Broncos Mailbag: Are money, picks wasted if Denver doesn’t start fast in 2023?

Denver Post Broncos writer Parker Gabriel posts his Broncos Mailbag periodically during the offseason. Click here to submit a question.

Hello from Finland! I think we need reinforcements at the center position, do you? Which one would you prefer for the Broncos to sign and why: Chase Roullier or Ben Jones? Any rumors on Shelby Harris by the way?

— Jude, Lahti, Finland

Thanks for kicking us off this week all the way from Lahti, Jude.

Never say never, but the depth proposition up front is more about the offensive line than center particularly, at least in my estimation. The Broncos have added a pair of players to that mix now in free agent Kyle Fuller and seventh-round draft pick Alex Forsyth. If there’s not an answer in the middle between Lloyd Cushenberry, that pair and second-year man Luke Wattenberg, then Denver’s misevaluated badly. The ideal situation is Cushenberry puts together a good season in a contract year and then you decide between committing to him or going with one of the young guys after 2023. Of course, ideals don’t always – or even often – play out in the NFL.

Put it this way: I’m by no means a pro talent evaluator, but the way the roster looks right now, I’d be more interested in bringing Cam Fleming back as a swing tackle than adding another name to the center mix.

As for old Broncos friend Shelby Harris, let’s see what the next several weeks bring. There’s no rush at this point, so whether it’s a potential reunion with Harris or the Broncos look to add another veteran defensive lineman, the window is open pretty much now until (or even into) training camp’s start in late July.

If after spending so much money and prime draft picks, and getting the wealthiest owners in the NFL or anywhere else, to dramatically change the Broncos, we are only going to be 4-4 at the bye. It was a big waste of money and picks, or you aren’t the expert you claim to be? I would say 6-2 at the least. Why aren’t we going to be any better? Same team except for offensive line, ignores all draft pick pluses, new signings and undrafted free agents.

— Stephen Leonard, Vidalia, Ga. (formerly Colorado Springs)

Hey Stephen, thanks for writing in. Let’s get one thing straight: The next time I claim to be an “expert” will be the first. But I am going to call it like I see it. I don’t know how you look at this roster and say, yeah, a radical turnaround right away this fall is definitely in order. The path to such an outcome (and your 6-2 mark at the bye week) is a combination of coach Sean Payton instilling more discipline and order to the roster, a substantially better year on the health front and much better play from Russell Wilson. And, hey, each of those things is possible. But are you going to get the benefit of all three right from the jump? Is Javonte Williams going to be healthy? Is the starting offensive line going to take some time to gel? Is Payton himself going to face a learning curve with Wilson’s style of play compared to the 14 years he called plays for Drew Brees?

So sure, a dream start to the season where just about everything goes right is in the spectrum of possibility. But jumping right to assuming everything’s going to be great now is a little Pollyannaish for my taste.

An even record at the bye, by the way, puts Denver right in the mix for playoff contention in the second half of the season. It’s not a position everybody in the building would be thrilled with, but it’s also not a total calamity.

I’m sure it’s been asked a million times, but do the Broncos have plans for the possible retirement of No. 88 in honor of Demaryius Thomas?

— Darren Gregory, Westminster

Hey Darren, yeah, good question.

Denver only has three jersey numbers formally retired — No. 7 (John Elway), No. 18 (Frank Tripucka and then Peyton Manning) and No. 44 (Floyd Little).

The Broncos haven’t issued No. 88 since Thomas’ death in Dec. 2021 and that tragedy combined with the impact he made on the franchise makes it unlikely someone will wear it again in the near future. Obviously, a number retirement is rare. The Broncos have others they could consider, like Champ Bailey’s No. 24, Von Miller’s No. 58 (after he actually retires, of course) or maybe No. 27, donned by Hall of Famer Steve Atwater but also the late Darrent Williams.

Thomas is a shoo-in for the Broncos Ring of Fame at some point, and one consideration is whether the Walton-Penner ownership group might waive the usual five-year post-retirement mark to honor Thomas as the first inductee of their tenure this fall. Elway’s the only other player in franchise history for whom that five-year period was waived. That would be a nice mark of Thomas’ legacy in Denver.

I know Chris Harris Jr. is angling for a job. Any chance he comes back here for a little bit?

— Mike, Denver

Never say never, Mike, but especially after drafting Riley Moss in the third round, the cornerback room seems to be taking shape. You know what you’ve got in All-Pro Pat Surtain II. K’Waun Williams is solid as the nickel. Moss will try to compete with Damarri Mathis for a job and Denver signed Tremon Smith because Payton has a clear idea of how he wants to use him. In fact, he put an exact count — 24 snaps per game as a corner and core special teams player — on Smith at the ownership meetings in March. That’s before you get to the guys battling to fill the final roster/special teams roles. Last year, the Broncos broke camp with six corners and five safeties. Plus, it’s a two-way street. Does Harris by September or October think Denver is a real contender?

Randy Gradishar and Mike Shanahan have to be among the most egregious omissions to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Do you think 2024 could be their year to be inducted?

— Alex, Aurora

Hey Alex, thanks for writing in. Gradishar and Shanahan both have compelling cases. It’s seemingly come down to numbers crunching the past couple of years. Neither made it to the finalist round last summer. In the Coach/Contributor category, only Don Coryell got the nod in 2022. As for the Senior category, last year the committee chose Dallas’s Chuck Howley, New York Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko and Cincinnati defensive back Ken RIley. Here’s part of what Post columnist Mark Kiszla wrote about Gradishar’s snub last year: “If the football gods have hearts, Gradishar will get welcomed into pro football’s most exclusive fraternity while he’s still around to enjoy the party. It’s a travesty Gradishar has been held hostage by the whims of Hall voters for decades.”

The Broncos also seem to be dialing up the campaign for Shanahan’s entry. As I wrote in this here mailbag last month, CEO Greg Penner in March was asked about Shanahan’s candidacy at the NFL’s spring ownership meetings and laid out the coach’s bona fides, saying “We’re very hopeful and expect that he’ll have success there.”

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