KUSA – Here comes the new kid.
Actually, he’s an older kid. A big guy. A pretty good guy, especially on third down.
That’s one area where Joe Flacco is an upgrade on Case Keenum, by the way. Even after getting hurt, and then benched as the Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback, Flacco had a 97.3 passer rating on third down last season (60.4 completion percentage, 6 TD passes, 1 INTs). Keenum had a 67.8 rating on third down for the Broncos (53.8 completion percentage, 3 TDs, 3 INTs).
Now that the Broncos brought in a new guy to operate the offense, general manager John Elway needs to reinforce his quarterback decision by giving Flacco a new toy or two to play with.
The Broncos need to fortify their receiver corps with a proven veteran.
You bet, Brown would be my choice for the Broncos. John Brown, not Antonio Brown.
The Broncos did well in getting young receiver legs in the draft last year with the selections of Courtland Sutton in the second round and DaeSean Hamilton. But left alone to carry the passing attack in the final four games of the season, Sutton averaged just 36.5 receiving yards per game and Hamilton averaged 45.5 receiving yards.
The rookie receivers were not ready for the No. 1 and No. 2 roles. They were forced there by the midseason trade of Demaryius Thomas to Houston and torn Achilles suffered by Emmanuel Sanders in a practice prior to game 13.
Providing his option is picked up by March 12, Sanders has one year and $10.25 million left on his contract. His ankle injury at 32 years old, though, will have Elway seeking receiver reinforcement.
But here’s the problem: The most productive receiver in 2018 who is hitting unrestricted free agency was Tampa Bay’s Adam Humphries, a slot man who ranked No. 33 with 816 yards (on 10.7 yards per catch). Next was Flacco’s teammate John Brown with 715 yards (on an impressive 17.0 yards per catch).
This is why Antonio Brown, who has successfully forced his way on the trading block, is by far the best available receiver this offseason, even with all his heavy baggage. And even though he was only the Steelers’ second-best receiver last year (say hello, JuJu).
Here are a few available receivers who the Broncos may consider picking up come March 13, the opening of free agency:
1. Antonio Brown, Steelers
UPDATE: Since this story has been published, I have been told the Broncos will not pursue Antonio Brown. There are a bunch of reasons to pass. One, it would probably take a high-round draft pick to work out a trade. Two, Brown is expensive. He is scheduled to make $15.125 million this season at 31 years old, $11.3 million in 2020 at 32, and $12.5 million in 2021 at 33.
Worse, he doesn’t like his contract. He wants more. Way worse, Brown has crossed the line from diva to disruption. If he doesn't get his new contract, he will be unhappy with his new team.
He may have been worth dreaming about. Even after skipping practices the final week of the regular season and getting benched in the Steelers’ final game, Brown had a career-best 15 touchdown receptions in 15 games. He also had his sixth consecutive season of at least 101 catches and 1,297 yards.
Brown, Sanders and Sutton would have given the Broncos and Flacco arguably the league’s best receiver trio. At least, on paper.
Still, Brown would not have been my choice. Too expensive in more ways than one. The next guy would be my choice.
2. John Brown, Ravens
In his first nine games with Flacco as his quarterback last year, Brown had 34 catches for 601 yards (17.7 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. In his final seven games with Lamar Jackson as his quarterback, Brown all but disappeared with eight catches for 114 yards (14.3 yards per) and one touchdown.
The Broncos aren't overly concerned Brown was diagnosed with a sickle cell trait in 2016. But Brown has said it's never caused a health problem and his reps are not concerned with playing in Denver's elevation, as was the case with Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark in past years. Brown has said it was a cyst on his spine, and not sickle cell, that caused him problems in 2016.
Atlanta running back Tevin Coleman was concerned about his sickle cell trait for a 2016 game in Denver, but he wound up tearing up the Broncos with 132 yards receiving on four catches and 31 yards rushing on six carries.
Brown and Flacco go together. Brown, who will soon turn 29, played on a one-year, $5 million deal last year. His deep speed might better complement Sanders and Sutton than Antonio Brown would. The development of Sutton and Hamilton might be crimped if Antonio Brown were dominating their position.
Antonio Brown may also have the sickle cell trait. His former teammate Santanio Holmes said on radio Antonio Brown is carrying it, but Antonio didn't confirm and he's never missed a game in Denver because of it.
3. Tyrell Williams, Chargers
He’s pretty good. In his last three seasons, he’s had 69, 43 and 41 catches for 1,059, 728 and 653 yards for a 15.9-yard per catch average.
He just turned 27. He would be a good No. 2 ½ receiver with Sanders and Sutton.
4. Donte Moncrief, Jaguars
The second time in two years he’s been a free agent, but he’s still young as he doesn’t turn 26 until August. After four inconsistent seasons in Indianapolis, Moncrief signed a one-year, $9.6 million deal with Jacksonville last year and had his second-best output with 48 catches for 668 yards (13.9 yards per catch) -- not bad considering Jacksonville’s quarterback problems.
5. Jamison Crowder, Washington
Averaged 64 catches fir 747 yards through his first three seasons, which is pretty good for a fourth-round draft pick. Missed seven games with an ankle injury last season and only had 29 catches for 388 yards.
Then again, if it wasn’t for his injury, he wouldn’t be a free agent.
6. Pierre Garcon, 49ers
It’s been reported the 49ers will release the aging Garcon after he collected nearly $23 million the past two years while missing eight games each season because of injury.
At 33, he could come cheap and his working knowledge with Broncos’ offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello could make him worth a low-risk investment.
Sleeper choices: Martavis Bryant; Kevin White; Devin Funchess; Jordan Matthews; Breshad Perriman; Kelvin Benjamin, Chris Conley, Mike Wallace.