INDIANAPOLIS — The Denver Broncos‘ decision-makers have seen the power of a homegrown roster with their own eyes.
They have trophies because of it.
A roster built with their own draft picks, boosted with some well-placed free agents, can fuel an organization. It’s why linebacker Von Miller, the hub of the Broncos’ defensive wheel almost from the moment he arrived in 2011, places so much importance on the play of linebacker Bradley Chubb, whom the team took with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 draft, and safety Justin Simmons, whom they selected in the third round of 2016.
“We have good young guys — Courtland [Sutton], Phillip [Lindsay], Dalton [Risner], Drew Lock — but on defense it’s Chubb and Justin,” Miller said. “We know that. It’s why I’ve said we’re ready to be done with how things have gone last couple years. Those guys are ready.”
Miller will be in his 10th season when Broncos players return for offseason workouts next month. The past four seasons, however, have certainly tested his well-known optimism and patience as the Broncos have missed the playoffs.
As a result, the Broncos have pivoted — hard — toward youth as they finished the 2019 season with one of the youngest rosters in the league. Simmons and Chubb are right in the middle of the plans that are currently on the drawing board. General manager John Elway said last week at the NFL combine that signing Simmons in free agency or using the franchise tag on him is at the front of the line when it comes to important decisions for the organization.
“The bottom line is it’s got to be fair for Justin and it’s got to be fair for us,” Elway said. “Hopefully we can get to that point. … I think we’ll be able, hopefully, to get something done with Justin. He’s an important piece of what we do. We want to get something done.”
Simmons is what the Broncos want both on and off the field. He was the team’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award and played at a Pro Bowl level during his first year in coach Vic Fangio’s system. He finished tied for second on the team with 93 tackles and led the team with four interceptions as well as 15 passes defensed.
The Broncos only got a glimpse of Chubb in Fangio’s system after he suffered a torn ACL during a Week 4 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. But even though he played just four games he still finished tied for third on the team in quarterback hits.
Fangio said at the combine last week that Chubb was progressing well and they expected him to be ready for training camp.
“Our defense could be for sure one of the best in the league, I really think that,” Chubb said just after season’s end. “You just look at the guys and look at the talent we have. … I do feel like we could do big things.”
There are questions, to be sure. Other Broncos that are poised to be free agents include cornerback Chris Harris Jr., a four-time Pro Bowl selection, defensive end Derek Wolfe, defensive end Shelby Harris and defensive end Adam Gotsis. There are scenarios in which all four of those players could move on.
As long as Miller is in the Broncos’ defense, he will be The Guy, but he knows what the locker room looked like when the Broncos were at their best. That’s why players such as Simmons and Chubb are so important.
“It’s about the leadership of everybody, every day, the best leaders I’ve been around — Peyton [Manning], DeMarcus [Ware] — were out there, but they pushed other people to lead too,” is how Miller put it. “We have those kind of guys, and they’re ready.”