranteed as a three-down player.

That number makes for an interesting conversation. Von Miller will come in at a similar figure, though perhaps a tick higher. Why Jones over Miller? Well the Rams will make a strong push to keep Miller, and Buffalo, Baltimore and Cleveland are all expected to have interest. Also, Jones just turned 32 and Von turns 33 on March 26. And don't discount the familiarity of the new coaching staff with Jones.

Randy Gregory, 29, of the Cowboys is another possibility. He has turned his career around after several drug-related suspensions. He delivered six sacks in 12 games last season. Gregory is talented, but inconsistent. He can cross the line from playing with emotion to play emotionally, leading to penalties. The upside exists, but the risk is real. Spotrac projects Gregory to receive three-year, $39 million, though he's really a two-down player.

Haason Reddick is another name to file away if the Broncos seek a longer term solution. Only 27, Reddick could be in line for a five-year deal after posting 23.5 sacks the past two season. But Jones, for now, is the priority for the Broncos.

The expectation is that the Broncos will tender restricted free agent Malik Reed, who has proven a valuable rotational player and spot starter. And they should try to retain free agent Stephen Weatherly if the price is right.

The Broncos go through right tackles like Spinal Tap goes through drummers. The list of free agent failures is frightening form Donald Stephenson to Menelik Watson to Ja'wuan James. It is why addressing the issue in the draft is a viable solution given the depth of this class. The Broncos, as expected, tendered Calvin Anderson, who has flashed potential over the past two seasons. He provides protection at the position and versatility. This is an underwhelming free agent class.

According to ESPN, Dallas has granted La'el Collins permission to seek a trade with plans to release him if no deal materializes. He turns 29 in July. He's worth a call.

Dennis Kelly, 32, is a potential addition to compete for a starting job and add depth. Regardless, I look for the Broncos to add a right tackle in the draft.

The Broncos needed help on the defensive line before shipping Shelby Harris to the Seahawks in the Wilson deal. The Broncos defense was good, not great, but had consistent issues stopping the run. Mike Purcell has been unable to avoid the injury bug, and might be in line for a contract restructure or a possible cut if the Broncos tender restricted free agent DeShawn Williams.

New defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero knows the Rams' nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day well. Despite suffering a pectoral injury, Joseph-Day, who turns 27 this month, posted solid numbers with 38 tackes, three sacks and five quarterback hits last season. He is a run stuffer at 6-4, 310 pounds. This type of presence could help Dre'Mont Jones realize his potential. Paton expects Jones to morph into one of the team's best defensive players. Adding help inside is paramount.

Cincinnati's B.J. Hill makes sense, too. Only 26, he is capable inside rusher — he has twice had 5.5 sacks in a season — and presents prototypical NFL size at 6-foot-3, 303 pounds.

I would look to bring back Bryce Callahan on a team-friendly drill. He has no incentive to sign it, though his comfort level in the scheme would make him consider it. Callahan has been a Pro Bowl-caliber slot corner when healthy. But he missed 28 games with the Broncos in three seasons, so as good as he is he can't be counted on. Darious Williams of the Rams is a possibility.

He is 5-9, 190 and turns 29 this week. He kept improving with Evero as his secondary coach. He started 13 games last year and had six interceptions with the Rams over three seasons.

The Broncos need to add a blocking tight end to pair with Albert Okwuegbunam after shipping Noah Fant to the Seahawks. Fant was a good player, but not a difference maker because he struggled to produce yards after the catch and was not a factor in the red zone, though play-calling was largely a reason.

Could Will Dissly, a former Seattle teammate of Wilson's, make sense? He is someone to keep an eye on. The Broncos added depth Sunday, retaining restricted free agent Andrew Beck on a one-year deal, per a source. Beck should have more of a role in Hackett's offense as a hybrid tight end and fullback, the latter of which disappeared last season. Plus, Beck is a strong special teams player, versatility that is valuable in a reserve.

Melvin Gordon would like to return. He made that clear to Denver7. He has shared time with backs before, and has no issue doing that again with Javonte Williams. It will come down to the money. He might be deemed an luxury. But his 20 touchdowns in 31 games with Denver would be a nice piece to keep.

The Broncos did not tender a contract punt returner Diontae Spencer. He showed flashes of production, including a touchdown vs. Carolina in 2020. But the Broncos are looking to revamp their special teams. Spencer brought humor and energy to the team, and should be in a camp somewhere this summer.