Good news: Greg Penner called and told me he wants me to handle the Broncos’ offseason.

(No, not for real. We’re pretending.)

I’m running the operations starting today, Tuesday, Jan. 10, through the final cuts before the season-opener. The staff building, free agency, the draft, cuts; all of it.

You may think my decisions are dumb. That’s fine. Feel free to let me know what you’d do differently in the comments.

Here’s where we begin…

The coaching search

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh
Offensive Coordinator: Pep Hamilton
Defensive Coordinator: Ejiro Evero
Special Teams Coordinator: Jerry Rosburg
GM: George Paton

Jim Harbaugh is the 19th head coach in Denver Broncos’ history.

While Sean Payton makes an intriguing case to be the next head coach, he falls just short. His plans for the passing game are sharp, but two key flaws arise: first, his offensive system is predicated on opening up receivers in the middle of the field ,and that isn’t Russell Wilson’s strong suit. Secondly, I’m not sure I want the next head coach to be focused on fixing Wilson and the passing game in the first place.

Harbaugh, on the other hand, wants to build the Broncos’ identity by pounding the rock up the middle and playing an attacking style of defense. He provides discipline and physicality to all three phases of the game, and for a young team like the Broncos that hasn’t seen any level of success, that’s exactly what I’m looking for. Plus, a strong running game might be the best way to set Wilson up for success. Letting him feed his running backs and then run play-action deep shots has been the basis of his best seasons.

And that’s exactly what new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is known for doing. Hamilton, 48, began his career in West Coast offenses, including spending two seasons as Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator at Stanford but has strayed from that basis in the past decade. In his three seasons as the Colts’ offensive coordinator with Andrew Luck at quarterback, Indianapolis created the most big plays in the NFL, even when they weren’t the most efficient offense. A lackluster 2022 season as the Texans’ offensive coordinator isn’t scaring me away. There’s no talent in Houston.

Maybe retaining Evero and Rosburg to fill the other two coordinator jobs is lazy, but I think it makes sense. Both have strong ties to Harbaugh—Evero coached under him in San Francisco, and Rosburg says the longtime family friends are often called the Ros-baughs or the Har-burgs—so it makes sense. Both are probably the best options on the market for those jobs anyway.

Rosburg may say he isn’t interested in spending another season living out of a hotel room, and Evero may leave town to appease his best friend Nathaniel Hackett, but I think both coaches returning is the best and most-likely scenario if Harbaugh takes the head job.

Retaining Paton may be another lazy choice, but he makes sense in his role too. Once seen as one of the hottest up-and-coming executives in the NFL, Paton had a rough 2022; he traded for Russell Wilson and hired Hackett as head coach. He’s in line for a demotion. Giving Harbaugh the bulk of the duties but retaining Paton in his general manager title to primarily focus on the draft is a happy medium.

Finally, I’m moving on from everybody who is tied to player health. I don’t know enough to say it’s the trainers’ fault or the strength team’s fault that the Broncos were once again one of the three least-healthy teams in the NFL, but I’m starting fresh and hoping for better. The strength staff and training staff are going to be replaced by somebody, and I don’t really care who.

With the front office and coaching staff built, we have a clear goal in mind: to build a physically-imposing and disciplined football team. Only so much of the roster can change in one offseason, and we’re targeting the running game. The defense will be just fine with Evero back to path any small gaps that arise, and the passing game is tough to address this offseason, given that Wilson, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick are on contracts that can’t be moved until at least the 2024 offseason. By building up the trenches—and with Patrick and hopefully KJ Hamler returning from injury—we think the passing game can show tangible improvement by building off of one of the best running attacks in the NFL.

Pre-Free Agency

Re-sign

Every Restricted Free Agent
LB Alex Singleton: $6 million over two years

DL DeShawn Williams: $5.5 million over two years
OT Cam Fleming: $1.2 million for one year
TE Eric Saubert: $1.1 million for one year
LB Dakota Allen: $900k for one year

Bringing back Singleton makes too much sense. The Broncos need a second linebacker next to Josey Jewell, and Singleton has proven he fits that role well. Plus, he’ll be relatively inexpensive.

DeShawn Williams stepped in 2022, producing more sacks than the first three years of his career combined. He’ll need a bump in pay, but with Williams in tow, the Broncos will have a stout defensive line rotation, even without Dre’Mont Jones.

Cam Fleming performed admirably as a starting tackle this season, and he’d be one of the league’s better backups at the position. The Broncos will bring him back as a low-cost option but look to improve the position during the offseason.

Don’t re-sign

QB Brett Rypien
RB Mike Boone
RB Latavius Murray
RB Marlon Mack
FB Andrew Beck
TE Eric Tomlinson
LG Dalton Risner
LT Calvin Anderson
RT Billy Turner
RT Tom Compton
DE Dre’Mont Jones
SS Kareem Jackson
CB Darius Phillips

Dre’Mont Jones will follow the money this offseason, and odds are he’ll be offered more money to leave than to stay. He won’t get the big money he expected when he recorded 5.5 sacks in the first eight games of the season, but he’ll pick up at least eight figures per season.

Dalton Risner’s time in Denver will also come to an end. He hasn’t been the problem on the offensive line, but he’s due for a pay raise and the Broncos need to restructure their offensive front. They can afford to replace him.

Latavius Murray performed admirably when he took over the Broncos’ bell-cow role halfway through the season. The 2023 free-agent running back class is loaded with talent, though, and the Broncos will look to upgrade. Murray, 32, will likely be available late in free agency if Denver wants to add another man to the room.

Will Kareem Jackson retire? I think so. But even if he doesn’t, it’s probably time for the Broncos to move on.

Cut

IOL Graham Glasgow (saves $11 million)
CB Ronald Darby (saves $10 million)
K Brandon McManus
(saves $2.5 million)

As a backup interior lineman, Graham Glasgow was a very good option. But that isn’t worth paying him an additional $11 million.

Cutting Darby could be tricky since he’s still battling a torn ACL. He should heal by the time the season starts, which would allow the Broncos to move on, though it would push some of his dead cap hit to the next season, which screws up my numbers. I’ll say the Broncos find a way to move on this spring. If the Broncos bring him back, they could have the best cornerback room in the NFL, but that money is better spent elsewhere.

Brandon McManus didn’t live up to his contract last year It’s time to refresh the position.

Restructure

RB Chase Edmonds: Reduce $6 million salary to $2 million. Add a $2 million signing bonus.
FS Justin Simmons: Convert full $14.4 million salary to signing bonus. Saves $6.9 million.

Edmonds is scheduled to make $6 million this season, but the Broncos could move on at any moment and owe him nothing, which would be the correct move. He’d hit free agency and probably pick up about $3 million. Instead, I’ll give him some stability: a $2 million signing bonus and an additional $2 million in salary. That leaves the Broncos little incentive to move on, and he’d pick up $4 million for the season. A good deal for both sides.

I’m restructuring Simmons’ contract and pushing some of the bill down the line. He gets his entire 2023 salary in a lump sum as a signing bonus in exchange. Who doesn’t want their money early? The restructure puts the Broncos on the hook for a $25 million cap hit for 2024, but they could get out of the deal and save almost $15 million if they wanted. The Broncos’ cap space opens up in 2023, which makes pushing back the cap hit more appealing.

Etc.

Pick up Jerry Jeudy’s fifth-year option

Has Jerry Jeudy lived up to the expectations of being the 15th overall pick? No. But he’s picked up his level of play considerably over the past half-season. He’s locked into his rookie deal for one more year but the team will decide this offseason whether to opt into his fifth-year option, which would keep him in Denver for 2024, which Over The Cap projects will cost a little under $13 million. It’s an easy decision to opt in and make Jeudy the 29th highest-paid receiver in the NFL.

Free agency

LG Isaac Seumalo – $11.5m x 2 ($21m total, 2 yr;, $8m signing bonus, $4m salary in Year 1, $10m salary in Year 2)
C Garrett Bradbury – $12.3m x 4 ($49m total; 4 yrs, $20m signing bonus, $1m salary in Year 1, $9m salary in Year 2, $9m salary in Year 3, $10m salary in Year 4)

These two signings are the key to rebuilding the offensive line this offseason. Both players were among the best in the league at their position in 2022. Seumalo, 29, played every game after two seasons plagued by injuries. That’s why he gets a shorter deal that is easy to get out of after 2023. Bradbury, 27, has missed eight games in four NFL seasons. His price tag will be a little higher.

I wanted to sign a tackle but there wasn’t one that fit. Top-tier tackles come at the same price tag as two interior linemen combined, and the tackles on the market this offseason are behemoths. I want smaller, boxier linemen—like Seumalo and Bradbury—to help a quarterback on the shorter side.

SS Terrell Edmunds – $6m x 2 ($12m total, 2 yrs; $6m signing bonus, $2m salary in Year 1, $4m salary in Year 2)

Kareem Jackson’s time in Denver is likely up. The Broncos have Caden Sterns and PJ Locke waiting in the wings, but Sterns has struggled with injuries during his two-year career and Edmunds, 25, provides versatility.

The former first-round pick is coming off his best professional season and could be one of the best box safeties in the NFL. He can play a variety of roles and could come at a fairly low price.

RB D’Onta Foreman – $4.5m x 2 ($9m total, 2 yrs; $3.5m signing bonus, $2.5m salary in Year 1, $3m salary in Year 2)

When the Panthers won games in 2022, it was because of D’Onta Foreman. The 26-year-old’s 914 rushing yards and 4.4 yards per carry don’t catch your eye, but his 113-, 118-, 118-, 130- and 165-yard rushing days definitely do. Why the Panthers didn’t lean on him more is anybody’s guess, but Foreman appears to have plenty in the tank and bell-cow back potential.

Names like Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard, Miles Sanders, Kareem and others headline the deepest free agent running back class in recent memory, but instead of biting on a big-money back, the Broncos will opt for value while also addressing the position in the draft.

TE Hayden Hurst – $4.5m x 2 ($9m total, 2 yrs; $3m signing bonus, $2.5m salary in Year 1, $3.5m salary in Year 2)

414 yards in 13 games in one of the top offenses in the sport isn’t a ringing endorsement, but the Broncos aren’t shopping for a starter at tight end. Greg Dulcich can lead the room but he needs a running mate. That’s where Hurst steps in.

The 29-year-old former first-round pick is fairly well-rounded and can be one of the top No. 2 tight ends in the league, and important insurance following Dulcich’s injury-plagued rookie season.

WR Sammy Watkins – $2m – 1 yr

The days of Watkins starting in the NFL are dead, but the Broncos could use veteran depth at wide receiver instead of relying on undrafted rookies to start multiple games as they did in 2022. Watkins is simply insurance for the backend of the roster, and if he can mentor the younger players, then that’s the cherry on top. Jamison Crowder is another good fit for this role, but I think the Broncos will want a bigger receiver.

QB CJ Beathard – $2m – 1 yr

Beathard is an upgrade at backup quarterback, and he should be fairly cheap.

K Greg Joseph – $2.6m x 2 ($5.2m, 2 yrs; $1m signing bonus, $1.5m salary in Year 1, $2.7m salary in Year 2)

P JK Scott – $1.3m – 1 yr

The draft

R1: OT Broderick Jones – Georgia

The Broncos haven’t had the same right tackle in back-to-back seasons since Orlando Franklin left town after the 2013 season. The streak ends with Broderick Jones.

Jones isn’t my favorite tackle prospect in this draft, but there’s a good chance he’ll be the top option when the Broncos pick. He’s a boxier prospect, which is why he’ll probably fit better at right tackle or even guard than he will as a left tackle. That’s great for Denver, though. And giving up a couple of inches of height doesn’t hurt when Russell Wilson is playing quarterback.

The biggest knock against Jones is his age; he’s already 24, but he’s only started one full season. He fits the Broncos’ needs, though and he’ll be the right tackle for the foreseeable future.

R3: CB Jaylon Jones – Texas A&M

Jaylon Jones could be the answer across from Pat Surtain. He’s a 6-foot-2 cornerback who was a five-star recruit out of high school and put together a solid career at Texas A&M. He reads the game a little bit too slowly right now, but he’s strong, fast and physical and could fit perfectly on the boundary in the Broncos’ defensive scheme. The upside is tremendous.

R3: OG Zak Zinter – Michigan

What good is a running back without an offensive line? Michigan won the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s best offensive line in each of the past two seasons, and Zak Zinter started at right guard for both of them, earning All-Big Ten honors in each. this season, he was a consensus first-teamer.

The 21-year-old has a 6-foot-6 frame that could stand to add a little bit of girth, but he’s sound technically, and the ceiling is clearly very high. He’ll have a chance to develop in Denver before he’s thrown into action.

R4: FB Hunter Luepke – North Dakota State

A fourth-round pick is a high price to pay for a fullback, but prospects like Hunter Luepke don’t come around often, so I’m not taking any chances.

Luepke played four seasons at NDSU and won three national championships. He picked up more than 2,100 yards from scrimmage to go with 33 touchdowns. Find me another fullback with those numbers in college.

Luepke can do it all. He’s adept as a blocker, runner and receiver. He’s made highlight-reel-worthy plays in all three phases. He’ll be a core special teamer too.

There’s no reason Luepke can’t be the best fullback in the NFL.

R5: DL Zacch Pickens – South Carolina

I was torn between Zacch Pickens and Alabama defensive lineman Byron Young with this pick. Young is a veteran defender who fits everything the Broncos need in a two-down lineman, and he could fit into the defensive line rotation on Day 1.

Instead, I chose Pickens, who is a totally different player. He’s a former five-star recruit who never figured out his game at the college level. At 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, Pickens has every tool you could look for in an interior lineman, and he has a massively-high ceiling.

There’s a two-to-one chance Young turns out to be the better player, but I’ll take the gamble.

R7: RB Roschon Johnson – Texas

The top running back in this year’s draft is Bijan Robinson out of Texas. The Broncos aren’t willing to blow a first-round pick on him, so they’ll take the next best thing: his backup.

Roschon Johnson only carried the ball over 100 times once in his career: as a true freshman in 2019. Ever since then, it’s been the Bijan Robinson show.

Johnson joined the Longhorn as a four-star quarterback recruit fresh off an All-American senior season. The Longhorns’ backs got beat up in his first fall camp, so he switched positions and has stuck as a running back ever since.

He’s 6-foot-2 and 222 pounds with a special blend of size and speed and great instincts as a pass blocker. Just 21 years old, Johnson ran for 2,190 yards in his college career at 5.6 yards per carry. He has 420 receiving yards and 26 total touchdowns. He forced 45 missed tackles on 94 runs in 2022.

Johnson might fly up draft boards after the Senior Bowl, but he’s projected as a fringe draft pick right now and is absolutely worth a flyer.

R7: QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson – UCLA

Despite being slightly undersized, Dorian Thompson-Robinson has a big arm and is a twitchy dual-threat athlete. He’s a four-year starter and threw 39 touchdowns to 10 interceptions this season. He has a lot of work to do before he’s ready to lead an NFL offense, but the tools are there, and Russell Wilson could be the perfect teacher for him.

The initial roster (90 players)

After all these moves, the Broncos have 86 players on the roster. The offseason maximum is 90. A dozen or so of the bottom-of-the-barrel guys will be swapped out for undrafted free agents. We won’t worry too much about that here.

What we will worry about is who will make the 53-man roster. Everybody crossed out of the list below is somebody I have listed as a cut during the preseason. Sixteen of those cuts will make the practice squad, but we won’t worry about that part either.

At this point in the process, the Broncos have $12.7 million remaining in cap space. This is about the standard amount teams like to carry into the season, so they can have flexibility to sign and trade players as needed. Plus, unused cap space rolls over to the next season, so there’s no reason to try to push the limits.

I’ll also mark the free agents and rookies as a reminder.

QB

Russell Wilson
CJ Beathard – FA
Dorian Thompson-Robinson – R
Jarrett Guarantano

Can Dorian-Thompson Robinson Russell Wilson Russell Wilson like Russell Wilson Russell Wilson-ed Matt Flynn in 2012? Probably not. (And hats off to you if you could follow that sentence.)

DTR probably can’t even lock up the backup quarterback job, but he’ll show enough to be worthy of carrying on the 53-man roster.

HB

Javonte Williams
D’Onta Foreman – FA

Chase Edmonds
Roschon Johnson – R
Tyler Badie
Damarea Crockett
Tyreik McAllister

If all goes well, the Broncos could look to move Foreman or Edmonds at the trade deadline after Williams returns.

FB

Hunter Luepke – R

The man. The myth. The legend.

WR

Tim Patrick
Jerry Jeudy
Courtland Sutton
KJ Hamler
Kendall Hinton
Sammy Watkins – FA
Montrell Washington
Jalen Virgil
Brandon Johnson
Freddie Swain
Victor Bolden

I’ve got Hinton and Watkins holding onto the final two roster spots, but Washington, Virgil, Johnson, Swain or Cleveland could steal one of them. Given the history at the position, the Broncos are unlikely to come out of training camp healthy, which could open up another spot.

TE

Greg Dulcich
Hayden Hurst – FA
Albert Okwuegbunam

Eric Saubert

Hurst provides a level of safety to this group, given Dulcich’s rookie injuries and Okwuegbunam’s streaky past. This could be one of the most exciting groups on the team or among the most forgettable. Saubert could play a larger role than expected. He feels like a Harbaugh guy.

OT

LT Garett Bolles
RT Broderick Jones – R
Cam Fleming
Quinn Bailey
Casey Tucker
Christian Dilauro
Hunter Thedford

The sky is the limit for the Broncos at tackle. Bolles has an All-Pro nod under his belt and Jones has the skills to bully defensive ends immediately. Fleming was solid when pushed into starting action this season and provides a high-level backup. Bailey could also make the roster but will be a key practice squad addition if not.

IOL

LG Isaac Seumalo – FA
C Garrett Bradbury – FA
RG Quinn Meinerz
Zak Zinter – R
Lloyd Cushenberry
Luke Wattenberg
Will Sherman
Parker Ferguson

The revamped interior line is expensive but could be one of the best in the league. Both Seumalo and Bradbury were top-10 players at their position in 2022 and Meinerz was the best of the Broncos’ linemen. Could the 24-year-old level up when he plays next to these two? Don’t be surprised if he’s the best of the bunch.

Zinter could use a year or two on the bench, and he’ll get that in Denver as the backup guard. Cushenberry will serve the final season of his rookie deal as a backup center… unless somebody offers a trade.

DL

DJ Jones
Mike Purcell
DeShawn Williams
Jonathan Harris
Matt Henningsen
Zacch Pickens – R
Eyioma Uwazurike
Elijah Garcia

Jordan Jackson

The Broncos will miss Dre’Mont Jones, but plenty of talent remains. The top four are solidified NFL veterans who can hold down their jobs at a minimum. Henningsen and Pickens provide upside to the group. Uwazurike was the final cut from this roster. He’ll be tough to send away after a strong final performance of 2022, but difficult decisions must be made.

OLB

Randy Gregory
Baron Browning

Jake Martin
Jonathon Cooper

Nik Bonitto
Chris Allen
Aaron Patrick
Jonathan Kongbo
Wyatt Ray

I was tempted to make a couple of moves at outside linebacker but decided to wait until the trade deadline. Gregory is a good top option when he’s healthy. Browning, Martin and Cooper all deserve roles, but none is a true starting edge. Trading one or two of them and signing or trading for a better starter might make more sense than hoarding them all. I’m holding off and letting the beginning of the season play out. If an injuries flare up I’ll be happy I did. If not, I’ll flip a couple of guys at the trade deadline.

The depth at outside linebacker goes beyond the 53-man roster. Patrick and Kongbo would play massive special teams roles if included on the roster. Allen was the Broncos’ top undrafted addition out of Alabama in 2022, but a torn ACL stole his rookie campaign. Any of those three could make the roster.

ILB

Josey Jewell
Alex Singleton
Jonas Griffith
Justin Strnad
Dakota Allen
Ray Wilborn

The Broncos run it back with the same group from 2022, but this time Singleton is the clear choice as a starter in front of Griffith. Given Jewell’s injury history, keeping Griffith around could prove valuable… if Griffith himself stays healthy.

CB

Pat Surtain II
K’Waun Williams
Damarri Mathis
Essang Bassey

Jaylon Jones
Lamar Jackson
Faion Hicks
Ja’Quan McMillian
Delonte Hood

I was tempted to add a cheap, veteran free agent to this group. Jason Verrett was the top candidate. I could be burned by not adding one more vet to this room.

I didn’t because I think Mathis is ready to be a starter and Jackson has performed well when subbing in and has starting experience. Jones’ high ceiling is the tie-breaker.

S

Justin Simmons
Terrell Edmunds
Caden Sterns
PJ Locke
Delarrin Turner-Yell
Devon Key

The Broncos could run it back without Edmunds. Simmons is among the best free safeties in the game and Sterns has proven he deserves more time next to him. But Sterns hasn’t been able to stay healthy during his two NFL seasons, so we’re adding another piece.

Now the Broncos combine big upside with serious depth. While Edmunds and Sterns would probably split the second safety role in some form, they’d both be on the field in dime packages and potentially some nickel packages. An injury to a safety, linebacker or nickel would open up playing time for Sterns and Edmunds.

P

JK Scott
Corliss Waitman

Another punter competition, but this time Waitman won’t pull off the upset.

K

Greg Joseph

He’s the kicker. Nothing else to talk about.

LS

Jacob Bobenmoyer
Mitchell Fraboni

Long-snapper competitions are rare, but when both long-snappers have spent time on IR, holding onto them through the offseason might not be a bad idea.

Author

Henry was born in Columbia Falls, Montana and graduated from Columbia Falls High School in 2015. He earned bachelor's degrees in journalism and economics from the University of Montana in 2019. After graduation, he joined DNVR. He spent three years covering the University of Colorado before moving to the Broncos beat ahead of the 2022 season. Henry joined DNVR as a remote staff writer in 2017, providing support to BSN's Broncos beat reporters. He interned at DNVR headquarters in the summer of 2018 and accepted a full-time position after graduating from UM. Follow Henry on Twitter - @HenryChisholm

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