With NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lingering lockout, we are taking a tour around the league and looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we offer our take on where the Broncos stand.
Top three story lines
1. The organization underwent major changes in the offseason, from the hiring of head coach John Fox to the return of legendary QB John Elway as the team's executive vice president of football operations. The Broncos are ready to return to relevancy but will have a hard time doing so with the players unable to communicate with their new head coach and his staff.
2. After starting the first 13 games of the season, veteran QB Kyle Orton was benched in favor of fan favorite Tim Tebow for the final three games. The new regime has said it will stick with Orton, for now, but with trade rumors swirling and fans in Denver pulling for Tebow, it's unknown who will start the season under center.
3. One of Fox's first moves as head coach was to bring in defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who will employ a 4-3 defense. Most spots were filled by shifting players or through the draft, but a gaping hole remains in the middle of the defensive line. The team plans to add a defensive tackle in free agency, but without a new set of league rules, no one knows which players will be available on the open market.
2011 free-agency — whenever that happens
Unsigned players: RB Kyle Eckel (4), DT Ronald Fields (6), OT Ryan Harris (4), RB Laurence Maroney (5), DE Ryan McBean (2), DT Matt McChesney (2), PK Matt Prater (3), DT Marcus Thomas (4), OLB Wesley Woodyard (3). [Editor's note: The number after a players' name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules as used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.]
Analysis: Harris has proven to be effective — when healthy — in his four-year stint in Denver, but the injury-prone right tackle appears to be on his way out the door after the Broncos used a second-round pick on OT Orlando Franklin. Elway has repeatedly excluded Harris' name when discussing the O-line and isn't expected to shell out the funds necessary to keep him around. The fate of DTs Thomas and Fields will depend on the team's success in luring other D-tackles to Denver. The team might add more than one. Prater has become the Broncos' best kicker since Jason Elam and Woodyard has excelled as the special-teams captain and a reserve linebacker. Both are expected to return. Fox has a history of conservative play, depending heavily on the running game. The team has made no secret of its plans to add a running back, which doesn't bode well for Maroney, whose struggles last season serve as a reminder of Josh McDaniels' failures. Fields played in all 16 games last season and could return for the right price.
2011 rookie class
First-round OLB Von Miller (No. 2 overall) — Miller provides the elite pass-rushing abilities that the Broncos lacked last season and fills one of the outside linebacker spots vacated after Robert Ayers and Elvis Dumervil shifted to defensive end.
Second-round FS Rahim Moore (No. 45 overall) — Moore will provide fresh legs to an aging secondary. He excels in the open field and could push S Renaldo Hill out of the starting lineup.
Second-round ORT Orlando Franklin (No. 46 overall) — The type of physical lineman that Fox prefers, Franklin is at his best in run-blocking. He likely will become the starting right tackle.
Third-round LB Nate Irving (No. 67 overall) — With D.J. Williams moving to the weak side, Irving will have the chance to compete for the starting MLB job because of his strong football instincts.
Fourth-round SS Quinton Carter (No. 108 overall) — Carter is another example of the Broncos attempting to get younger and faster on defense. He is a hard-hitting safety who could play opposite Moore down the road.
Fourth-round TE Julius Thomas (No. 129 overall) — The departure of Daniel Graham leaves an opening at tight end. Thomas is a former basketball star who could win the spot with his athleticism.
Sixth-round LB Mike Mohamed (No. 189 overall) — The Broncos were in need of LB depth after switching to a 4-3 defense, and Mohamed's versatility will allow him to back up all three positions.
Seventh-round TE Virgil Green (No. 204 overall) — Another athletic tight end who could compete for a starting job, Green has very good pass-catching ability but will need to improve as a blocker. He dropped in the draft because of questions about his knee.
Seventh-round DE Jeremy Beal (No. 247 overall) — The lone selection on the defensive line, Beal will contribute on special teams and back up the DE spots.
Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Broncos be by the work stoppage?
On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted), the Broncos rate a 10. The team has a new coach, a new defensive coordinator and defensive scheme, a potential quarterback controversy and a gaping hole in the middle of the defensive line. The majority of these issues would work themselves out with the opening of free agency and offseason workouts, giving the Broncos the chance to fill out their roster and allow players to begin working with their new coaches. But until then, the team's offseason will continue to be looked at as unfinished, leaving major question marks concerning the future of the organization.