Since the Broncos won the free agency sweepstakes to get Peyton Manning (5yrs/$96M), everybody seems convinced he’s still looking like a Pro Bowl quarterback. David Cutcliffe coached Manning at the University of Tennessee and recently put the QB through NFL-style workouts at Duke University. “He can make all the throws, his release times are perfect, and we pay a lot of attention to that,” Cutcliffe told The Denver Post. “He’s in great shape. Not good shape, great shape, and that’s part of what we did here as well.”Cutcliffe says Manning is ready right now, three neck surgeries in the past year be damned. “He could play a game. We’ve done it, we’ve simulated games, and he’s done well,” he said. “He’s going to do nothing but get stronger and going to play up to his standards. I know that’s his goal, and there isn’t any reason, there is no indicator otherwise.”
My curiosity isn’t whether or not Peyton can throw a laser and feeling comfortable doing so, my question is can he take a hit. Denver put their future in the hands of a potential Hall of Famer who just underwent (allegedly) three surgeries in the past 19 months. It has been stated that ANY IMPACT can compromise the fusion and the hardware in his neck.
So now the main objective for the Broncos at this point is to make sure that the offensive line is solid so the sacks that Peyton will endure be limited.
#1 PRIORITY – Offensive line: The average age of the O-Line is 25.4 years and 3 of the 5 starters were drafted within the past 2 years. To protect Peyton’s blind side, Ryan Clady has the job covered; he is a Pro Bowler at Left Tackle, but the meat of the line needs depth. Center J.D. Walton and Left Guard Zane Beadles are good…but not consistent
2. Defensive Tackle: The Broncos weren’t able to re-sign free-agent DT Brodrick Bunkley (5 year deal with the New Orleans Saints), but they should be trying hard to re-sign Marcus Thomas (also an unrestricted free agent). At 26 years old, he’s a solid run-stopper at DT and is worth keeping. The interior needs some pass-rush punch, and this year’s draft class is deep with defensive tackles that can generate pressure.
3. Running Back: The Broncos were known to have a “stable of Running Backs” back in the Mike Shanahan era, and Head Coach John Fox is looking toward the same goal. Willis McGahee is 30 years old with a lot of wear-and-tear on his body that resulted in late season injuries last year. Knowshon Moreno is becoming a “no show” as time passes; he played in 16 games his rookie season in 2009 and it dropped drastically to 7 games last year when he ended season by being placed on IR after tearing his ACL against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos could use a young power runner to limit McGahee’s carries and maximize his effectiveness.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
*SS Brian Dawkins continues to ponder his future after missing four of the last five games with a pinched nerve in his neck, but has said if he plays in 2012, it will be for the Broncos. They’d like him back if he opts to return.
*OLB Mario Haggan demonstrated his value in Week 12 at Minnesota, when he filled in for the injured Von Miller and scored on an interception return. He’s a locker-room leader who can back up at both outside linebacker slots and defensive end, and the interest in his return is mutual.
*G/C Russ Hochstein started both of Denver’s playoff games after right guard Chris Kuper suffered a fractured leg in Week 17. He’s been the Broncos’ steadiest backup offensive lineman the last three years, but the Broncos may look for younger backups than Hochstein, who turns 35 this year.
*DT Marcus Thomas was a more natural fit in John Fox’s 4-3 defense than the 3-4 alignment used under Josh McDaniels from 2009-10, but went without a sack for the fourth time in five career seasons. He will test the market, but could return to the Broncos if the price is right.
*CB Jonathan White was pressed into early-season duty after Champ Bailey strained his hamstring, but faded down the depth chart as the season progressed thanks to the emergence of rookie cornerback Chris Harris as the nickel corner. With third-year cornerbacks Syd’Quan Thompson and Cassius Vaughn returning from season-ending injuries, there may not be room for White.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
*DL Ryan McBean (tendered at $1.26M with fourth-round pick as compensation) transitioned from 3-4 end to 4-3 tackle and led all Broncos’ defensive tackle in sacks (4.0), but faces a six-game suspension for violation of the league’s PED policy. He has filed suit to contest the suspension.
*WR Matt Willis (tendered at $1.26M with no compensation) occasionally lined up as a No. 3 wide receiver in 2011, and also filled in on returns and other special-teams units. With Eddie Royal leaving via free agency, Willis would be expected to compete with Andre Caldwell and Jason Hill for the No. 3 receiving spot.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
*OL Chris Clark (tendered at $540,000) was more valuable as an extra tight end in jumbo packages than as a reserve tackle. He was a capable blocker in that unexpected role and will return for 2012.
*P Britton Colquitt (tendered at $540,000) narrowly missed making the Pro Bowl last season after improving in every statistical category in his second season as the Broncos’ punter. Another solid season could lead to a long-term deal.
*RB Lance Ball: Exclusive Rights Free Agent; $540,000/1 yr.
*DE Jason Hunter: Unrestricted Free Agent; contract unknown
*LB Joe Mays: Unrestricted Free Agent; $12M/3 yrs.
*LB Wesley Woodyard: Unrestricted Free Agent; $4M/2 yrs.
*S Mike Adams: Unrestricted Free Agent Browns; $4M/2 yrs.
*WR Andre Caldwell: Unrestricted Free Agent Bengals; $1.8M/2 yrs.
*TE Joel Dreessen: Unrestricted Free Agent Texans; $8.5M/3 yrs.
*QB Caleb Hanie: Unrestricted Free Agent Bears; $1.25M/1 yr.
*WR Jason Hill: FA; $700,000/1 yr.
*QB Peyton Manning: FA Colts $96M/5 yrs, $18M guaranteed.
*CB Tracy Porter: Unrestricted Free Agent Saints; $4M/1 yr.
*TE Jacob Tamme: Unrestricted Free Agent Colts; $9M/3 yrs, $3.5M guaranteed.
*DT Brodrick Bunkley: Unrestricted Free Agent Saints; $25M/5 yrs, $9 Million guaranteed.
*TE Daniel Fells: Unrestricted Free Agent Patriots; $5.25M/3 yrs, $2M guaranteed.
*DE Derrick Harvey: Unrestricted Free Agent Bengals; terms unknown.
*FB Spencer Larsen: Unrestricted Free Agent Patriots; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
*QB Brady Quinn: Unrestricted Free Agent Chiefs; $1.5M/1 yr.
*TE Dante Rosario: Unrestricted Free Agent Chargers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
*WR Eddie Royal: Unrestricted Free Agent Chargers; $13.5M/3 yrs, $6M guaranteed.
*QB Tim Tebow: Traded with the Broncos’ seventh-round draft pick to the New York Jets in exchange for a fourth- and a sixth-round pick. I think I would have gave them Tebow for free and pay for the plane fare to NY.
Just my personal opinion….