John Elway and the Broncos have done an incredible job rebuilding over the last three off-seasons, and now they find themselves finally ready to compete for a playoff spot, at least on paper.
However, the Broncos still have some glaring holes on the roster and a healthy $17 million in cap space to address those needs.
Here are three free agents they should target before the season kicks off.
1. Jason Peters, OT
Last year’s Browns team and this year’s Broncos team are eerily similar.
This time last year, the Browns’ facility in Berea, Ohio was a hype factory. They had a quarterback coming off a very impressive rookie season, which they decided to surround with an elite receiving core and a two-headed monster in the backfield.
Unfortunately, an ill-prepared head coach and an abject disaster at both tackle positions derailed their quarterback, their offense and their season.
The Broncos won’t have to worry about Vic Fangio falling apart like Freddie Kitchens, but that latter Browns failure could easily haunt Denver, as they plan to trot out Garett Bolles and Ja’wuan James on the exterior of their line.
Signing Jason Peters would give the Broncos an excellent insurance policy, in case Bolles’ play doesn’t improve or James has yet another season hampered by injury.
How much Peters has left in the tank is unknown and it’ll cost a pretty penny to get him to lace them up for another season, but in 2019, he was one of the league’s best tackles.
He was Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best pass-blocking tackle, ninth-best run-blocking tackle and sixth-best tackle overall. Also, he allowed just three sacks, tied for the 14th-fewest in the league and a mere 21 pressures, the eighth-fewest in the league (both min. 750 snaps).
If the Broncos don’t want to go down as this year’s version of the Browns, they’d be wise to pick up the phone and call in a blindside protector for their young quarterback.
2. Logan Ryan, CB
This option is nowhere near as flashy as signing Jason Peters would be, but the Broncos do have a serious need at cornerback that Logan Ryan could fill almost instantly.
It’s true, he isn’t a high-caliber cornerback at this point in his career. In fact, he’s coming off his worst season since 2014 in terms of PFF’s coverage grade and overall grade.
However, even though he’s currently a cast-off looking for a team, he’d still be an upgrade on a lot of Denver’s options at the position.
He ranks ahead of all three non-rookie cornerbacks — Davontae Harris, De’Vante Bausby and Isaac Yiadom — in terms of snaps per reception, and ranks higher than Harris and Yiadom in terms of opponent passer rating when targeted, PFF overall grade and PFF coverage grade.
He’s also a play-maker, which Vic Fangio loves in his defensive backs. Last year, only 12 players came away with more interceptions than Logan Ryan’s total of four.
3. Damon Harrison, NT
Denver’s defensive line might just be the most underrated unit on the team thanks to their incredible talent and depth at defensive end, but the nose tackle position could use some bolstering.
Mike Purcell did a great job last season taking on blocks, suffocating the run game, and swallowing up any plays that came his way. He performed so well in fact he was the Broncos’ top-rated defensive linemen last season per PFF.
That said, last season was an outlier for Purcell compared to the rest of his career, and if he regresses to his career average or suffers an injury the Broncos could be in trouble, as the only other nose tackles on the roster are practice-squad-caliber
Enter Damon “Snacks” Harrison. He used to be a brick wall in the middle of the Jets’ and Giants’ defensive lines, and he could do the same for the Broncos.
Like Logan Ryan, Harrison is coming off an unusually bad year. Last year earned him a measly grade of 63.2, but he received a grade of at least 89.9 (90 qualifies as “elite” for PFF) every other season since 2015.
Even in a down year, Harrison still finished among the top-10 defensive linemen for run-stop percentage, a metric that measures the percentage of running plays where a defender recorded a tackle for loss.
Since Harrison’s first year starting (2013), he has led all defensive linemen in run-stop percentage for all but two seasons. Those seasons being his first starting, when he finished in second, just behind J.J. Watt, and last season.