Broncos Kickoff New Year by Beating the Raiders – by Bob Volpe

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Any day the Raiders get beat is a good day and the Broncos sank their chance for a high seed in the AFC playoff race 24-6 last Sunday. Revenge is a dish best served up cold.

The Raiders came to Denver last week with the second seed in the AFC playoff race on the line. A win and they clinch the number two spot and a bye week and they win the AFC West. A loss, and a Chiefs win, and they drop to the number 5 seed, lose the AFC West title to the Chiefs, and play a wildcard game next week.

The Broncos were happy to play spoilers. Granted the Raiders were without the hot handed Derek Carr at quarterback, who suffered a broken leg two weeks ago, but hey, it’s the Raiders. Broncos love to mess up a Raider team anyway, anytime, any place.

It has been a rough go this season for the Broncos, but ending the year with a win over the Raiders is a sweet first step toward another Super Bowl run in 2017. So, with that in mind, let’s look at what the team needs to do to get back to the big show.

Who is in and who is out

COACHES:
In a move that came as a surprise to almost everyone, Head Coach Gary Kubiak announced he was retiring from football due to health reasons.

Kubes press conference after the Raider game found the coach visibly choked up. He addressed the media saying, “As I told our team last night, this is an extremely difficult decision to step down as head coach. I love to work and I love football, but ultimately the demands of the job are no longer a good fit for me. I gave everything I had to this team the last two seasons, but this year, in particular, has been tough on me. As hard as it is to leave this position, I know that it’s the best thing for myself, my family and the Denver Broncos.

John Elway said, “I appreciate all Gary has done for us. On behalf of our entire organization, I thank him and wish him all the best.”

Kubiak’s retirement only adds to questions surrounding the Bronco’s future. There are several head coaches in the NFL who are, or will soon be looking for a new team.

It’s a star studded list of winners and losers, anyone of who may be headed to Denver this year.

Presently on the hot seat of their current teams are head coaches; Mike McCoy (Chargers), Chip Kelly (Niners), Jeff Fisher (Rams), Gus Bradley (Jags), Rex Ryan (Bills), Chuck Pagano, (Colts), Sean Payton, (Saints). Out of this list the only one I consider worthy of consideration is Sean Payton.

Elway may decide to promote from within. Wade Phillips is a likely candidate and that leads us to the question of the existing coaching staff.

Phillip’s defense had a tough time overcoming the loss of Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan. Those two players held the center of the defense together and without them, the Bronco D suffered against teams exploiting the middle of the field.

Wade will be back, barring the possibility of a new head coach cleaning house.

And then there is the question of the offensive coordinator. Rick Dennison has been a complete failure. Although Elway places a lot of stock in loyalty, business is business, and Dennison’s lack luster performance puts him on the top of the “gotta go” list.

The Broncos were at the bottom of the NFL on converting third downs. Even worse they struggled mercilessly on third and one.

Dennison will be gone no matter who ends up being head coach in 2017.

FREE AGENCY

The obvious deficiency the Broncos had in 2016 was the offensive line.

Elway tried to make up for the loss of Louis Vesquez, Ryan Clady, Ryan Harris, and Evan Mathis with rookies and free agents. The replacements, Ty Sambrailo, Russel Okung, Donald Stephenson, and especially Michael Schofield got beat harder than a rented mule.

Rebuilding the O line is a top priority. The list of O line free agents is the first place the Broncos will look to beef up the line.

The list of free agent offensive linemen is short and gets shorter as their current teams scramble to keep them.

At this time the best currently available offensive line free agents are; Kevin Zeitler, G, Cincinnati Bengals, David DeCastro, RG, Pittsburgh Steelers, Ronald Leary G, Dallas Cowboys, T.J. Lang Green Bay, and Larry Warford Detroit.

The other must fix for the Bronco’s 2017 season is fixing the hole in the center of the defense.

Guys the Broncos should target this year on defense are; Zach Brown, Linebacker, Buffalo Bills, Melvin Ingram, Linebacker, San Diego Chargers, and Kawann Short, Defensive Tackle, Carolina Panthers.

TRADES

The Broncos could also take care of weaknesses through trades.

Elway should trade for Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns. Thomas, who was selected in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft by the Browns, was recently named to his 10th straight Pro Bowl and is widely considered one of the best offensive linemen at any position up front.

Denver should also trade for Jet defensive end, Sheldon Richardson. Remember, Denver reportedly went after Richardson at the trade deadline but were unable to land him then. Could Elway, now, get Richardson this offseason for even less? It seems likely, as a lack of production from Richardson this year (35 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and his numerous off-the-field issues mean his value has dropped significantly. Add in the fact the Jets are stacked on the d-line and Elway could get him for little to nothing.

Trades come with a cost, so who Elway will decide to sacrifice from the current rooster is anybodies guess.

THE DRAFT

The Broncos first pick in this year’s draft comes at number twenty.

Here again is a means to address weaknesses, but the draft can be a gamble.

The one guy I personally would like to see the Broncos take first in the draft is Christian McCaffrey and pick up offensive line and defensive line help in later rounds.

Why? He was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. He holds the NCAA record for most all-purpose yards in a season with 3,864. He would make a great kick return specialist and add a feisty element to the run game. Besides, he is the son of former Stanford and Bronco wide receiver Ed McCaffrey.

Go ahead, call me a sentimental old fool.