Ranking Broncos unrestricted free agents: Which are a top priority?

Tyreek Hill's touchdown early over Chris Harris. Credit: Jay Biggerstaff, USA TODAY Sports
Tyreek Hill's touchdown early over Chris Harris. Credit: Jay Biggerstaff, USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 offseason is primed to be the most enjoyable summer for Broncos’ fans since 2014, if not sooner.

The team has more draft picks than they could realistically use, more cap space than they could realistically spend, and the quarterback situation is no longer in flux.

Before free agency and the draft though, the Broncos will have to ensure they lock up some of their key contributors from 2019. With that in mind, here are Denver’s eight most important unrestricted free agents:

1. Justin Simmons

This one is a no-brainer. Justin Simmons burst onto the scene in 2019 as one of, if not the league’s very best safeties.

Simmons was snubbed from the Pro Bowl but was named a second-team All-Pro at safety and was graded by Pro Football Focus as the league’s best defensive back and fourth-best defender overall.

There’s no way Vic Fangio and the Broncos let Simmons walk, which makes the worst-case scenario for Denver using the franchise tag on him.

2. Shelby Harris

The Broncos would be fools to prioritize any of their other free agents over Simmons and Shelby Harris. Harris has emerged as an elite interior defensive linemen who pushes the pocket with invaluable inside pressure and can also stop the run.

Unfortunately for the Broncos, it appears to be a long shot that Harris returns in 2020 considering his newly-acquired agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and the salary he could command on the open market.

3. Connor McGovern

Everyone in the state of Colorado should be aware that the offensive line is the Broncos’ most pressing need.

The first step to repairing that hole in the roster is retaining Connor McGovern. He does nothing that will wow you but he’s a steady, reliable offensive lineman and those are as rare as gold in today’s NFL.

The Broncos already have to add at least one starting guard and one starting tackle in free agency — which won’t be easy — it would make no sense to add a center to that shopping list when you already have one.

4. Chris Harris Jr.

Some may scoff at Chris Harris Jr.‘s low ranking on this list, but if the Broncos just had average depth in the secondary, he wouldn’t even find himself ranked this high.

Through the final eight weeks of the season, Harris Jr. earned an overall grade of 60 (defined as average by PFF) or better just four times, earned a coverage grade of 60 or better just three times, and averaged an overall grade of 59.6.

In other words, he’s an aging cornerback, playing bellow average, that is about to demand a salary that will make him one of the 10-15 highest-paid cornerbacks in the league.

No, thank you.

5. Derek Wolfe

Derek Wolfe is the hardest to rank of any Broncos on this list.

He’s coming off a career year and the Broncos are in danger of losing a lot of their defensive linemen, but he’s had injury problems, is on the wrong side of 30, and Shelby Harris is a younger, better player.

If the Broncos lose Harris, as expected, Wolfe immediately shoots up these rankings, as losing both starters at defensive end would be costly.

6. Will Parks

Will Parks has been a valuable chess piece for Denver’s secondary and an even more valuable locker room presence since entering the league in 2016.

The relationship he has with Simmons is special and seems to drive each of them to play better. Parks could eventually take over the starting safety job opposite Simmons, but with Kareem Jackson‘s play this season, that day seems far off.

That’s a problem if Parks is too pricy to be a backup.

7. Jeremiah Attaochu

It pains me to not rank Jeremiah Attaochu higher on this list, but given the Broncos other free agents and their lack of depth at those positions, he can’t be higher than seven.

Attaochu started the final five games of the season and tallied 3.5 sacks and five quarterback hits in that time, as he finally lived up to his second-round draft status.

Attaochu isn’t a pressing need for the Broncos though, as Bradley Chubb and Von Miller will remain the starters next season, and Justin Hollins and Malik Reed provide Denver with a solid stable of edge rushers.

8. Adam Gotsis

As Simmons is a no-brainer atop this list, Adam Gotsis is a no-brainer at the bottom of it.

Gotsis was benched following the Broncos’ Week 4 loss to the Jaguars and the defense immediately improved. Gotsis was then a healthy scratch for seven of the remaining 12 games and in the five games he was active, he played just 122 snaps and never started.

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