Krieger: Not exactly hawks at Dove Valley
March 22, 2005
I think I have my Broncos transactions up to date - Jason Baker out, Mark Mariscal in; Mark Mariscal out, Jason Baker in - and I have just the one question:
What, exactly, are they doing?
Ian Gold, whom they bid farewell a year ago rather than pay a big signing bonus, is their big catch, returning for a big signing bonus.
What, John Kerry is running the team now?
Gerard Warren, an interior defensive lineman jettisoned by a last-place team, the Cleveland Browns, is the other prize addition.
As far as people you've heard of, that's about it.
The checkout list is somewhat longer:
• Kenoy Kennedy, a successful Broncos draft choice who stuck around. In fact, Kennedy was chosen five picks after Gold in 2000.
This is puzzling because Mike Shanahan said lack of depth at safety was the culprit when the Colts blew out the Broncos in the playoffs at the end of the 2003 season (as opposed to when the Colts blew out the Broncos at the end of the 2004 season, when lack of depth at cornerback was the culprit).
This prompted Shanahan to sign John Lynch as a free agent, giving him three solid safeties in Lynch, Kennedy and Nick Ferguson. Now, he's back to two, which is where he was in '03 when Ferguson went down.
• Reggie Hayward, the best pass rusher on a mediocre pass-rushing team.
This is the second year in a row they've lost their best pass rusher. A year ago, it was Bert Berry. The Broncos let it be known Berry was unlikely to replicate his 111/2 sacks in Arizona, where he wouldn't have Trevor Pryce to occupy most of the blockers.
This turned out to be true. Berry had 141/2, leading the league. As this developed, Shanahan explained that he really wanted Berry back, but the front-loaded nature of Arizona's offer made that impossible. What this really means is Arizona took advantage of the Broncos' lack of salary-cap flexibility. This continues to be an issue for the Broncos as they let Hayward walk.
• Dan Neil, a fixture at guard since 1998.
Neil's gimpy left knee might justify this move, but it's not as if the Broncos knew who was going to replace him. Cooper Carlisle was out, then he was in again, sort of like Baker and Gold.
• Donnie Spragan, last season's starting strong-side linebacker.
Gold replaces Spragan as a starter, though he'll move to the weak side. This increases both the talent and the cost of the linebacking corps, already the strongest unit on the team.
• Kelly Herndon, last season's nickel back.
The Broncos proved how important a nickel back is when Lenny Walls went down and Herndon became a starting corner. Rookie Roc Alexander moved up to nickel back, where Peyton Manning toasted him in January.
So far, the balance sheet is four starters lost, two gained and that doesn't count all the backup quarterbacks the Broncos romanced and lost.
The most puzzling part remains their lack of regard for the defensive line. Most of their interest is in Browns busts, from Warren to Courtney Brown. If draft pedigree won games, the Broncos would be looking good.
General manager Ted Sundquist says the reward on Brown, the first pick in 2000, is much greater than the risk, but that's true only if Brown plays, which he seldom does. If he's hurt again, the money he collects will be like the money Daryl Gardener collected two years ago - dead weight on the salary cap.
The Broncos seem to be taking risks on blue-chip talent with baggage because they don't score well enough in the draft to develop stars the old-fashioned way.
Although Pat Bowlen told my colleague Jeff Legwold the Broncos can no longer make the sort of acquisitions they did in the early days of free agency, they're still taking big risks to do just that.
Today's model is New England, which drafts well and lets other teams overpay its departing free agents as it replaces them with younger players.
The Broncos can't do that because they don't have enough successful draft picks, especially from the later rounds. They selected 15 players in the third round and later over the last two drafts. Just one - Quentin Griffin - has made an impact so far. They took four defensive linemen in 2003 alone. None has made an impact.
Just as they take chances on free agents with baggage, they take chances on draft choices with baggage - much of it medical - in search of the home run. Their 2001 draft, in which they started with Willie Middlebrooks and Paul Toviessi, is the best - maybe worst - example.
They are operating an old plan in a new age. Their chances for substantial improvement this season now seem to rest on a great draft. If you're going to bet on this, I suggest you get the historical odds.
. Dave Krieger appears on FSN Rocky Mountain's Insider Edition at 6:30 tonight.
We need to improve our drafting from the 3rd round onwards as it has been abysmal in the last few years, especially now that we've an additional 2 picks there. There's no way I want another 2003 draft where we busted out on Eason, Hunt and Mitchell although Hunt is back now, those were terrible picks and our evaluation of 2nd day talent needs to drastically improve.