In the opening days of free agency, general manager John Elway had his eyes set on one criteria—big. Within 48 hours into the start of free agency, Elway added 1,294 official pounds to the Broncos’ roster in just four moves—an average of 323.5 pounds per player.
This didn’t happen on accident, either.
At the beginning of March, at the NFL combine, Elway said he wanted to address the needs of the team in free agency so that the team didn’t have any glaring holes going into the draft. Ten days later, he’s accomplished that task.
Although most of the talk in the offseason has been, and most likely will be, about the quarterback position, the two most glaring needs were addressing the offensive and defensive lines.
Last offseason, Elway attempted to fix the offensive line by signing two tackles in free agency—Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson. Although just one year after that method seemed to not work—Okung found a new team and Stephenson agreed to restructure his contract—Denver tried it again, this time with one tackle, Menelik Watson, and one guard, Ronald Leary.
While the Broncos’ offensive line still could use work, specifically at left tackle, Elway has done enough to go into next season as the line currently stands. On the other line, the offseason story was very similar.
After going from one of the best run defenses in the league in 2015—83.6 yards allowed per game on the ground—to one of the worst in 2016—130.3 yards per game—Denver needed to add talent, and mass, to the defensive line. On Saturday, Denver addressed this with the combined signings of Domata Peko and Zach Kerr. Even though neither were big signings, in terms of name recognition or salary, they both brought the ability to stop the run and help shore up the defensive line, even with the departure of Sylvester Williams.
With just over $15 million left in salary cap space for the 2017 season, the Broncos could still make additional moves to help solidify either, or both, lines. However, with the two moves that they have already made on each line, they have put themselves in the position that Elway said he wanted to be in—not having a glaring need entering the draft.
Although there can be an argument made that left tackle still needs to be addressed, Denver is likely to experiment with either Stephenson, Menelik Watson, Ty Sambrailo or Michael Schofield during the offseason to see if that void can be filled with what is on the roster.
Due to this, and the four moves made at the start of free agency, Denver’s draft strategy goes from drafting for need to drafting the best player available, something that Elway said he wanted to have the freedom to do. This doesn’t mean that the Broncos won’t draft a left tackle in the first round, it just means that they won’t have to force this pick if they believe there are better options still on the board.
In fact, in Elway’s five first-round picks that he has had since joining the Broncos, he has used two of them—Bradley Roby and Shane Ray—at positions the team was very deep in already. Potential players that could be available at the Broncos’ No. 20 overall pick include John Ross, O.J. Howard, Reuben Foster or Christian McCaffrey.
With over a month left before the 2017 NFL Draft, Elway and the Broncos have already put themselves in the draft position that they feel the most comfortable in—drafting for talent and not for need.