Free agency is fast approaching as the Denver Broncos gear up for the start of the new league year. For the past few seasons, the Broncos have had an aggressive approach during this period, but that won’t be the case for them in 2024.

Paton’s approach has been underrated for building the Denver Broncos roster

Denver Broncos general manager George Paton has received a lot of flak from the fanbase regarding some of his moves in free agency. I think it’s important to put into perspective his strategy, and understand the vision behind his moves during this period of the offseason.

When you think about 2022 and 2023, the Broncos didn’t possess a first or second-round draft pick because of the capital they had to give up in order to acquire Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks. Without that capital, it would have been difficult for Denver to do much damage in the roster-building department.

Hindsight is 20/20, but Paton didn’t have that luxury in real-time. He went out and signed players in free agency that filled the immediate holes that Denver had on their roster.

Randy Gregory presented the team with an opportunity to upgrade their pass-rush department, especially with Bradley Chubb facing a contract year and the team’s previous departure from Von Miller. D.J. Jones is still on the roster, and is one of Denver’s best run defenders.

Josey Jewell was re-signed in 2022 to an extension and has been one of Denver’s best defensive players at the second level. Alex Singleton emerged as one of the team’s best linebackers and received a contract extension because of his play. Slot corner K’Waun Williams was a great signing for the team, and when he was healthy, he was worth every penny before injuries derailed his 2023 season.

Offensive lineman Tom Compton was a signing that previous head coach Nathaniel Hackett pounded the table for.

In 2023, Paton and then-new head coach Sean Payton signed offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, guard Ben Powers, running back Samaje Perine, cornerback Tremon Smith, quarterback Jarrett Stidham, defensive end Zach Allen, and tight end Chris Manhertz.

Most of these players had pivotal roles on offense, defense, or special teams, and the expectations for some of them will grow in 2024. I’d be far more concerned if there were a high volume of one-and-done signings or players who didn’t make the 53-man roster.

Paton says Broncos’ approach will be strategic

It’s easy to look at the Denver Broncos record in 2022 and 2023 collectively and be frustrated, but Denver’s roster has a solid core foundation of young players the team has high hopes for. From a financial standpoint, the Broncos are in a much better position with the NFL’s increase in the salary cap, and Paton acknowledged how that will help the team operate.

“It impacts us as it just provides more flexibility than we thought we had,” Paton said regarding the salary cap increase. “We felt like we were going to be able to do what we needed to do, and then we got the spike. Now maybe we can do more or plan more for the future. So it just provides us – and really all the teams – with more flexibility moving forward.”

Part of that plan could be addressing the team’s biggest defensive hole: the lack of an impactful interior pass-rusher and run stopper. D.J. Jones and Zach Allen are both expected to play defensive end this season, and it’s unlikely the team will bring back veteran Mike Purcell.

The Broncos weren’t consistent enough against the run, and a lot of that stemmed from the trenches inside.

“We feel like we need to be better in the run, and we need to stop the run better,” Paton acknowledged. “We were inconsistent, a lot of things we did.  Week 1 through [Week] 6, or one through the first six games, we were the worst defense in the league, and then the final 11 [games], we were in the Top 10, Top 5 in a lot of metrics, so really, just be more consistent. I think we need to get better inside, stopping the run. Just be more disciplined at times, and you saw that earlier [in the season]. I saw that a little late with some of the busted coverages. You can always use help in the secondary, but I feel good about the young core on defense, and we will just continue to add depth.”

I could see the team adding an impact interior defensive lineman and then adding depth pieces to other pieces on defense, including re-signing in-house free agents like Jewell and safety P.J. Locke.

The Chiefs’ Chris Jones is a pipe dream and isn’t a realistic option for Denver on paper, but the team could look to add D.J. Reader, Sheldon Rankings, or Javon Kinlaw on the interior defensive line.

Let’s go back to the word ‘strategic.’ Paton expressed how the team’s mentality this free-agency period can’t be like last year.

“We’re going to be strategic,” Paton said. “We’re not going to be as aggressive as last year. We have flexibility, but we’re going to just be more measured and try to fill specific positions and specific needs throughout the team. I feel like we’ll have the flexibility to do that, but we can’t do that every year and be aggressive like we were last year.”

This opens things up for the Broncos to also draft strategically.

Broncos investing in QB in the draft?

Much of the conversation in Indy at the Scouting Combine has been surrounding this year’s quarterback class, featuring Caleb Williams, J.J. McCarthy, Drake Maye, Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr., and Heisman winner Jayden Daniels.

Denver will meet with their fair share of QB prospects, including having a documented visit with McCarthy on Tuesday night. Paton outlined some of the things that he and the team look for in players they evaluate.

“The game has changed a little bit, and I think [head coach] Sean [Payton] alluded to it that the quarterbacks; maybe there’s some more athletic quarterbacks,” Paton said. “I think they’re coming in all shapes and sizes, starting with [retired QB Drew] Brees and some of the other quarterbacks that have been drafted and had success. The process has evolved a little bit with analytics and different testing we are doing, but it still comes down to the film evaluation, spending time with them, getting around them – can they learn it? What type of leader? The passion for the game? I mean, it’s a tough game, as we know, and the toughest job is to play quarterback.”

Paton hasn’t yet drafted a QB during his time as the team’s general manager and Sean Payton has never drafted a first-round prospect at the position either. That could change for Denver this offseason, but if they do, it will be the most important decision they make, and they have to get it right.

“It’s the most important position in sports,” Paton said. “…that’s why this has taken a long time. It’s not just going to happen overnight. Our decision is very important. But if you’re going to draft one, that’s obviously very difficult. We’re going to put a lot of time in it, like we do every position, but the quarterback position is just that much – it seems like there’s more mistakes, it seems like at quarterback especially, in the first round.”

The clock is winding down, and before we know it, the Denver Broncos will be on the clock with the 12th overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.