Things we would like to learn from the Broncos at the NFL combine

Can they find QB? Will they restructure contracts? Are there sleepers among prospects?
CFP Washington Michigan Football
Posted at 7:00 PM, Feb 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-26 21:00:25-05

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The heat came as a surprise. Indianapolis in late February usually makes fingertips tingle and noses turn red. A walk to the convention center for the NFL Combine can become an act of courage.

But not Monday. The sun peeked its head out – a worker at a local sub shop blurted “It’s beautiful out there!” – and made short sleeves and smiles appear. Everything felt upside down and different.

Perhaps it is a good sign for the Denver Broncos, who are desperately looking to change their direction after seven straight losing seasons and eight years without a playoff berth — the league’s second-longest drought to the Jets.

Coach Sean Payton will address the media Tuesday at 9 a.m. MT followed by general manager George Paton. They are not expected to be as revealing as the MLB's new uniforms, but they will likely drop nuggets of information.

The Broncos find themselves in a tricky, if not repetitive, situation. They are expected to move on from Russell Wilson, encountering an $85 million cap hit spread over two seasons while providing a cautionary tale about desperation.

The Broncos went all in on Wilson — the contract extension was always part of the deal to get Wilson to waive his no-trade clause, and Denver wasn’t about to trade seven assets for him (two first-round picks, two second-round picks and three starters) and say, “Um, yeah, now go prove yourself.”

Wilson was a mess in his first season — he was afforded too much power — for a beyond unqualified head coach in Nathaniel Hackett. Last season, Wilson played better but was not deemed a fit in Payton’s offense.

As such, the Broncos are potentially seeking their 14th starter since Peyton Manning retired, and Wilson will soon be looking for a new team with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the current favorite landing spot.

What is the path forward at the league’s most important position? And what about the rest of the roster? Who is staying? Who is going? And how big is this draft with ranking last year’s Denver class dead last because of the lack of impact beyond Marvin Mims Jr. on special teams?

Quarterback Question

With the 12th pick in the draft, the Broncos could be in position to take a quarterback, but there are at least three teams in front of them likely going in that direction in Chicago, Washington, New England and possibly Atlanta and Minnesota.

Dots continue to connect Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who is separating himself in the second wave of quarterbacks, which includes Bo Nix, Michael Penix and Michael Pratt. But the truth is this is the lying season. Could Payton fall in love with McCarthy or someone else by watching workouts and conducting in-person meetings? Perhaps.

And what about a veteran bridge? Both former Broncos Mark Schlereth and Ryan Harris — NFL broadcasters — believe Sam Darnold could rise to the top of the list in my conversations with them. The Broncos were 0-6 last season when turning the ball over at least twice, so whoever is up next needs to balance taking chances with taking care of the rock.

Money Matters

The Broncos will face salary cap issues when they move on from Wilson. With the cap officially set at $255.4 million — up $30 million — the Broncos are $10.7 million over the cap. That means they will need to restructure contracts. Will Paton provide hints on re-working deals for Justin Simmons, Garett Bolles, Courtland Sutton, Mike McGlinchey, and Ben Powers? At least two of these players will likely have their deals reworked, if not three.

Don’t Sleep on Them

The teams that win in the draft don’t miss on top picks, but they really nail the middle rounds. That’s how the Los Angeles Rams rebounded for instance.

The Broncos only have six picks in rounds one, three, four, five (two) and six. The third and fourth-round picks need to hit. Last year, they selected linebacker Drew Sanders and cornerback Riley Moss in the third round. Sanders was wildly inconsistent, and Moss, who could push for a starting spot opposite of Pat Surtain II, was relegated to special teams.

Andrew Mason of identified a potential sleeper in the middle rounds with Florida State run stuffer Fabien Lovett. The Broncos need value in the middle rounds to climb back into contention.

Positions of Need

If the Broncos are not smitten with a quarterback, then what? They could trade back and pick up a second-round pick and add value in bulk like a shopping trip to Sam’s (I am sure Greg Penner could hook them up with a membership card).

Outside linebacker Jared Verse makes sense if the Broncos stay at 12. He writes a diary of havoc with NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah writing, “Verse is not only a productive pass rusher – he’s a violent tempo setter for the defense.” Other edge stalwarts include Alabama’s Dallas Turner and UCLA’s Laiatu Latu.

If the Broncos decide to move on from Bolles — I don’t think they will given his steady play and reasonable salary — a tackle could move into the mix. This is a strong tackle draft class, boasting Notre Dame’s Joe Alt, Penn State’s Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Oregon State’s Taliese Fuaga and Alabama’s J.C. Latham.