February 24, 2009 7:50 PM
Broncos Inbox -- Feb. 25
Welcome, the Broncos Inbox is open and with the opening of free agency approaching we lead of with . . .
Jemal Duran, who asked . . .
Q: Wanted to wait until there was a little more raw data (Broncos cuts vs. available players) before floating this one:
Pure fantasy aside (Albert Haynesworth has gotten too much play in these discussion boards), do you have any feel for what free agents the Broncos may be realistically looking at as we approach Friday?
And bonus question:
What does New England's running game tell us about possible changes to the Broncos running attack? I know (Josh) McDaniels has kept that part of the coaching staff intact, but I guess I'm still not convinced that he will be committed to that part of the gameplan. My casual impression from watching the Patriots in recent years is that it is a pass-first, run-later system, and at times it almost seems like they use their backs begrudgingly.
A: Firstly, it will be a stunning change of direction if the Broncos suddenly decide to take the plunge on one of the high-priced free agents in the opening week of free agency. Albert Haynesworth's agent is already whistling the pipe dream of a $100 million contract to anyone who will listen, for example.
Given the current cash crunch for many teams around the league, including the Broncos, and the amount of money the Broncos will pay to people who no longer work for them -- $7 million to Mike Shanahan and over $1 million to Bob Slowik in the '09 season alone - they are looking for production and value outside of the hypefest.
Their biggest needs at the moment are in the secondary at both safety and cornerback as well as running back, depending on the health of Ryan Torain, who is trying to return from ACL surgery just over three months ago.
Safety is a value position in free agency because, comparatively speaking players at that position don't cost as much in the open market as other players do. There are plenty of safeties out there with some experience to look at as well, including New England's James Sanders, Tampa Bay's Jermaine Phillips, Cleveland's Sean Jones and Oakland's Gibril Wilson.
Sanders is obviously a player McDaniels knows well and Sanders has plenty of experience playing in a 3-4 scheme that can quickly adjust to given situations like McDaniels wants to play.
The Dolphins' Yeremiah Bell has also worked in a 3-4 and would be on the Broncos wish list, but the Dolphins are also working hard to sign him to a multi-year deal.
With Dre' Bly's release the Broncos will also give some corners a look as well. That group has some veterans in it like Buffalo's Jabari Greer, Tampa Bay's Phillip Buchanon, Pittsburgh's Bryant McFadden and St. Louis' Ronald Bartell.
But with the mammoth contract the Raiders gave to Nnamdi Asomugha, the market price for cornerbacks is suddenly sky high with Asomugha's deal, for a player who has made one Pro Bowl, pushing the envelope to where few people thought it would go this time around.
So that could affect things if the cornerbacks in the market believe they should get something in that rising scale.
Signing running backs in free agency is risky because of the wear and tear a back can take before he reaches the open market. And it's a rare case when a low-mileage back like Michael Turner comes free as he did last season when the Falcons signed him, so most teams don't want to jump out early and sign a runner for big money.
If the Broncos sign a back they are expected to wait for the dust to settle some.
The class of running backs in the draft isn't particularly strong in terms of speed and impact early, but there is some value to be found later in players like Colorado State's Gartrell Johnson, who caught the ball so well in practices for the East-West game that some teams were dabbling with the idea of trying him in some receiver drills, and Boise State's Ian Johnson.
In terms of how McDaniels' run game will look in the offense, we all may have to wait until training camp to see it. But certainly the Patriots weren't often the most committed team to the run in recent years - they haven't run the ball more times than they have thrown it in a season since 2004.
McDaniels did retain offensive line coach Rick Dennison and running backs coach Bobby Turner, both of whom are well versed in the Broncos zone-run scheme.
However the Patriots consistently played with a bigger offensive line in McDaniels' tenure there than the Broncos have had over the last 14 seasons and looked a little more traditional in the run game this past season as they tried to protect Matt Cassel in his first extensive game action of his career when he replaced the injured Tom Brady.
But in 2007 the Patriots threw the ball 135 more times than they ran it as McDaniels played a spread look for much of the year with Brady in the shotgun.
So there will be some change, to what extent may also be determined by how much depth the Broncos can show at running back before the start of the season. None of the current backs on the roster had a healthy season in '08 and all are coming off injuries.
John Werner was the first to lob it in and spoke for many this week when he asked . . .
Q: Am I connecting these dots correctly? 1. The Broncos dumped their top personnel guy. 2. (Brian) Xanders' background is more in cap management/business than in player personnel. 3. McDaniels got his start working in personnel with the Patriots. The combination of these three things leads me to believe that Pat Bowlen has decided that he is comfortable giving McDaniels a far greater say in personnel than was anticipated when he first hired him. Is that a fair assumption?
And Dave Hauck in Boston . . .
Q: The Broncos recent drafts have been decent, at least compared with the early part of the decade. Is it safe to assume that Brian Xanders was heavily responsible for Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Ryan Clady, Ryan Harris, and Eddie Royal, and that's why he got the GM job?
A: I'd say you connected the dots correctly with one caveat. Bowlen has tried to put an important check and balance in place by creating a somewhat different chain of command.
McDaniels doesn't answer to Xanders like head coaches often do in organizations with a traditional general manager-head coach flow chart. McDaniels reports directly to Bowlen.
And Xanders doesn't answer to McDaniels, he also reports directly to Bowlen to. So, in theory, neither can bully the other too much, with Bowlen squarely in the middle of things at the top of the pyramid.
But McDaniels will certainly have a huge voice in player evaluation, given like most people who are hired into Bill Belichick's operation, he started his NFL career in player personnel.
The Broncos have also tinkered some with their personnel staff since Xanders was promoted to general manager having added Keith Kidd to their pro personnel staff at the combine and they will likely be looking for at least one scout when Tyler Goodman, Jim Goodman's son, is let go after the draft.
Jim Goodman and Jeff Goodman, also Jim's son, were fired earlier this month.
The league frowns on teams hiring replacements on their scouting staffs before the draft, so those moves routinely come after the draft.
Xanders has done player evaluation, it's just people who have worked with him in the past have said he didn't come up the traditional way as an area scout on the road, responsible for visiting schools in one section of the country before moving up the personnel ladder to be a general manager.
He has always been ahead of the curve in terms of using technology to collate and organize the information gathered in scouting - he also helped design the Atlanta Falcons' first team website - and is fluent in all of the salary cap rules and regulations.
But McDaniels believes in him and Bowlen believes in him so that's certainly a good start for a guy in his first run as a team's top personnel executive. Nobody really knows if a person is ready to be at the top of the corporate flowchart until they have to do it.
So Xanders has his chance and folks have always spoken highly of his ability to work with people and his organizational skills. Whether he has the "feel'' part of scouting remains to be seen, but if McDaniels can offer that as well as the team's current scouting staff, and everybody listens to what people have to say when the decisions get made then the team's approach won't be all that different from anyone else's.
To me the bigger question is McDaniels' ability to do all of the things he wants to do in his first season as an NFL head coach. He's going to run his first team, with all of the decisions that come with that, call plays on offense, which means participating in plenty of the meetings during the week, and be one of the team's chief player evaluators.
That's a lot on the plate. Belichick has done it that way and made it work, but his disciples haven't yet been able to duplicate that success with a do-it-all approach. Eric Mangini got fired in New York, Romeo Crennel got fired in Cleveland, Nick Saban couldn't make it work in Miami before bolting back to college football and Charlie Weis is hanging on by a thread at Notre Dame.
McDaniels is confident he can do it and has already said if he, at some point, decides it's not working that way, he would look at other options like somebody else calling plays or adding some more voices in the evaluation process.
In terms of Xanders' involvement in recent drafts, he joined the team the week following the 2008 draft so this will be his first draft with the Broncos.
And he is in the GM job right now because McDaniels and he quickly hit it off and already have a good working relationship and because the St. Louis Rams were interested in hiring Xanders away, giving him more responsibility than he had as the Broncos assistant general manager.
So to keep him, as well as the way he and McDaniels were quickly able to work together, they promoted him.
And finally A.P. Crisafi asked . . .
Q: What's your take on the Broncos young defensive linemen and moving to a 3-4. Can (Tim) Crowder play end? Can (Jarvin) Moss and (Elvis) Dumervil play outside linebacker? What about Marcus Thomas, he is the only one who even contributed out of that (2007) draft, where does he fit?
A: McDaniels only admitted Friday the team will, as we all expected, play some 3-4 in the upcoming season. But until he sees some of these guys on the field - he hasn't even met with the entire team in a group setting yet - even he doesn't have all of those answers.
They have an idea of what they want to do and have likely made projections about what each guy can do, but decisions can't be made until they get on the field some.
However, looking at the video and talking to people like Dick LeBeau and Joe Collier, two of the finest 3-4 coaches the game has ever seen, over the past few weeks about what's needed at each of those spots it's clear it will be a difficult transition for some of the current Broncos.
Crowder is likely too small to play end in a 3-4 and has not shown the consistent kind of power it will take to anchor one of those spots. The Patriots play far bigger players in the two end spots as well as players who have shown far more ability to battle double teams and hold the edge of the formation than Crowder has so far.
As far as Moss and Dumervil, unless one of them can show some ability in coverage they will both likely be vying for the rush linebacker spot. And it's the other side, the strong side outside linebacker spot, that is more difficult to fill.
That player not only has to have the rush skills to get upfield on passing downs, he has to be strong enough to power through blocks in the run game and quick enough to drop out into coverage on a back or tight end.
Other than the nose tackle, that may be the most difficult player to find in the defense because of all he has to do. Moss and Dumervil were strictly rush players in college and have strictly been rush players with the Broncos for the most part.
Their adjustment will be to show enough flexibility in their hips and in their footwork to drop off the line of scrimmage in coverage when necessary and be tough enough to play off the shoulder of the end in front of them in the run game and keep from getting folded up.
All skills they haven't been asked to do before. The learning curve will be steep and they won't have all that much time to show what they can do.
Marcus Thomas has the body type and the footwork to play at one of the end spots. Most 3-4 coaches I know believe he's not quite big enough or powerful enough to slug it out at nose tackle, but he could find a home at one of the end spots.
But it takes a certain mentality up front in the scheme because there is little glory to be found at those three spots in the defensive line. There is only the appreciation of hard-core football souls and their teammates for a job well done.
They have to pound and pound and pound, take on double teams and consistently grind at the point of attack with little hope of a payoff of a sack all that often.
And finally, because a few folks asked once again -- the Broncos draft picks:
(Only the positions in the first round are set right now. The Broncos draft 12th overall. Beyond that the official positions won't be locked in until March when all of the compensatory picks are awarded around the league.)
No. of picks Round
1 First (12th overall)
2 Fifth (one from Broncos, one from Seattle in Keary Colbert trade)
2 Seventh (one from Broncos, one from Atlanta in Domonique Foxworth trade)
Again, specific picks after the first round won't be set until late next month.
That's it and thanks.