The next position to break down is outside linebackers, where the Broncos have plenty of questions to answer this offseason:
Will Elvis Dumervil return? The short answer would appear to be yes. There’s much more debate about fellow free agent Brandon Marshall, given Marshall’s off-field problems and the 2009 distractions, and one could even argue about his true worth if you believe that catches are an overrated statistic. But Dumervil is a perfect player to invest in. When he was asked to move to outside linebacker he did so without complaining and worked extremely hard to master the position. He has not caused the Broncos any awkward moments off the field and has been a model teammate in the locker room. In fact, he won the Darrent Williams Good Guy Award for his cooperation with the media this season. And he was the top playmaker on the defense. He was dominant on third down and almost all of his league-leading 17 sacks were key plays. Dumervil didn’t put up great tackle numbers – the outside linebacker position in the defense wasn’t asked to make tackles, however – but if you can’t rush the quarterback in the NFL your defense will struggle. Denver had 40 sacks this season: 17 from Dumervil and 23 from everyone else. Dumervil’s pressure is also a major reason the Broncos didn’t give up many long pass plays.
So there doesn’t seem to be any reason for the Broncos to sign Dumervil to a long-term deal. Although former Broncos defensive coordinator Mike Nolan would surely like to sign Dumervil in Miami, the Broncos don’t have to let Dumervil go. He is restricted unless there’s a new collective-bargaining agreement. If he is unrestricted, the franchise and transition numbers for linebackers will be $9.68 million or $8.373 million, according to the Star Ledger. That’s a reasonable rate for a player as good as Dumervil.
What to make of Ayers? For the record, 384 NFL players had at least half of a sack in 2009. So any Broncos fan who claims Robert Ayers had a good rookie season and made an immediate impact can’t see past their orange and blue tinted glasses. Ayers played just about every snap in the Broncos nickel defense in 2009 and didn’t have a sack. While some of that had to do with his role and setting the edge while DUmervil rushed the passer, the fact that he didn’t get a sack all season is not a great sign. He has a lot of room to improve, which Josh McDaniels alluded to after the season.
“He did a lot of things that we asked him to do,” McDaniels said. “He certainly wants to be more productive and we want him to be as productive as he can possibly be, but he has to take the competition to them. You can’t just hand a guy the job because he walks in the door. He’s got to earn it and he’s got to do the most with his opportunities and take advantage of those. He knows that he’s no longer a rookie, so we will look for bigger things from him next year.”
Ayers did show some explosiveness in training camp and made a few plays during the season. Some players don’t look like they belong from their first rookie minicamp – Ayers does not appear to be one of those players. He needs to learn and gain experience, but he still has a chance to be a good player for the Broncos. However, if he doesn’t win a starting job going into the 2010 season, that isn’t a very good sign.
Will the Broncos add anyone? Assuming Dumervil returns, there doesn’t appear to be much reason to invest in an outside linebacker. Mario Haggan was solid and Darrell Reid played well in a reserve role. The Broncos have to assume Ayers will be more productive in his second season. So unless Dumervil isn’t brought back, this position appears to be pretty well set.