John Elway completes a tremendous trade to kick off Broncos offseason

A.J. Bouye. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports.
A.J. Bouye. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports.

How can the Denver Broncos compete with the Kansas City Chiefs, and how can they get back into the playoffs?

John Elway will have to pull out all the tricks in his bag for a second time if the Broncos want to get back to the Super Bowl with him in charge of their day-to-day operations.

And, that apparently includes today’s tremendous trade; a measly fourth-round pick from the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for starting cornerback A.J. Bouye. That fourth from San Francisco came as a package with a third for half a season of Emmanuel Sanders.

Winner winner, chicken dinner for Denver.

When you’re talking about trading a draft pick — some hypothetical college player — for a starter in the NFL, I say make that trade all day long. And twice on Sundays.

Outside of a first-round pick — which Elway has somehow squandered three-four times (Shane Ray, Paxton Lynch, Bradley Roby, Garett Bolles) — sending away a pick for a known commodity is seemingly the smartest trade a GM can make.

If Denver gets the best Bouye he can be, it’ll be a Pro Bowl acquisition for the Broncos. Bouye, who just finished his seventh season in the NFL and third with the Jacksonville Jaguars, found himself in the Pro Bowl for the first and only time in 2017. That year, he played like a man possessed; Bouye picked off six passes and defended another 18. Pro Football Focus graded that season out at an 84.5, with his 2016 campaign (87.4) actually grading out higher.

That 2016 season was superb, too; with one pick, 16 passes defensed and 63 total tackles, plus one sack.

Since then, though, Bouye’s play has been a bit down. He has just two interceptions and 16 passes defended in the last two seasons combined. And last year, his worst in years per PFF’s grading (58.4), the cornerback allowed three touchdowns and an opponent passer rating of 104.3, which was the worst of his career.

Those recent down seasons may seem worrisome, but fret not.

The Broncos were happy enough with his play to trade for Bouye even though the Jags were going to cut him. And, remember, he was with the Jaguars, one of the worst run organizations in the NFL. Yes, his best seasons came with Jacksonville, too, but that was during that special 2017 season when they were the second-best defense in the league.

In fact, Vic Fangio has been chasing after Bouye for the last three years, actually offering to pay him more than Jacksonville did to play with Chicago. So, there’s clearly something in Bouye’s play that Fangio thinks fits well with his defense.

And, it’s interesting to note Elway is listening closely to Fangio; they’ll be paying the new starting cornerback $13 million per year the next two seasons.

He’s only 28 years old, still in the middle of his prime and will be 30 at the end of 2021; a great time for the Broncos to decide if they want to re-sign him or move on.

Considering he will be making $13 million each of the next two years, it seems highly unlikely the Broncos will bring back Chris Harris. Although, Denver is still trying to do so and with so much cap space, one just never knows.

Harris told the Chiefs to give his people a call in reaction to the Bouye news, though, which would be a worst-case scenario for the Broncos. Not just moving on from the aging, yet still solid Harris, but to lose him to a division rival. And, on top of that, the defending Super Bowl champions. Yikes.

It certainly seems like the Chris Harris Era is over in Denver. He was one of the greatest cornerbacks in the history of the team, starting as an undrafted free agent and becoming a top-5 player at his position for many years in a row.

But, for the Broncos to get back to the playoffs, Elway has to do every, single thing he can to acquire talent and trading for Bouye was a great first step.

Remember back in 2014, Elway signed Emmanuel Sanders, Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward in the offseason. He also waived Champ Bailey in a sad goodbye which was necessary to build what became to be known as the “No Fly Zone” and arguably the greatest defense in Broncos history.

That’s what should be most exciting to Broncos fans about this move.

Knowing the Broncos have a ton of ammunition — still around $60 million in cap space after they move on from Joe Flacco — Elway pulled the trigger on this big-time trade. Now, he has one starting cornerback, and if he can find his way to the field, Bryce Callahan will be the slot man.

But Elway is going after another starting corner in free agency, likely a defensive tackle (D.J. Reader?), possibly a defensive end, a wideout and/or an offensive lineman. That’s all before the draft and Denver’s 11 remaining picks.

Hang on, Broncos fans, because if Tuesday’s trade was any indication, this offseason is going to be one, wild ride.

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