How often does the reigning Super Bowl Champions lose their starting Quarterback to retirement, the backup they have groomed for four seasons in free agency as a host of star talent on defence also to free agency? Not very often. Yet this is the situation the Denver Broncos find themselves in.
Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset, correctly so, after delivering the Lombardi trophy to the city of Denver in what was an awful season by his standards. Brock Osweiler replaced Manning midway through the season but was benched for the Sheriff in week 17 with the play-offs on the line. While many assumed John Elway and Gary Kubiak would tie down the future of the franchise, the Texans picked up the young QB for a mouth-watering $72 million, $37 million of that guaranteed. After flirting with Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and bizarrely Johnny Manziel, Kubiak opted to trade for Mark Sanchez. Sanchez is a game manager at best and while the Broncos proved last season that you can win a championship with mediocrity under centre, to repeat that feat 12 months later is asking for lighting to strike twice.
The defence that stopped the Carolina Panthers at Super Bowl 50 dead in its tracks has been torn apart. Defensive lineman Malik Jackson joined the Jacksonville Jaguars on a six-year, $85.5 million contract, inside linebacker Danny Trevathan opted to sign for the Chicago Bears for $28 million and while they were able to tag Von Miller, this defence will not be the same. Running back C.J Anderson was kept with the Miami Dolphins sniffing around while Russell Okung joins on a five-year deal worth approximately $10.6 million per year.
With the 31st pick in the draft, no-one really knows what Kubiak and Elway will do. With this not being a strong QB class, any play caller they take at the end of the first round is unlikely to be ready to start week 1. With that being said, Connor Cook from Michigan State is being billed as the best in his class long-term and should be available. Paxton Lynch is also a possible target but with both likely to be available in the second round, the Broncos could choose to go best player available at 31 and address their needs on the offensive line and linebacker positions with their remaining nine picks.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs made one of the best signings in free agency by picking up Mitchell Schwartz from Cleveland. The former Browns tackle signed a five year, $33 million deal and replaces the outgoing Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson. Losing Allen was a huge blow and Stephenson strengthening division rivals Denver Broncos will also hurt fans but Schwartz’s arrival will help ease that pain.
While Smith is the face of the franchise, Chase Daniels leaving for the Eagles has weakened the QB room. Daniels wouldn’t see the field in Kansas unless Smith went down injured but he was an able back up which is hard to come by in the NFL.
Keeping Tamba Hali in the building was a great move and if he can stay healthy, him resigning at $22 million for three years will seem like a bargain. If he does go down again, Derrick Johnson returning from injury and signing a new deal makes the loss of Hali bearable. John Dorsey wanted him back and so did Andy Reid. Johnson himself wanted to stay so it made sense that he plays for the Chiefs in 2016.
The biggest loss for this franchise was Sean Smith walking out of the door to sign for the Raiders.
Opposite Marcus Peters, the duo were shutting down the opposition on a weekly basis. Because of this, it wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest if the Chiefs turned in their card on April 28 and drafted a cornerback. Vernon Hargreaves, Eli Apple, Mackensie Alexander, William Jackson III and Artie Burns are among the best players in their position this draft class so it should be a case of picking up the best one who is remaining at 28.
They will need to add to the defensive line with Mike DeVito calling it a day. So with the 63rd pick, they could pick up a defensive tackle. With there being quite a few solid players in this position, picking up one with their first pick isn’t needed unless someone really catches their eye, like Robert Nkemdiche if he is still around at 28. If not, Adolphus Washington or Shawn Oakman are both great players who could be around late in the second.
However, there is talk that the Chiefs pick up a future franchise QB with their second pick, as they lost a third for the way they picked up Jeremy Maclin last off-season, and if Paxton Lynch or Connor Cook are on the board, the war room may opt to take a signal caller. It is unlikely but at some point the franchise has to consider grooming a QB to replace Smith and this could be the year.
To give the Raiders anything below an A grade for their free agency movement would be criminal in my opinion. Oakland have turned the franchise around since drafting Derek Carr and Khalil Mack two seasons ago and adding Amari Cooper last year. Free agency this off-season has seen the arrivals of Bruce Irvin from the Seattle Seahawks and with Charles Woodson retired; Reggie Nelson was acquired to fill the gap. Offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele has been signed from the Baltimore Ravens to protect franchise QB Carr while Sean Smith has been snapped up from under the nose of division rivals the Kansas City Chiefs.
Due to the excellent work by Reggie Mackenzie, the 14th pick in the draft allows Jack Del Rio to go best player available which is how franchises improve. If Myles Jack is somehow still on the board, this is an easy choice for me. I would be tempted to move up and take Jalen Ramsey as he is such a special talent and would be the long-term replacement for Woodson. You could play him at corner back for now and allow Nelson to do his thing for a year or two before moving Ramsey to safety. With some scouts saying he has the instincts of Troy Polumalu, I would love to see the Raiders make a play for him.
More likely, however, is the Raiders staying at 14 and with the possibility of running back Ezekiel Elliot being on the board at 14, this could be quote the scoop. While Latavius Murray was a pro-bowler last year, I don’t think the Raiders should pass up the opportunity on improving their backfield with someone like Elliott available. He can catch, pass block and has the explosive power to finish off plays.
In the second round, Jaylon Smith could be a steal. Before he tore his ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl back in January, His injury is a huge concern but before it, he was undoubtably a first round pick, possibly the best player in the draft. There is no way he is available in the third round and while it may be a risk, this young Raiders team can afford take it with a player of Smith’s calibre and ease him into the squad. I would also look at Scooby Wright III as well later in the draft, possibly in the fourth or fifth. The linebacker has been likened to Zach Thomas and could be a steal deep into the draft. If they somehow acquire Ramsey and Smith in the draft and add them to Mack, Irvin, Sean Smith, Malcolm Smith and the returning Aldon Smith, we could be looking at the best defence in the league.
San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers are in win-now mode but the franchise doesn’t have a team capable of winning now. They fixed some of that in free agency by picking up Travis Benjamin from the Cleveland Browns, giving quarterback Philip Rivers a legitimate deep-ball target. At $6 million a year, it was an absolute steal and Benjamin should thrive in San Diego. Keeping tight end Antonio Gates was imperative and resigning him on $11 million for two years is great business by the front office. Picking up veteran Jeff Cumberland to add depth to the position was also a smart move, again giving Rivers more weapons to throw to.
Letting Eric Weedle walk was bad business from where I am sitting and replacing him with safety Dwight Lowery is a downgrade. However, it fills the hole and there is no reason why they can’t dip into the draft and pick someone up at 3, but more on that later. They also improved their secondary with former Green Bay Packer Casey Hayward, who had 22 stops in the passing game, which had him tied for second among cornerbacks. He will need to turn some of those stops into interceptions, though is $15.3 million deal over three years isn’t that expensive.
The Bolts also addressed a need at defensive tackle during free agency, signing Brandon Mebane from the Seahawks on a three year, $13.5 million contract. The switch to the Chargers’ 3-4 may prove to be difficult but in Seattle, he would have picked up that winning mentality that this franchise desperately needs.
When approaching the draft, the Chargers are at the top of the board and it is a no brainer that they should take Jalen Ramsey at three. Unless the Titans take him at 1 or a team trades up to grab him, Ramsey is the logical choice. Best player available, arguably the best player in the draft, it is a win-win situation for the franchise. If he isn’t on the board when they are on the clock, grabbing Laremy Tunsil (assuming the Titans used their pick on Ramsey) strengthens their offensive line which allowed Rivers to be sacked a whopping 40 times, not what a QB who turns 35 needs. They could also address the defence and pick up a defensive end, Deforest Buckner springs to mind, though that could be addressed in the later rounds with it being such a deep draft class at that position.
Kadeem Simmonds is a Miami Dolphins fans after randomly deciding a few years ago that the Dolphins was the team he wanted to follow. If he isn’t watching Ryan Tannehill pretend to be an elite quarterback, he is watching Manchester United pretend to be a football team. A sports editor for the Morning Star newspaper, you can follow him on Twitter @KadeemSimmonds.