If you’re hungry, and you’ve got a few bucks in your pocket, you go buy a bite to eat.
If you’ve got to drive somewhere, and you’ve got the means, you put gas in the tank.
And if you’re one of the most talented football teams in the National Football League, but your offense has one glaring omission – and you just so happen to have $7,685,402 of salary cap space with which to work – you go shopping for a tight end.
That’s what the Denver Broncos should do. That’s what the Denver Broncos could do.
While the debate as to whether or not Peyton Manning should be put out to pasture will likely rage for at least two weeks – maybe until the end of the season – there’s no debating the Broncos’ biggest offensive weakness: Tight end.
No matter where you weigh in on Manning, surely you can agree that a serviceable, pass-catching tight end would help the Broncos offense tremendously. With all due respect to Owen Daniels, he’s not a serviceable, pass-catching tight end. Daniels has his place – he’s an excellent blocker, a true veteran’s veteran – but that place is not within a Manning-led offense. Definitely not on third-and-long or within the red zone.
Defenses have collectively allowed Manning to complete “underneath” routes. They sit and wait and instantly collapse on whoever is catching the pass. Why? Because they can.
They “can” because nobody is pushing the seams of the field. Safeties aren’t forced to respect the deep middle, instead helping over the top or cheating in on the likes of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the outsides. If and when linebackers drop into coverage, they’re not being driven very far away from the play. Unfortunately, both problems stem from a tight end who’s neither fast nor crafty in the passing game.
Julius Thomas? He was fast. He stretched the field and pushed the seams; he was an “un-missable” target. Rookie Jeff Heuerman? While unproven, he was supposed to provide a similar skillset, but was hurt during OTAs. As a result, the Broncos are stuck with a bevy of tight ends who can block, but don’t pose a threat in the passing game.
But that’s spilt milk. Thomas was allowed to walk. The Broncos will have to wait until next summer to see if Heuerman can fill his place.
So, what to do?
Go get a tight end. Now. While you’re 6-0 and there’s still time.
Sure, it’s not that easy. This isn’t the offseason; quality free agents aren’t sitting around with a pen in hand. But this is when John Elway and Co. can adopt a strategy more typically reserved for baseball – when contending teams with weaknesses go on a “renting” splurge before the trade deadline. Teams who will miss the postseason unload high dollar pitchers with expiring contracts; contenders sweep them up in hopes of making an October run.
The Broncos can do this, too. And with nearly $7.7 million to work with inside of the salary cap, and more than a few viable tight ends who are playing out the final year of their contract on the market, it’s not such a crazy proposition. The NFL trade deadline of Nov. 3 looms.
Here’s a name for you: Vernon Davis.
Davis is aging (31), but he’s still a world-class talent. He can catch, he can block, and he’s got speed and athleticism on par with some of the game’s great pass-catching tight ends. Davis will be an unrestricted free agent following this season. Currently, he’s toiling in San Francisco, with a team that’s going nowhere. Davis doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring on his finger, and if he ever wants one, he’s sure to be leaving San Francisco as soon as he’s able. Interestingly enough, his salary cap number for the 2015 season is $6,967,920.
It doesn’t take a math major to note that Davis’ number fits neatly into Denver’s available cap space. Besides, Elway only has to write checks based on a pro-rated number; San Francisco has already paid a nice chunk of Davis’ 2015 salary.
This is a classic win-win. The 49ers could get something in return that benefits them in the future (let’s call it a fourth round draft pick, just for fun). Davis gets inserted into a favorable situation, joining a veteran Broncos team that’s hell-bent on winning a Super Bowl before its window closes. And the Broncos get a player who can jumpstart an offense that’s in desperate need of a jolt.
I must admit, this is not entirely my idea. It was brought up Sunday morning on The Mile High Sports Show on Mile High Sports AM 1340 & 104.3 The Fan, and once before that by my colleague Josh Pennock, who suggested a similar strategy but preferred Martellous Bennett; his team is also going nowhere and his cap number also fits. Bennett would be a free agent in 2017.
There are other names that might work as well. Jimmy Graham would take some creative accounting, but he hasn’t been effective in Seattle. Why not put him in the style of offense he’s meant to play? Marcedes Lewis is capable but also expendable in Jacksonville, since the Jags now employ Thomas. Perhaps an aging Ben Watson could be plucked from New Orleans.
The Broncos have a need – an obvious one. They also have the means to fill it. And there are options out there that make sense.
It’s time to go shopping, tight end shopping.