Home > NFL, Roster Roundouts > Roster Roundouts: A Denver Broncos Preseason Report

Roster Roundouts: A Denver Broncos Preseason Report

flickr.com/Jeffery Beall

flickr.com/Jeffery Beall

This team is, um, not what we were expecting to see.

The cold, hard truth though is that the Denver Broncos team everyone expected to see in March wouldn’t have gotten any closer to winning a championship than this team will.  The Broncos were heavily flawed, and the free agent signings that new head Josh McDaniels and G.M. Brian Xanders recommended to fix the defense were questionable moves.  They signed Andra Davis, who couldn’t play in Cleveland.  They signed Andre Goodman to replace Dre Bly, but he’s 31.  And, in an absolute stunner, they gave Brian Dawkins 18 million reasons to ditch the Eagles.

This was not change that the Broncos fans could believe in.  So then, McDaniels curiously contacted organization members from his old digs with the Patriots, and inquired sheepishly on the price of backup QB Matt Cassel, who in the right situation, in the right offense could thrive under him in Denver.

The theoretically harmless inquiry sent franchise quarterback Jay Cutler into a complete spazz-out, demanding to the organization that McDaniels apologize to him or give him his walking papers.  A face-to-face meeting between the two egos did not help anything, and after Cutler ignored calls from his owner, Pat Bowlen, for three days, Bowlen made the brash decision to deal his franchise quarterback.

The decision is not nearly as wrongheaded as you think.  Despite everything that suggested that the Broncos had no leverage in the situation, Cutler’s value will never be higher in the future than it was this offseason when the Broncos traded him.  He still had three years remaining on his rookie deal.  He was 25 at the time of the trade, and is currently 26.  He’s coming off a pro-bowl year, one in which he threw for more than 4,500 yards, best in the AFC.  Oh, did I mention he’s only 26, and well-established?

But Cutler has some serious flaws in his game that may prevent him from taking the otherwise obvious leap to stardom anytime soon.  For one thing, Cutler has a terrible issue with locking on his number one receiver and ignoring the progression on certain plays.  No player was targeted more in the NFL last year than Brandon Marshall was, and he didn’t even play in week one.  In Chicago’s first preseason game, Cutler threw half of his ten passes at Devin Hester.  Some habits die hard.

The other thing is, Cutler was playing behind a cushy line in Denver with two developing receiving options, and a tight end who could stretch defenses vertically.  For their efforts, Denver had the 7 most valuable passing attack by DVOA (although, significantly above the average).  Something doesn’t add up here.  If Cutler is so great, why is Philip Rivers doing more against similar competition with less?  If Cutler is so great, why does he have quarterback ratings of 88.5, 88.1, and 86.0 in his three years as a starter.  Where the hell is all this greatness?

flickr.com/SquaredB

flickr.com/SquaredB

Cutler’s allure is in the prospect of his future value.  The Chicago Bears dealt two first round picks, a third round pick, and Kyle Orton to the Broncos for Cutler, and they feel like they are getting a franchise quarterback.  They probably are.  But the Broncos dealt a prospective talent at the height of his value when they felt like the team was too flawed to make it to the playoffs in the next season.  There is little doubt that Cutler would have continued to flourish in Denver, but there is doubt that he will do so in Chicago.  But the price was so obscenely high, it’s hard to blame the Broncos for moving Cutler when they did.

What’s less defensible is the moves the Broncos have made since dealing Jay Cutler.  Their draft was less than stellar.  They landed a wide range of talented prospects, boom or bust prospects, and situational players with their massive Cutler haul.  At this point, the cost of the Cutler trade has completely come off the books from the Broncos perspective, thanks to a draft day trade that will cost them a first rounder in next year’s draft, likely in the top five.

So, counting Denver’s own first day picks in the consideration of total trade value, here’s a complete list of all the players picked by the team, or made possible for selection by the team:

  1. QB Kyle Orton
  2. RB Knowshon Moreno
  3. LB Robert Ayers
  4. CB Alphonso Smith
  5. S Darcel McBath
  6. TE Richard Quinn

And that’s it, including two picks the Broncos already had in that draft-frame.  This is the Jay Cutler haul in it’s entirety.  If we be like Brian Burke, and estimate the difference between Cutler and Orton at 2.1 wins per season (which is quite substantial), it’s easy to see a scenario where the Broncos win the trade, but it’s far from certain.  When you factor in that estimates have a value of an average first round pick at 4-5 wins over the life of the rookie deal, and a second round pick at 2-3 wins over the life of the rookie deal, Denver needs to get 3.5 wins per year (over replacement) out of the total combination of players 2-6 in order to “win” this trade.

Is this possible?  It’s not possible without significant contribution from players in premium positions.  This is completely oversimplifying, but the Broncos win the Cutler trade if two players out of this group: Moreno, Ayers, and Smith become stars at the NFL level, while McBath and Quinn simply fill holes.  Anything less, and the Broncos probably lose the Cutler trade.

Because of the fact that the Broncos dealt a likely top ten pick for Smith in the second round, you have to treat him like a third first round pick, since that’s obviously how the Broncos view him.  It’s admirable that the Broncos gave up their own draft choice instead of Chicago’s, which is almost certain to be higher, but it may prove to be simply foolish.

The Broncos can’t compete with teams who didn’t tear down their rosters because they didn’t improve their defense in free agency, they just got older.  Their defensive line is purely replacement level, they are undergoing a scheme change while understaffed, and this defense features all of three players who have ever been successful in this league.  One is Dawkins.  The other is all-pro corner Champ Bailey.  The last is linebacker D.J. Williams. None of those players know how to play the defensive line, so teams will gash Denver with the run early and often.

The Broncos will bank on the fact that a high scoring offense will force opponents to put the ball in the air against guys like Bailey, Dawkins, and Smith, and that Nolan can do something to force pressure on the quarterback.  If they force offenses to be one-dimensional, the defense will have a shot, although that didn’t make a difference with Bailey injured last year.

But that’s where they needed Cutler, and now, as it looks like they will pound the rock with Moreno and Correll Buckhalter and Peyton Hillis and Lamont Jordan, they have to be beyond efficient for this offense to work?  Can it?  Probably not.

But given where the Broncos would have been had they kept Cutler, you could argue it was worth the shot.

Broncos Camp, Englewood, CO

The Broncos feature a can’t miss TV battle at wide receiver, a quarterback controversy that is not yet worth mentioning, completely pointless defensive camp battles, and head coach smarm and arrogance the whole way though.

Wide receiver (flanker): Brandon Marshall vs. Brandon Lloyd vs. Kenny McKinley

If Brandon Marshall wants to see himself in five years, he needs only to look at Brandon Lloyd.  With McKinley as a second day draft pick, Lloyd’s career might be over.

Wide receiver (slot): Chad Jackson vs. Nate Swift

Jackson, the second round picks of the Patriots in 2006 is getting a second chance here with the Broncos as a slot receiver.  He might be able to succeed in his new role, but he’s fallen behind the undrafted Swift who has better special teams value.

Offensive line: Clint Oldenburg vs. Mitch Erickson vs. Blake Schulueter

One of these guys will help fill out the roster, and it’s Schulueter who leads because he was chosen by McDaniels in the 7th round out of TCU as a potential replacement to Casey Wiegmann in a year or two.

Defensive line: Matthias Askew vs. LeKevin Smith vs. Carlton Powell

The Broncos will likely keep Powell for his size, which makes this an athleticism (Smith) vs. consistency (Askew) battle as the final DE on a complete no-name line.

Linebacker: Jarvis Moss vs. Mario Haggan

The ballad of Jarvis Moss ends with the name Mario Haggan.  Clearly, the Broncos have no use for Moss, and he’s only at training camp because it allows him to keep the bonus money paid to him as a 2007 first round draft pick.

Safety: Josh Barrett vs. Vernon Fox

Barrett, a physical safety from Arizona State with good speed, offers more upside than the journeyman Vernon Fox.  Both are solid special teams players, and if all the Broncos are looking for is a ‘teams guy, Fox offers a small edge there.

Punter: Brett Kern vs. Britton Colquitt

The Colquitt’s may be the Manning’s of NFL special teams, but Brett Kern was the one who performed well last year.

Surprise Cuts?

  • RB Lamont Jordan
  • RB Correll Buckhalter
  • TE Tony Sheffler
  • LB Andra Davis
  • S Renaldo Hill
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