- While Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch certainly hasn’t been successful through two NFL seasons, he’s also had to deal with two head coaches, three offensive coordinators, and three different offensive schemes, as Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post opines. Lynch, the Broncos’ first-round pick in 2016, has only four games in two years with Denver, and lost the starting quarterback job to former seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian in both campaigns.
Here are the latest reserve/futures contract signings from around the NFL. These deals will go into effect on the first day of the 2018 league year, with players joining their respective clubs’ offseason 90-man rosters:
New York Jets
- P Ben Turk
The Broncos have fallen quite a ways from their Super Bowl 50 win about two years ago. The team’s biggest question mark is obviously at quarterback, but there are a number of questions that John Elway and company will have to answer over the course of the offseason, explains Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post.
Jhabvala mentions that the Broncos wide receiver position could really change over the next few months depending on how the front office approaches some of the playmakers that could enter free agency. The big name she mentions is Demaryius Thomas who could test the open market should Denver decline his $4MM option. He’s controllable for non-guaranteed salaries for the next two seasons, but the team could save some money or re-negotiate a new contract before a decision has to be made about that option. In addition to Thomas, Cody Latimer is an unrestricted free agent, Bennie Fowler is a restricted free agent and Emmanuel Sanders is a controllable veteran that could hit the trade block if the team rather invest in Thomas long-term.
Jhabvala also focuses on veteran cornerback Aqib Talib. She notes how he’ll turn 32 in February and is set to make $11MM in 2018. Although, the Broncos would only be responsible for $1MM if he were to be released. With Chris Harris and Bradley Roby under contract as well, it’s unlikely the team would hold onto all three for next season.
- Denver has to deal with an off-the-field problem at receiver as well. Their 2017 third-round draft pick, Carlos Henderson, was arrested this afternoon for possession of marijuana, per Brad Cesak of NBC6News (Twitter link). The 23-year-old was placed on the injured reserve with a thumb injury in the preseason, but could face league discipline for his most recent incident. This would be his first offense, but it’s not encouraging for a Broncos team potentially looking for steady contributors on that side of the ball.
- Before hiring Frank Pollack as the offensive line coach, the Bengals interviewed former Colts coach Joe Gilbert for the role, according to Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Inquirer (via Twitter). Other candidates included Jeff Davidson (Broncos), Harold Goodwin (Cardinals), and Jim Harding (University of Utah).
- Despite Mike Sullivan being hired as the Broncos new quarterbacks coach, Klint Kubiak is still expected to stay on the coaching staff, reports Mike Klis of 9News in Denver (via Twitter). Kubiak briefly served as the team’s interim quarterbacks coach, and he’s expected to take on his former role of offensive assistant/QBs.
In July 2014, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen signed over control of the club due to his ongoing battle with Alzheimer’s disease. At the time, we knew only that the three trustees of the Pat Bowlen Trust — team president Joe Ellis, team counsel Rich Sliva, and Denver attorney Mary Kelly — would handle day-to-day operations, with Ellis serving as the Controlling Owner Delegee/CEO who has full authority to make final decisions for the team.
In a piece that is well worth a read, Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post lends a little more clarity to the situation, though she says that the trustees and other interested parties have kept the team’s succession plans confidential out of respect for the Bowlen family. After all, the team is under no obligation to publicly disclose those plans.
Jhabvala notes that Bowlen established a family trust years ago in an effort to eventually transfer ownership of the team to his seven children, each of whom would receive an equal stake in the franchise. Nonetheless, only one of those children would be the sole voice for the team at league meetings and have the title of controlling owner, and the Ellis/Sliva/Kelly trio have full authority to sell the team to an outside party if they deem such a sale to be in the best interest of the team and the Bowlen children. That means that Ellis will have final say on his eventual replacement as top decision-maker.
Jhabvala’s sources indicate that the Pat Bowlen Trust trustees sent Bowlen’s wife, Annabel, and the Bowlen children a list of criteria to help determine who the next controlling owner will be. Those criteria include subjective items like integrity and sound judgment, but they also include requirements like a bachelor’s degree paired with an MBA, J.D., or other advanced business-related degree.
As of now, Jhabvala notes that only two of the seven Bowlen children are currently on track to meet those criteria and, in turn, to become the next controlling owner. One is Brittany Alexandra Bowlen, who is just 28. She worked in the NFL’s junior rotational program in New York, she was an analyst in the Broncos’ business department in 2015, and she completed an internship with the McKinsey & Company consulting firm last year (she expects to accept a full-time position with McKinsey after completing her MBA at Duke University later this year).
The other most likely candidate is Beth Bowlen Wallace, 47, who has a law degree from the University of Denver and who previously worked with the team as a director of special projects for more than three years, the highest position by title held by a Bowlen child.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has stated multiple times that the Broncos continue to be run effectively and that the team is in compliance with league ownership rules. Despite that, and despite the fact that the Broncos have remained a profitable enterprise, Jhabvala observes that the league will not wait forever for a new owner to be named (though there is no clear timetable in place). League rules do make it easier to keep ownership in the family, so as of now, it seems as though the safe money is on Wallace or Brittany Alexandra Bowlen becoming the team’s next controlling owner (assuming that the criteria set forth by the trustees is sufficient and will be largely satisfied). But it is still a fluid situation that bears watching as the Broncos embark on an offseason that they hope will help put an end to a two-year playoff drought.
Now that newly-hired Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has begun filling out his staff, a lot of his work will now shift to the personnel side of the franchise. Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Journal-Review previewed many of the decisions that Gruden and the front office will have to work through this offseason.
Gehlken starts by stating that the team is likely to move on from number one wide receiver Michael Crabtree and cornerback Sean Smith. Releasing both players would save money and allow the team to continue to get younger at both positions.
However, a more difficult decision may lie with soon-to-be 32-year-old running back Marshawn Lynch. His salary will jump from $1.35MM to $4MM in 2018. On March 18, he will receive a $1MM roster bonus if he is still on the roster. Lynch’s season was rather inconsistent and running backs that play into their 30’s don’t have the best track record, but it would still be difficult to move on from a talent like Lynch.
“You know, I’ve never met Marshawn Lynch,” Gruden said. “Even as a broadcaster, I asked for Marshawn Lynch in production meetings and I never got to meet him. So I’m anxious to sit down with Marshawn and meet him. We’ll talk about his future and the Raiders. I can’t wait. He came back to the Raiders for similar, I think, reasons that I did.”
In recent seasons, the Raiders have used free agency as a primary source of getting key players, and while the defense has been arguably the main area of concern, Gehlken passes along that Gruden is also is looking to bring new ideas to the offensive side of the ball.
“We are going to have to look at our roster carefully and see, do we have a fullback? Who is the feature back? Who are the receivers?” Gruden said Tuesday. “A lot of things have to be determined, and I think you have to have an offense that is adaptable, that is versatile and can adjust to a number of certain areas. That is what we need to do. Get through today, lock the doors and get to work.”
Here’s more stories from around the AFC:
- In news from another AFC West club, the Broncos recently inked former head coach Gary Kubiak to a larger front office role. However, Kubiak could still draw interest from teams looking for a new offensive coordinator, speculates Mike Klis of 9News. Though Klis mostly shuts down that notion because the former Super Bowl winning coach is currently under contract for one more year in Denver, which would force a prospective team to pay up a draft pick in order to pry him away.
- The Broncos also have a decision to make regarding star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. The 30-year-old pass catcher has two years remaining on his current deal should his $4MM option for next season be picked up before the first day of the 2018 league year, reports Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post (Twitter link). However, if the Broncos do decline the option, the final two years would voided and he would become a free agent this offseason. This would also result in $3.1MM of dead money. His salary figures for the next two years are $12.03MM and $17.5MM, respectively. The Broncos need to get younger at the wide receiver position and could be served well letting Thomas walk as he enters the wrong side of his 30’s.
- The Dolphins offensive line could undergo somewhat of a makeover this offseason and one part of that could come from one of their veterans switching positions. Ted Larsen played in the team’s final eight games at left guard after missing the first half of the season with an injury. However, the 30-year-old would like to switch to right guard in 2018, reports Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Larsen told Jackson “That’s my preference, I played there since 2014.” Jackson notes that fellow starting guard Jesse Davis has shown no reservations about changing roles, so it’s a real possibility that Larsen could have his wish granted in training camp. Although, the writer did add that the team will likely bring in some competition through the draft or free agency. Miami is also not likely to hold onto right tackle Ja’Wuan James for his $9MM 2018 salary figure. Veteran tackle Jermon Bushrod was injured at the end of the year and will be a free agent this offseason as well. This could open up a spot for a prospective high round draft pick with the Dolphins currently holding the 11th overall selection.
- Zach Azzanni has been named the Broncos‘ new wide receivers coach, reports Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post (Twitter link). A longtime collegiate wideouts coach, Azzanni began his NFL career with the Titans in 2013 before leading the Bears’ pass-cathcers last season. Chicago’s wide receivers didn’t offer much production in 2017, but the club also boasted one of the league’s worst wide receiving corps, so it’s difficult to assign Azzanni much credit or blame. In Denver, he’ll work with a unit that includes veteran such as Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and younger players like 2017 rookie Carlos Henderson.
- The Broncos have also hired a new defensive backs coach in Greg Williams (not to be confused with the Browns defensive coordinator), as Mike Klis of 9News writes. Williams, who has also coached with the Chargers, spent the past two seasons as the Colts’ defensive backs coach, where, as Klis notes, he helped turned former journeyman Rashean Mathis into something of a shutdown corner. Williams will work alongside Marcus Robertson, who will return as Denver’s primary secondary coach.
- Fred Pagac won’t return to Denver next season, but the Broncos don’t intend to hire another outside linebackers coach to fill his job, per Klis (Twitter link). Instead, the Broncos intend to bring in a dedicated “pass rush” coach who will operate with Denver’s defensive lineman and linebackers. Incumbent LBs coach Reggie Herring will now lead both inside and outside ‘backers.
- The Broncos have a new special teams coordinator in Tom McMahon, tweets former NFL punter Pat McAfee. McMahon, who’s coached in the NFL for more than a decade, comes to Denver from Indianapolis, where he helped the Colts rank eighth in special teams DVOA. The Broncos, on the other hand, ranked 30th in ST DVOA under former coordinator Brock Olivo.
- The Broncos will cast a wide net in attempting their unique quarterback search. Despite investing a first-round pick in Paxton Lynch in 2016, the Broncos will be exploring the notion of signing or trading for a veteran while looking for high-end help in the draft, Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post writes. Jhabvala mentions Smith as a possible candidate. Although the Chiefs trading him to a top rival may be hard to fathom, the soon-to-be 34-year-old signal-caller’s timeline (one year left on his contract) and pedigree as player who limits turnovers would seemingly complement Denver’s foundation that features a veteran defense and two 30-year-old wide receivers. For what it’s worth, Aqib Talib (via Jhabvala) predicts John Elway will chase a veteran rather than try his luck with another rookie.
- Elway said the Broncos are not especially interested in dangling a defensive starter in potential trade talks for a passer, Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets (video link). The Broncos have several established defensive starters, but with that being the team’s best facet, a trade would seem to eat into Denver’s strength should defenders be on the table in prospective talks.
The Broncos have made an interesting set of choices in replacing fired offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, as the club announced that Sean Kugler has been hired as offensive line coach-guards/centers, while Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post reports that Chris Strausser — who spent the 2017 campaign as Denver’s assistant OL coach — will tutor the Broncos’ tackles (Twitter link). It’s a compelling set of hires, as hiring a combination of coaches to lead separate parts of one position unit is something that usually occurs on the defensive side of the ball (safeties/cornerbacks, outside/inside linebackers). Elsewhere on the Denver staff, former interim quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak is considered a candidate to become the the Broncos’ next wide receivers coach, tweets Mike Klis of 9News.
- Former Broncos assistant head coach/running backs Eric Studesville was scheduled to interview for the Giants‘ head coaching vacancy over the weekend, but weather-related concerns forced that meeting to be pushed back. Instead, New York will interview Studesville on Tuesday, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. Studesville, who had been employed in Denver since 2010, was fired earlier this week. While he’s never been a head coach, the 50-year-old Studesville did serve as an interim HC during the 2010 campaign.