Shopping list

Broncos free agent shopping list should focus on defense

George Paton is about to go shopping. And he should spend everything he has, both free agency and draft, on one side of the ball.

Since the Broncos have been so bad on offense in recent years, most would think this is the phase of the game that needs an upgrade. But with last week’s blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson, Denver is pretty well positioned on that end. They could start the season now and all 11 starters would be in place.

Wilson is the quarterback, with Javonte Williams joining him in the backfield. Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton are the wide receivers, with Albert Okwuegbunam on tight end. And in the trenches, it’s Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow and Calvin Anderson, with Quinn Meinerz battling for a spot in the starting rotation.

However, the same cannot be said for the Broncos’ defense. Even though it was the phase that was statistically superior a season ago, Denver has a lot of holes to fill this offseason.

Partly that’s because a lot of players aren’t coming back. At least not yet.

Shelby Harris was part of the Wilson business. Bryce Callahan, Kyle Fuller and Kareem Jackson are unrestricted free agents. The same goes for Josey Jewell, Alexander Johnson and Kenny Young. And Malik Reed is a restricted free agent.

Outside of the defensive backfield, it’s hard to piece together a starting 11. Patrick Surtain and Ronald Darby are the cornerbacks, while Justin Simmons and Caden Sterns are the safeties, but anyone can guess.

Dre’Mont Jones will start on the defensive line, but who will be on his side? McTelvin Agim and Mike Purcell are the likely candidates at this time.

Baron Browning is a center linebacker, but he has no one next to him. There’s Jonas Griffith and Justin Strnad, but three players who started multiple inside games in 2021 are currently free agents.

And at edge rusher, it’s Bradley Chubb and Jonathon Cooper. One is coming off an injury-plagued season that netted 0.0 sacks. The other showed promise as a rookie but was a seventh-round pick a year ago who racked up just 2.5 sacks. And it’s the best of the bunch.

Along their first seven, the Broncos have no stars. They have promising players. They have guys with benefits. But they don’t have playmakers.

They need to find someone to get after the quarterback. They need to add players who can force turnovers. Otherwise, Wilson will spend a lot of time on the sidelines. All those whimsical toys will stay parked in the garage.

Paton needs to improve the defense. He must gather a group that Ejiro Evero can free. The Broncos’ new defensive coordinator’s task of improving a unit that finished 18th in sacks and 21st in takeouts in 2021 depends on it.

The Broncos offense is established. Sure, they could use some improvements at tight end and right tackle. A backup running back would be nice. But all of these things are luxuries.

Additions on defense are not. These are necessities.

Chandler Jones, Von Miller or Haason Reddick would solve the problem at the edge rusher. Chubb as the No. 2 guy, with Reed re-signed to join Cooper as backups, would be a good combo.

Bobby Wagner or De’Vondre Campbell, with Jewell and/or Young brought in to provide depth, would fix things at inside linebacker. Sebastian Joseph-Day and Calais Campbell would be good additions along the defensive line.

Problems can be solved. But they desperately need to be treated.

When free agency begins, defense is where Paton needs to spend the money. And when the draft rolls around, that’s where he should be using most of his picks.

The Broncos are suddenly a heavy offensive team. They must act accordingly.