The Denver Broncos have endured an interesting offseason since losing in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. Following an upset loss to the Indianapolis Colts, general manager John Elway cleaned out the coaching staff by firing John Fox, hired Gary Kubiak as his replacement, got Peyton Manning to return at a $4 million discount and then franchise-tagged Demaryius Thomas.
All of this happened before the beginning of NFL free agency on March 10, which has brought about more changes in Denver. Offensive lineman Orlando Franklin was allowed to leave for the San Diego Chargers, and tight end Julius Thomas took his talents to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Safety Rahim Moore, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and receiver Wes Welker are still on the market, although multiple reports have Knighton and Welker out the door with Moore soon to follow.
The Broncos have only made two notable signings, retaining tight end Virgil Green and inking Owen Daniels to a three-year deal. So the question remains, is Denver a legitimate Super Bowl contender with an aging Manning, a revamped coaching staff and losses to free agency?
The AFC West is a tough division, made tougher when the Chargers acquiring Franklin and re-signed corner Brandon Flowers. The Kansas City Chiefs also stand to be improved after signing receiver Jeremy Maclin to a five-year, $55 million deal and keeping outside linebacker Tamba Hali and defensive end Mike DeVito at pay cuts. The Chiefs also signed strong safety Tyvon Branch to a one-year deal at $2.1 million.
The Broncos are still a playoff-caliber team, but the defections and age of Manning might catch up with them in 2015. Manning was mediocre the last six regular-season games of 2014, throwing for 300 yards only once with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. Denver will not win the AFC West again if Manning can’t be the driving force behind the Broncos’ machine.
Denver needs to fix the defensive line, especially if Knighton leaves as expected. The Broncos are switching to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and don’t have a nose tackle on the roster. With Dan Williams going to the Oakland Raiders on Wednesday, Denver might be wise to wait until the draft for an answer here. The Broncos have a terrific linebacking corps, but could use a free-ranging safety should Moore go elsewhere.
For years, it has been a given the Broncos would be playing deep into January. Times are changing in the Mile High city.