The Denver Broncos are Super Bowl champions. That just feels good to say, doesn’t it? After one of the more bizarre seasons in recent memory, the Broncos successfully navigated through their season to finish with the number one defense, and then rode that defense all the way to a Super Bowl victory. Peyton Manning may not have been leading the way this time around, but I doubt that makes his second ring any less sweet.
After a week full of celebration parades, talk show appearances and a few broken eggs, the Broncos now have to face the reality of entering the offseason as champions. The Broncos have some important pieces of their team that are due to be unrestricted free agents come March, as well as the impending decision from Manning on whether or not he will ride off into the sunset or attempt to suit up for a 19th season. That decision alone holds massive weight among the organization simply because of the $20 million price tag attached that becomes fully guaranteed on March 9. If Manning does not decide to retire, I have a hard time imagining him being back in Denver in 2016. Even after he returned from his left foot injury he was simply a passenger on the Broncos’ trip to Super Bowl glory and it will be hard to justify paying that kind of money to someone who is now being labeled a game manager.
So assuming Manning’s contract will be coming off the books, that gives the Broncos a little more flexibility in trying to resign some of their own talent. The problem with being Super Bowl champions however is that everyone has now seen how good you are, particularly on defense. Now 31 other teams are willing to pay big money to guys who were major contributors on such a stellar unit. John Elway was able to lock up Derek Wolfe to a 4-year, $36.7 million extension before the Super Bowl, making sure at least one of their two talented defensive ends remains with the team. The other defensive end in question, Malik Jackson, is expected to receive plenty of interest on the open market. Jackson is reportedly looking for an average annual salary in the $12 million per year range which is significantly higher than the $9 million average salary Wolfe is now earning. There is no question that had Wolfe tested the free agent market he would have signed a bigger contract, but the fact that he was willing to take a home town discount helps the team keep more talent around him. Early indication is that Jackson will not be so generous, but if he wants to remain in the Mile High City, he will likely have to take a bit of a pay cut to do so.
Outside of Jackson, the Broncos top priority this offseason will be resigning quarterback Brock Osweiler. After spending the first 3-plus seasons of his career backing up Manning, Osweiler finally got his chance to start this season after Manning’s foot injury. In the 8 games he played in, including 7 starts, Osweiler completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,967 yards and 10 touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 86.4. Those aren’t great numbers by any stretch, but they are a good baseline to build off when you consider this was the first time Osweiler had a chance to play meaningful NFL football. He definitely has room to grow though, evidenced by his 6 interceptions and 23 sacks. One of the biggest knocks against him this season was his decision making, particularly making the right decisions on time. He often held the ball too long and seemed confused by the coverage looks and where to go with the football. This is something that is definitely fixable, especially with more game action, but also gives me reason to pause, and I’m sure I am not the only one. Keeping a young quarterback on the roster with some positive upside will definitely be a priority for John Elway, but I would expect a deal with lots of incentives. Throwing a bunch of money at someone just to keep him away from other teams is not a smart way to do business and I expect the Broncos front office to be careful about how they proceed with contract negotiations with their young quarterback.
Another defensive stand-out set to hit free agency is inside linebacker Danny Trevathan. Trevathan rebounded from an injury-riddled 2014 season to lead the team in tackles this season, and put a stamp on his great season-long performance by recording 8 tackles in the Super Bowl along with 2 fumble recoveries, which tied a Super Bowl record. Trevathan is a three-down linebacker with very good coverage skills, great instincts and some of the best speed you will see from a linebacker. Throw in the fact that he is just 25 years old and it becomes clear why it will be so difficult to keep him in orange and blue. Trevathan also has a good intellect for the game and he is versatile, having played both inside in a 3-4 scheme and as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 alignment. There has been speculation that his old head coach, John Fox, will be very interested in luring Trevathan to Chicago this offseason as a key piece as the Bears’ rebuild their defense.
The top name on the Broncos free agent list, and possibly the entire NFL’s free agent list, is Von Miller. The only reason I have not mentioned his name until now is I just cannot see a scenario where Miller is allowed to hit the open market. He just finished the best season of his young career, culminated in a Super Bowl MVP award. In two years, Miller has gone from a highly talented player with potentially career-altering off-field problems to one of the most feared defensive players in the game. Outside of J.J. Watt, it is hard to think of defensive player playing better right now than Miller. John Elway will hit Miller with the franchise tag before he hits the open market, buying himself a few more months to reach a long-term deal with the star pass rusher. Regardless of whether or not that deal comes to fruition, it is impossible to imagine Miller playing elsewhere in 2016.
The Broncos have a plethora of other important pieces to their Super Bowl winning roster that will be also be free agents next month, including Evan Mathis, David Bruton, Ronnie Hillman, Andre Caldwell and Jordan Norwood, just to name a few. Given the lackluster free agent class this offseason you can bet the Broncos will be trying to resign as many of their own guys as possible. John Elway has done a solid job of finding low budget free agents who can come in and contribute on short-term deals in the past and he might have to work his magic again this offseason to give the Broncos a shot at a sixth straight AFC West title. No matter how things shake out, the Broncos will have some tough decisions to make in the coming weeks and months in order to stay competitive in the ever changing NFL landscape. Such is the life of a Super Bowl champion.