Team-By-Team Offseason Analysis
Today: Denver Broncos
Next: Detroit Lions
Offseason Recap: Broncos
Coach: Mike Shanahan (entering 10th season with team)
Players Released: Ed McCaffrey, WR (retired) Ephraim Salaam, T Steve Herndon, G Steve Beuerlein, QB Free Agents Lost Bert Berry, DE (Arizona) Keith Burns, LB (Tampa Bay) Chris Cole, WR/KR (Oakland) Ian Gold, LB (Tampa Bay).
Free Agents: Signed Mike Quinn, QB (Houston) Marco Coleman, DE (Philadelphia) Willie Jackson, WR (out of NFL) Reggie Stephens, CB (N.Y. Giants) Jed Weaver, TE (San Francisco) Raylee Johnson, DE (San Diego) John Lynch, S (Tampa Bay) Luther Elliss, DT (Detroit) Garrison Hearst, RB (San Francisco) Cornell Green, T (Tampa Bay) O.J. Santiago, TE (Oakland).
Free Agents Re-Signed: Mike Leach, LS; Scott Turner, CB; Jimmy Spencer, CB; Reuben Droughns, RB; Patrick Hape, TE.
Traded: Clinton Portis, RB (Washington); Deltha O'Neal, CB (Cincinnati).
Traded For: Champ Bailey, CB (Washington).
Draft Picks: Rd. 1 (No. 17 overall) D.J. Williams, LB, Miami; 2 (41) Tatum Bell, RB, Oklahoma State; 2 (54) Darius Watts, WR, Marshall; 3 (85) Jeremy LeSueur, CB, Michigan; 5 (152) Jeff Shoate, CB, San Diego State; 6 (171) Triandos Luke, WR, Alabama; 6 (190) Josh Sewell, C, Nebraska; 7 (225) Matt Mauck, QB, LSU; 7 (247) Brandon Miree, RB, Pittsburgh; 7 (250) Bradlee Van Pelt, QB, Colorado State.
The Denver Broncos have not won a playoff game in five seasons, going 0-2 since the second of their consecutive Super Bowl triumphs on Jan. 31, 1999. Their two playoff losses in that span have come by a combined margin of 62-13, including a 41-10 loss to Indianapolis on Jan. 4 in an AFC wild-card game.
It's enough to begin to tarnish Coach Mike Shanahan's genius reputation.
So Shanahan and the Broncos made bold moves this offseason, most notably sending tailback Clinton Portis to the Washington Redskins in one of the biggest trades in NFL history. This is not a league in which one Pro Bowl player is swapped for another very often, but the Broncos got cornerback Champ Bailey and a second-round draft pick from the Redskins to begin to upgrade a secondary that was shredded by Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in the playoffs. Denver's defense ranked sixth in the league during the regular season against the pass (and fourth overall) but allowed Manning to throw for 377 yards and five touchdowns.
Bailey gives the Broncos the sort of shut-down cornerback that they had tried unsuccessfully to obtain in recent years. Denver also added safety John Lynch after he was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and signed veteran defensive linemen Raylee Johnson, Luther Elliss and Marco Coleman in free agency. Linebacker D.J. Williams, the team's first-round draft choice out of Miami, replaces departed free agent Ian Gold.
The questions on offense are whether quarterback Jake Plummer can stay healthy and whether the Broncos have sufficiently skilled players around him to thrive without Portis. The release of Steve Beuerlein at least temporarily leaves veteran journeyman Danny Kanell second on the depth chart behind Plummer, ahead of free-agent addition Mike Quinn and seventh-round draft selections Matt Mauck and Bradlee Van Pelt. Denver has been competing with Buffalo to sign free-agent quarterback Kordell Stewart.
The Broncos were able to trade Portis on the heels of consecutive 1,500-yard rushing seasons in part because they feared his contract complaints would become a problem, and in part because Shanahan always has been able to find The Next Running Back. In the past six seasons, four tailbacks -- Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Portis -- have had at least one season with at least 1,100 rushing yards for Denver.
Now Shanahan must choose a starter from among Anderson, veteran free-agent addition Garrison Hearst, second-year pro Quentin Griffin and second-round draft pick Tatum Bell. Griffin, a fourth-round draft choice last year out of Oklahoma, is small for an every-down back, at 5 feet 7 and 195 pounds, but ran for 136 yards against the Colts in a regular season game last December. This time, the Broncos must get it done without offensive line guru Alex Gibbs, who joined the Atlanta Falcons' coaching staff.
Tight end Shannon Sharpe decided to return for a 15th NFL season after the Broncos had prepared for his possible retirement with a string of moves. He has won three Super Bowls (two with the Broncos and one with the Baltimore Ravens) and unquestionably would like to end his career with a fourth. But many in Denver probably would settle for a playoff win or two.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Kurt Warner is scheduled to meet with New York Giants officials and undergo a physical today. He began his visit with the club Monday night. The Giants are one of the teams pursuing Warner, who is expected to be released by the St. Louis Rams after June 1. The Rams have given him permission to begin pursuing opportunities elsewhere. . . .
Free-agent quarterback Damon Huard is scheduled to visit the Green Bay Packers tonight. The Packers have put their negotiations regarding a possible trade for the Cleveland Browns' Tim Couch on hold at least temporarily to meet with Huard, who also has met with the Giants and Kansas City Chiefs.
Miami Dolphins Coach Dave Wannstedt made a surprising choice when he picked tight ends coach Chris Foerster to replace Joel Collier as offensive coordinator. Wannstedt has two former offensive coordinators, quarterbacks coach Marc Trestman and wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, on staff but apparently wanted Trestman to focus on working with quarterbacks A.J. Feeley and Jay Fiedler, and figured Sullivan would have his hands full with wide receiver David Boston.
Collier, who will coach the team's running backs, has health problems he said are related to exhaustion. He was promoted to offensive coordinator when Norv Turner left in January to become the Oakland Raiders' head coach. . . .
An NFL source said this morning that the Raiders remain interested in free-agent quarterback Kerry Collins but have not offered him a contract to his liking, and are not promising Collins that he would have an opportunity to earn a starting job.
Safety Donovin Darius joined the Jacksonville Jaguars' offseason workouts Monday. Darius had stayed away from the club previously because of discontent about being kept off the free-agent market by being named the team's franchise player.