What the Denver Broncos Offseason Means for the 2014 NFL Season
TJ Ward Broncos Safety
Do the Broncos have the leadership to create great team chemistry?
Early in the 2014 NFL offseason, the Denver Broncos have made some noise by signing some big names. With that comes more egos in the locker room that have to be managed, and incumbent players being paid less than newcomers. Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware are both NFL veterans who are highly thought of talents, while TJ Ward has been a leader on the Browns defense for the past few seasons. If a smooth transition is to take place, as Talib, Ward and Ware settle into their roles on the field and in the locker room, veteran leadership will be necessary from some of the Broncos incumbent and acquired stars. The Broncos have a great coaching staff in place, and veteran leadership on the offensive side of things with quarterback Peyton Manning, but this offseason has brought players to the team, only on the defensive side so far. As the defensive signal caller, and a 7 year veteran with the Broncos, inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard is a huge loss as a free agent for the Broncos. His leadership would allow him to be welcomed back, that way most leadership questions would be answered for them defensively.
Ware takes the role that was vacated by the departure of veteran defensive end Shaun Phillips, who was a solid role player for the Broncos in 2013. Ware had a down year for the Cowboys in 2013, by his production standards, but at age 31 he should still have a lot left to offer to the Broncos over the course of his new three year contract. He has versatility as an outside linebacker in a three front defense, and as a defensive end in a four front defense. His skill set should add a lot to Denver's pass rush packages, which is an area where they struggled at times last year when they had the lead. Ware will play opposite Denver's other pass rush specialist, Von Miller where they will look to get after quarterbacks from both edges.
Ward brings a physical presence to the Broncos secondary, as a young and talented safety entering the first year of his second NFL contract. During his time in Cleveland, Ward only collected 5 interceptions over 4 seasons, but he is still a playmaker who helps in run support, as well as making plays in deep coverage. Ward was one of the top safeties on the market, and his aggressive play can change the way Denver's defense is perceived by opposing receivers.
Talib is a big physical corner that has earned a reputation as a solid cover guy throughout his six year NFL career. He has the size to match up with some of the bigger receivers that the Broncos may face on their 2014 schedule, and he will look to replace Champ Bailey as the Broncos number one defensive back. As of right now, Talib will play opposite Quinton Carter who is also a big corner, capable of taking away one of the opposition's primary weapons. The size at corner for the Denver Broncos will play a huge role in covering up any shortcomings they may have at the safety position. This is not to say that Denver has bad play from the safety positions, but it would be a huge luxury for them to allow TJ Ward and Duke Ihenacho to roam freely as a playmakers, with the oppositions' wide receivers locked down on the outside.
What Denver has lost
The most noteworthy free agent that the Broncos have lost up to this point, is wide receiver Eric Decker to the New York Jets. Running back Knowshon Moreno is a free agent, and Denver also figures to lose inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard, as he has been visiting other teams the past couple of days. This would leave the Broncos with a need at inside linebacker, but they are able to replace Eric Decker from within, since they had receiver Andre Caldwell waiting behind Decker, for playing time last season. The Broncos have also lost cornerback Champ Bailey and defensive end Shaun Phillips, but they have replaced both with their most noteworthy free agent signings so far. The Broncos drafted their running back of the future in the third round of the 2013 draft, when they selected Montee Ball out of Wisconsin. Ball shared time with Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman in 2013, but he is in line to take over the primary running back role for Denver in 2014, with Hillman as his backup.
What this means for the AFC
So far this offseason, the Broncos have lost a little offensively, while gaining a little defensively. Last season, their primary competition for AFC supremacy, came from the New England Patriots, but they could face more resistance in conference play this season. Some of the typical AFC powers were having down seasons in 2013, but the Chiefs, Colts, Ravens, Bengals and Steelers will all be looking to make life tough for the Broncos in potential matchups this year. While not all of these teams will play the Broncos in the regular season, postseason matchups between them could prove to be very compelling.
Denver is probably the favorite to repeat as AFC Champions, but the Patriots adding Darrelle Revis could prove to be troublesome for them. The Seattle Seahawks created a blueprint in the Super Bowl, on how to slow down the Broncos. The Patriots having a lockdown corner with other physical defensive backs and linebackers, would allow them to match up well with the Broncos. In the previous postseason, a physical Ravens defense was able to slow the Broncos enough to pull the upset in overtime. In both cases however, the Seahawks and Ravens put a lot of points on the board, which ultimately led to the victory. This is why the Broncos as the favorites in the AFC, will have a tough battle ahead in order to maintain AFC supremacy.
If TJ Ward is able to make an impact in the secondary from a performance and leadership standpoint, the Broncos will once again be one of the top teams in the AFC. If Andre Caldwell is able to step in right away and contribute strongly in an effort to replace Decker's production, the Broncos will once again have a chance to put up historic numbers offensively. The toughness of the Broncos was questioned, when they reached the largest stage in football, so 2014 will be about leadership and toughness for this squad. Ultimately the Broncos appear to have what it takes, to once again make a deep run in the postseason, while winning a lot of games in the regular season.