ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A breakdown of the first week of free agency for the Denver Broncos:
Most significant signing: The Broncos’ first signing went to a need position in tackle/guard Donald Stephenson, and they did swing a deal for a conditional seventh-round pick to get quarterback Mark Sanchez. But the most significant signing was the Broncos’ decision to match the four-year, $18 million offer sheet running back C.J. Anderson got from the Miami Dolphins. The Broncos had used the lowest tender on Anderson, who was a restricted free agent, so they would not have received compensation had they not matched the Dolphins’ offer. The Broncos gambled that they could save a little on the front end with the lower tender but ended up matching an offer that puts Anderson among the best-paid running backs in the league.
Most significant loss: Defensive end Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan started more games than quarterback Brock Osweiler did in four years with the Broncos. But Osweiler’s departure to the Houston Texans for $7 million more guaranteed than the Broncos offered signaled that Osweiler was more than ready to move on in the wake of the Broncos going 5-2 in games he started in place of the injured Peyton Manning. (Of course, Osweiler was pulled in the regular-season finale, and Manning was behind center when the Broncos rallied to win the regular-season finale over the San Diego Chargers to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs and started all three postseason games, including Super Bowl 50.) While Osweiler's ability as a full-time starter is still a question mark, especially for an $18 million-per-year deal, his departure puts the Broncos in a position to invest in another long-term option at the position.
Player they should have signed or still could sign: The Broncos believe Sanchez is a viable option as a potential starter in their system on offense. But they could still add another veteran quarterback, at least until they can decide whether Sanchez is going to be up to the task of starting at quarterback. Whether that means waiting to see Ryan Fitzpatrick’s price comes down -- a lot -- or adding a player like Brian Hoyer, another experienced passer likely remains on the to-do list.
What’s next: With the prospect of trying to complete the megadeal for linebacker Von Miller, the Broncos are fairly squeezed against the salary cap after matching the deal for Anderson. But they have talked to tackle Ryan Clady about reworking his contract to make additional cap room; he is scheduled to count $10.1 million against the cap. They will continue to look at veteran quarterbacks and perhaps a running back and point to maximizing their 10 picks in the April draft, including securing a quarterback prospect.
Overall grade: C. They Broncos have remained disciplined, and whether folks believe that counts, it does. But you do have to be right about your decisions. The fact is, they simply were not going to pay Jackson, Trevathan and Osweiler what those players could get elsewhere, because it would have been difficult to do even two of those deals and still be poised to get Miller locked up. If they lock up Miller before training camp, he becomes the keystone move of the offseason and it with all have worked out fine. And if Sanchez or another quarterback can keep the offense on track, then the grade could be much better.