After the first two days of the NFL’s free agency period, the unusually large safety FA market is pretty picked over. The 2019 safety FA pool got PAID too. Headlining the group is Landon Collins, who left the New York Giants this week for a massive 6-year, $84 million deal with division rivals Washington Redskins, to tie Tyrann Mathieu’s new contract as the most expensive at the position.
One team with a huge hole at safety going into free agency is the Denver Broncos, who just released 9-year veteran, Darian Stewart. He played 4 years in Denver and was a crucial part of the “No Fly Zone” secondary that was so important in the 2015 Super Bowl. Cutting Stewart leaves the Denver strong safety position to consist of Will Parks, Dymonte Thomas, and Jamal Carter, who missed all of 2018 with a torn hamstring. Out of the in-house safeties, Will Parks is the most suitable to start, as he has made major contributions to the Broncos defense since he was drafted in the 4th round in 2016, and was named PFF’s “Most Improved Player” selection for the Broncos this last season.
On day two of the pre-free agency legal tampering period, Denver signed longtime Texan S/CB Kareem Jackson, who had a break out season this last year after switching from free safety to cornerback. While Jackson is a much better safety, he was playing at an extremely high level before the position switch, it seems that the 30 year old DB will be playing at the corner position. With the departure of both Tramaine Brock and Bradley Roby in free agency, and Brendon Langely switching to WR, that leaves Denver’s CB room consisting of Chris Harris Jr., second-year Isaac Yaidom, and newly-acquired Jackson if he plays CB.
So what is the move for the Bronco’s secondary? Of course, Chris Harris Jr. will play in the slot, where he has built such a high reputation. However, who can/will play in the #1 and #2 spots? Let’s say for a minute that Kareem does play CB. He will most likely play in the #1 role. Now that leaves a hole open at #2 and one CB left on the roster, Isaac Yaidom. Yaidom was a 3rd round pick for the Broncos last year, playing in 13 games, starting the last few games of the season. He recorded 20 tackles, 3 pass breakups, and an interception, all while playing with a shoulder injury that required surgery immediately after the season. At 6’1 and 190, Yaidom is a lengthy corner that can utilize his long limbs and get his hands involved, much like former Broncos CB Aqib Talib.
Yaidom definitely started the season slowly, allowing several catches and a TD in his limited reps throughout the early part of the season. However, while allowing too much, Isaac was in near-perfect position in almost every play. He visibly improved throughout the season, showing improvement on getting his hands on the ball, eventually intercepting a pass from LA’s Phillip Rivers in the final game of the regular season. So, with defensive mastermind Vic Fangio being hired as head coach and Ed Donatell becoming the defensive coordinator, what can this mean for Yaidom? Yaidom showed improvement throughout his rookie season, so it is possible for two great coaches to turn a 3rd round pick into a legitimate starter.
Another option is bringing Tramaine Brock in for another 1-year deal. At 30 years old, Brock is without a doubt at the tail end of his NFL career. Struggling through injuries last year, Brock played in only 12 games, starting 5. Although he played limited reps, he finished the season with 23 tackles and 6 passes defended. The reason I believe this should be an option is the acquisition of Ed Donatell as DC. Donatell was DB coach for the 49ers from 2011-2014, which were Tramaine Brock’s best years, breaking out in 2013 with 35 solo tackles, 2 assists, 13 passes defended, 5 interceptions, and a defensive touchdown in 16 games and 7 starts. Bringing Brock back for another single year deal could result in a very solid secondary.
And lastly of course, is the draft. The Broncos have the 10th pick in this year’s draft and there is several options. QB, ILB, and CB is all an option at 10 overall. Mock drafts include the Broncos taking ILB Devin White, QB Drew Lock, or CBs Greedy Williams and DeAndre Baker. To me, taking a corner at #10 is not the best move, as QB is a dire need for the Broncos and one QB out of Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, and Drew Lock will most likely be available at 10. If Denver takes a CB in the draft, the most likely is Rock Ya-Sin or Byron Murphy in the 2nd round.
However free agency and the draft work out, expect the Bronco’s secondary to be much improved from last year. Vic Fangio has a history of turning average defenses into elite defenses, as shown by Chicago last year. With Fangio and Donatell, who is returning to the Mile High City for a third stint (1995-1999, 2009-2010), the Bronco’s defense has the potential to compete with the Super Bowl 50 winning defense, with both star veterans such as Chris Harris, Von Miller, and Derek Wolfe, and emerging stars like Justin Simmons and Bradley Chubb.