DENVER – With a lockout in place, it’s the end of the offseason as we know it — until the courts intervene — and the Broncos will not feel fine, at least as far as their rebuilding process goes.
In fact, no team might be more hurt by the destruction of business as usual in the offseason than the Broncos, for multiple reasons.
1. THE NEW COACH FACTOR:
While the Broncos will carry over the offensive scheme, nomenclature and terminology from the Josh McDaniels era, the defense could scarcely be more different under new coordinator Dennis Allen than it was under Don “Wink” Martindale: the language and alignment are completely different. Changes like these and the inevitable schedule and style alternations are why teams with new coaches are permitted an extra three days of mini-camp before the draft to help ease the adjustment.
If there’s no resolution and the doors are padlocked, then those three days are out the window. So, too, are all the classroom sessions of organized team activities, which take place in May and June. Players can’t even pop by their coaches’ offices for playbooks or extra tutoring during the weeks of organized workout sessions that typically extend from late March until late June.
Without this work, the Broncos could be starting from close to zero — especially on defense — when training camp begins. This has a particularly profound impact upon …
2. THE YOUNG QUARTERBACK:
Tim Tebow remains the people’s choice at quarterback after his energetic, if scattershot, three games as Denver’s starting quarterback in December and January. Those games revealed everything that was known about Tebow before the Broncos drafted him last April: his leadership and moxie are unquestioned; he’s perhaps the league’s best power-running quarterback; his throwing motion is unorthodox and needs some refinement; he needs to deliver the football and make decisions a little more quickly. He was an unorthodox and intriguing prospect before those starts; he remained that way after them.
For Tebow to ascend to solid-starter status, he needed the offseason of work he would receive with his receivers and his coaches — especially with Josh McDaniels no longer around and quarterbacks coach Adam Gase and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy now the primary stewards of his development.
Tebow might not be ready to make the jump without the months of classroom and on-field work he would receive. In a locked-out offseason, it would almost be essential to keep Kyle Orton on the roster, since Tebow would not have the chance to build off his game-time work of Weeks 15-17 from last season. Losing this wor would be damaging for Tebow’s progress, and could delay Tebow’s development by one year — which, conveniently, is the length of Orton’s contract.
3. NEEDS UNFILLED:
Free agency would offer the Broncos a chance to plug a few holes immediately, allowing them a tighter focus when establishing draft needs. For instance, instead of going into the draft with immediate needs at defensive tackle, linebacker, tight end, safety, fullback, running back and right tackle, they could find one- or two-year stop-gap solutions at some of those positions, affording them the luxury of using late-round selections to target long-term, high-potential-but-raw prospects at positions where they found free-agent help.
If there is no signing period between now and the draft, the Broncos head into the selection process with the afore-mentioned myriad needs, and no clue whether they can find any veteran help in what would be a delayed — and truncated — free-agent signing period. The lack of flexibility in the free-agent market might force them to overpay for veteran help, whereas if the draft and free-agency were reversed, the Broncos could simply bypass free agents whose cost-benefit ratio were unacceptable and look to others at other positions, knowing they could address them in the draft.
Compared with free agency, the draft offers better cost certainty, even without a collective bargaining agreement. The Broncos have a good idea what their budget must be at each of their picks, no matter what position they target. Free agency costs, on the other hand, can vary wildly based on position. This is why it is helpful to have it come first in the process, when a team can say, “Let’s spend our money elsewhere and target that high-cost position in the draft.”
It’s always cheaper to develop your own quarterback, left tackle and pass-rushing defensive end/outside linebacker than it is to find them on the free-agent market; this is part of the reason why they are premium draft positions. Conversely, the market can offer more palatable cost-benefit deals at guard, strongside linebacker and safety, among other positions.