The Denver Broncos were one of several teams that made a bold move this season to get a player hoping to bring them back to the playoffs.
The acquisition of Russell Wilson came at a high cost, but many people in the Broncos were envisioning the Super Bowl this season. After all, if teams like the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals can pull it off after the Wild Card team is weak and underfed, respectively, why can’t the Broncos?
football strangersMike Tanner Skeptical of this, he draws the Broncos competing on what he calls the “Flat Card No-Future Wild Card Challenge”, or teams that might lose in the first round of the playoffs and then find themselves in a bad position for the future.
On the other hand, Tanner is right that the Broncos aren’t a clear Super Bowl contender this season. On the other hand, the future of the Broncos is not as bad as it seems at first glance, unless one believes that the worst-case scenario is always doomed to happen to teams that trade so many assets to this player that they think it will put them over the top.
To be fair with Tanner, he admits in his article why the Broncos did what they had to do in order to make it to the playoffs.
“A team can be aggressive and kick-start their success immediately rather than indefinitely whine and gnash their teeth. As the Flat-Broke No-Future Wild-Card Challenge demonstrates, that aggressiveness comes with a great deal of risk. But taking the Broncos as an example, which I would have preferred Hear it and see it from The George Patton/Nathaniel Hackett System: Golly, this team forgot how to win, so let’s hang out with Drew Lock and sign some backup Packers while waiting for the stars to line up in the middle?; Or RUSSELL WILSON LFG BABEEE? I thought so “.
But does the Broncos’ bold move this year mean they are destined to be a permanent contender at wild card and not in a position to improve their chances due to his 2023 status? not necessarily.
Before we get to that, let’s look at 2022.
On the one hand: Not yet a Super Bowl contender
To be a Super Bowl competitor, you have to be a playoff competitor first, and that means demonstrating that, in the previous year, you’ve made the playoffs and have the potential to improve.
The Rams were the prime example of this in 2021. Los Angeles had been in the playoffs for several years even with Jared Goff in the middle. Some of the Rams’ success can be attributed to other key players, but coach Sean McVeigh also deserves credit here.
The Broncos cannot be compared to the Rams because, above all, Nathaniel Hackett is a first-year head coach. While Hackett may get fans excited, he has yet to establish himself as a head coach — at least not yet. Meanwhile, McVeigh has proven himself.
Also, the Rams benefited somewhat after the Green Bay Packers had a lackluster playoff that was one and finished despite their top seed claim. The Rams played well during the playoffs, but it’s fair to ask if they could have done enough to beat the Packers.
Others might cite the Bengals, who went from being one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2020 to the Super Bowl the following year. However, the Bengals had plenty of breaks in their path.
After successive seasons of futility that allowed the Bengals to draft Joe Borough, and then Ja’Marr Chase, they watched as the Baltimore Ravens lost plenty of players to injury, the Cleveland Browns fell back, and the Pittsburgh Steelers kept riding Ben Roethlisberger when there was nothing left of him in the tank. The end result was the Bengals victory over North Asia.
Then came the playoffs, where the Tennessee Titans managed to get the top seed despite not being good. And while the Giants managed to sack Boroughs to a double-digit tune, Ryan Tanehill continued to return the ball to the Bengals, who did just enough to win.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills fought penalty shootouts that landed on whichever team was attacked on the field last. Then the Bengals found themselves on the verge of being blown away by the chiefs, until they went for the break, dropping everyone in coverage in the second half, surprising everyone when it worked.
In other words, if the Broncos follow the path of the Bengals, they need a lot of outside factors they can’t control to go their way. They can’t count on that happening. So, it’s realistic to say that while the Broncos are a playoff contender this year, we should cut back on Super Bowl talk until we see what they do during the season.
On the other hand: the future may not be so bleak
Now, let’s look at 2023 and set the salary cap. In fact, the Broncos are priced at $6.4 million over the cap in 2023. That’s not a lot of room, especially when the Broncos don’t have a draw pick until the third round.
However, it is important to note that the figure does not include any modifications. The 2023 numbers for all teams are based on an expected base cap of $225 million.
But that doesn’t include any cap space the team might carry over from 2022 or any incentives players win this year, both of which apply to the 2023 cap. The Broncos, like other teams, may see the 2023 number change based on what happens this year.
We’ll start with the 2022 carryover, which depends on how the Broncos set their final list of 53 players, the coaching staff, and what the players arrive at in the injured reserve. The first two are reasonably predictable, while the third is difficult to predict.
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However, a “best case scenario” can be taken advantage of by looking at the actual Broncos cap for 2022, which included a 2021 carryover. The base cap this year is $208.2 million, but the actual Broncos cap is $219.6 million, meaning After modifications from the 2021 carryover and bonuses earned by players, the Broncos earned an additional $11.4 million in the space.
Let’s be conservative here and say that the Broncos are earning an additional $9 million in cap space after accounting for the 2022 carryover (adds to cap) and bonuses players earn (subtracts from cap). At the time, the Broncos had approximately $15.4 million in cover space.
Now, let’s get rid of two players: defensive tackle Mike Purcell (who’s on the player list now) and attacking goalkeeper Graham Glasgow (who renegotiated his 2022 salary to stay with the squad). The two combine to free up $14.5 million in cover space, which means the Broncos is close to $30 million of available space.
Of course, the Broncos will still need to fill in the roster gaps, in part by extending a player or two. Tanner mentioned Bradley Chubb and Dalton Reisner, but I’d like to mention that Dremont Jones is a candidate as well. Like I said before, a Bronco might span two of the three, but not all three.
Regardless, the Broncos have the flexibility to gain some maximum space without having to cut a lot of players or restructure every deal. Although they can’t engage in free agency in 2023, the Broncos should be able to do enough, as long as they don’t run into a “worst case scenario” in 2022.
What else should happen in 2022?
When I mention the “worst case scenario”, the Broncos likely won’t be able to raise their defense to a level that would allow them to compete against a loaded AFC.
Tannier notes that the Broncos ranked 20th in the defensive DVOA next year. That must improve if the Broncos are to get any chance of a deep playoff.
On the one hand, there is no guarantee that the Broncos defense will continue to decline. On the other hand, holding out hope in a defense like 2015 is wishful thinking.
But the Broncos could still have a better defense to complement the attack. This does mean, however, that enough should go well.
Let’s look at the best and worst case scenarios for defense at this point:
worst case scenario: Randy Gregory and Chubb can’t stay healthy, Baron Browning isn’t handling his transfer well, Nick Bonetto struggles, DJ Jones goes bankrupt as a free agent, Patrick Serten II and Justin Simmons are forced into a minor pregnancy marred by injuries and unproductive players, and becomes Alex Singleton is the starting back for most of the season.
best scenario: Gregory and Chap remain healthy and productive, Browning does well in his new role even if he’s not dominant, Bonitto produces in a rotating role and shows starting potential, DJ Jones proves he’s worthy of his contract, Caden Stearns, Ronald Darby, and others appear to help Surtain and Simmons In high school, Josey Jewell stays healthy and Jonas Griffith takes the next step, which means Singleton doesn’t have to play a big role.
In a best-case scenario, while the Broncos aren’t a dominant defense, they might be a good defense, at least one that takes the pressure off an attack. Entering, say, a top 12 defensive DVOA player in 2022 would be enough to give the Broncos some room for optimism by 2023 (provided, of course, that the offense does its job).
As far as 2023 needs to be done, in a best-case scenario, the Broncos can either keep Chubb or let him go if they think Bonitto can handle a key role and players like Jonathon Cooper and Christopher Allen show they deserve the backups. Broncos will likely extend Dre’Mont Jones and Risner’s fate may depend on what the team does with Chubb.
The Broncos will have to tackle the offensive line in 2023 somewhat. If things work out on defense so they can let Chubb walk, they could bring back Risner, cut Glasgow, start Quinn Meinerz (whom might start the latter this year anyway), and re-sign either Billy Turner or Calvin Anderson to a low-cost deal, Then find out what to do in the center, which can be answered if Lloyd Cushenberry III is on the right track, or if Luke Wattenberg evolves.
Certainly, there are questions to be answered in both 2022 and 2023 before one wipes out the Broncos with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. But while those questions currently remain unanswered, that doesn’t mean the Broncos’ fate is to be stuck in the race for the No. 7 seed qualifier, followed by an individual result.
Tanner was not wrong in pointing out the risks involved in Wilson’s trade, but as he admits, it is better to take that risk than stick to the average. However, the future of the Broncos may not be as bad in 2023 as some might think. That’s why we need to see what happens in 2022 before making a judgment about the 2023 season.
The only thing to remember is this: No matter what happens in 2022, don’t fall into despair in 2023. That’s what the Browns and New Orleans Saints are doing right now.
If the Broncos don’t make it to the Super Bowl, don’t assume that everything is lost or that they have to make another “all-out” move. Instead, find out what went right, and what didn’t and adjust accordingly — and know that you should have some flexibility to make those adjustments.
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