ENGLEWOOD – Safe to say, the Broncos will not be faxing their pick to league headquarters.
Still, it’s that balky fax machine and the repercussions of losing Elvis Dumervil that helped shape the way Denver heads into this week’s draft.
The team that tied for the best record in the league last season, then lost both its playoff game and Dumervil to the Baltimore Ravens, needs a pass-rushing defensive lineman as much as anything this offseason.
The Broncos have the 28th pick Thursday and whether Executive Vice President John Elway decides to use it, or trade down as he did last season, he figures to have his pick from a deep group of defensive ends, including Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner of Florida State and Datone Jones of UCLA.
“There are a lot of good football players there,” Elway said. “It’s kind of a matter of what kind of flavor you like.”
Entering his third draft as a Broncos executive, Elway acts like a true NFL front-office veteran in his predraft meetings with the media – speaking in broad generalities, discussing his appreciation for “the best player available” and even talking up Dumervil’s replacement, Robert Ayers, a first-round pick in 2009 who has 6½ career sacks.
Dumervil had 11 sacks last season and 63½ over his six healthy years in Denver.
“Robert Ayers had a good year last year,” Elway said. “He was coming on, and he’s the starter there at right end right now. I have faith that he is going to come in and have a good year.”
That message could, of course, be one part true and another part for the benefit of Dwight Freeney, the free-agent pass rusher who still could wind up in a Broncos uniform but only at the right price. Freeney kept himself out of the frenzy of signings when the market opened; word is he’s holding out for a better deal that could come when teams see what they have come the end of draft weekend.
The Broncos certainly won’t have Dumervil, and in his predraft news conference, Elway fielded a few questions about what, exactly, happened. The short version: Things got dicey when the Broncos said “OK” to Dumervil even though he’d missed their deadline to agree to a restructured deal and a significant pay cut. In a late rush to complete the deal, Dumervil and his agent didn’t get the signed contract faxed to the Broncos in time, and the team had no choice but to waive him.
“If there’s anything I would take back it’s the fact that if there’s a deadline, there’s a deadline,” Elway said. “There’s a reason why there’s a deadline because you can’t get everything done fast enough. It’s an unfortunate situation, but that won’t happen again.”
Why the fax machine?
“I’m not going to get into that,” Elway said.
While Elway talks about drafting the best player available, there are some positions where he almost certainly will not go, at least not early.
Quarterback. Tight end. Receiver. Denver is set at all of them.
The Broncos could use some depth at linebacker. They also might be looking for the cornerback of the future, now that Champ Bailey is 35. His rough game against Baltimore – he was the man in coverage on a pair of long touchdowns by Torrey Smith – brought on the predictable chirping about him moving to safety someday.
“That’s fine,” Bailey said of the possibility of Denver drafting a corner. “I don’t really look at that any kind of way. I see what players they draft. How can they help us? Plain and simple. Every guy is looking to be replaced at some point. I’ve been looked at that way for the last six or seven years. It doesn’t affect me one bit.”
Elway’s most intriguing decision very well could revolve around running backs.
Some Denver fans think the Broncos would have a third Lombardi Trophy had they had a running back who could’ve milked the clock down in January during the drive before Joe Flacco completed the game-tying 70-yard touchdown pass over safety Rahim Moore.
Willis McGahee was on injured reserve, and Knowshon Moreno got dinged up earlier in the game, leaving the heavy lifting to a rookie, Ronnie Hillman, who was built more for change of pace than grinding it out. All three are under contract, though if the Broncos find a better every-down back, they might go there.
Elway, however, is a realist when it comes to drafting running backs. Using a first-round pick on one is a risk. (See, Moreno). Meanwhile, the back who helped him finally win the Super Bowl, Terrell Davis, was a sixth-round pick.
“That’s not to say that a good running back is not still very important because you’re going to need to be able to have some balance in your attack,” Elway said. “I think with the trend and where it is going, the running back has been bumped down a little bit.”