What now for Elvis Dumervil and the Broncos?

Happy Monday, friends.  I was out of pocket all weekend, watching the Mets get beat in two spring training games down in Port St. Lucie.  During my baseball-focused couple days, I gave the Dumervil situation some serious thought. 

The first question I’ve been pondering is whether the Broncos really specifically need Elvis Dumervil to play open-side DE.  The answer I’ve been mostly coming to is no.  Remember, if Dumervil hadn't accepted the pay cut, he was going to be released anyway - drama aside, the Broncos had a plan to move forward without him.  They may need somebody to be a threatening pass rusher on sub package downs, but Robert Ayers is perfectly capable of playing there in base situations, and doing a good job.

I think that’s what the Broncos have been thinking, to be honest, and even if Elvis is back in 2013 (which strikes me as less and less likely all the time) I don’t think his stay would be any longer than the one season.  It’s probably in his best interest to go find a team that would view him as their primary pass rusher, and invest in him as such.

A couple of ideas that immediately come to mind are Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.  The Jags have a ton of salary cap space (around $28 million), and the Bucs have a lot too (around $25 million).  Both teams finished in the bottom five in the NFL last season in sacks, so the need is clearly there, and Dumervil is a scheme fit in both places (assuming the Jags are similar schematically to what new head coach Gus Bradley showed in Seattle).  On top of that, Dumervil is a Miami native, even if he’s not super familiar with where every Kinko’s is there. 

Also, Florida has nice weather, and no state income tax.  Neither team was in the playoffs last year, but the Bucs could be pretty easily, if they shore up their pass defense.  The Jags are in a very winnable division, and I think they could be one of these scrappy teams that wins close games, if they can get any kind of good play out of their QB position.

I see him linked to teams like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New England by the media, but I don’t see any of them happening.  Baltimore has about $10 million in space, but no other players they seem to really want to cut.  Also, they’re not really a scheme fit, because Dumervil plays the same position as Terrell Suggs. 

Pittsburgh borders on laughable, for a few reasons.  For one thing, they have less than $3 million in cap space.  For another, in order to be a successful OLB in their scheme, you have to be just as comfortable dropping into zone coverage as rushing the passer.  That’s why they always draft and develop their own guys at that position, because it’s a unique assignment.

New England has $16 million in space, but I don’t see the fit there.  For one thing, they have Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, and they do a really nice job.  For another, Dumervil doesn’t fit their position archetype, which calls for long and tall players at that position, and the Patriots stick pretty close to their guidelines on size/speed matters.

As for what the Broncos are going to do, they have to think about it from a cap room perspective.  According to Spotrac, they currently have $7 million in space.  About $4 million of that will have to be earmarked for their draft class.  They have a couple guys in Chris Kuper and Joe Mays who will probably be cut at some point, which will open up about $5 million more between them.

Let’s say they can spend about $8 million on a pass rusher.  Is it better to give all of that money to Dumervil, or to give $5 million of it to John Abraham, Dwight Freeney, or Osi Umenyiora on a short-term deal, and save the rest for a rainy day?  At this point, I think I like option B.

The question, then, becomes which one.  Abraham was the most productive in 2012, with 10 sacks.  He’s also used to being a somewhat part-time player (he was 28th in snaps played among 4-3 DEs in 2012), and seems to embrace it.  His downside risk is that he’ll be 35 in May, and while he really hasn’t shown signs of slippage, you have to think that he may any day now.

Freeney played out of position as a 3-4 OLB, and it seemed to mess with his productivity.  He played 768 snaps, which was the most of the three players we’re considering, and he finished with only five sacks, which was just above his career low.  While he’s two years younger than Abraham, the needle has been pointing down for Freeney statistically for a few years now.  My opinion is that he can still be effective if you use him correctly, though.

Umenyiora played even fewer snaps than Abraham, and seemed to bristle at it.  He also only had six sacks on the season, but he generally played pretty well as a pass rusher.  He’s never been a great run defender, and 2012 was no exception, although he wasn’t graded terribly by PFF.  The issue with Umenyiora is that he’s never happy with his contract, and that he has said he’s going to be Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.  That suggests that he might not be very happy as a situational player.

In using PFF’s pass rush productivity, you see a lot of similarity between Dumervil and his three potential replacements.  I even included Ayers, to show that he was pretty solid as a pass rusher in his limited snaps in 2012.

Player Age at start of 2013 Pass Rush Snaps Sacks Hits Hurries PRP
John Abraham 35 417 10 8 38 10.67%
Dwight Freeney 33 414 5 9 33 8.82%
Osi Umenyiora 31 409 6 7 32 8.62%
Elvis Dumervil 29 489 12 11 37 9.82%
Robert Ayers 28 208 2 9 12 8.53%

I’d be happy with any of these players in Denver (including Dumervil, for the record) but I think I’d lean toward trying to sign Abraham for something on the order of two years and $10 million.  I’d even go as high as $12 million if I had to.  He’s been tremendously productive for a long time, and only his age seems to be limiting his market.  If a guy is still getting it done, and he’s not breaking down physically, then age ain’t nothin’ but a number (as they say).

I do believe in Ayers’s ability to be a starting open-side DE, and to play well in base downs.  I think the Broncos do too.  The whole kerfluffle in the preseason last year about how he’d fallen out of favor was noise, driven by the Denver Post’s lack of realization that the team had gone to a much different defensive scheme than what they were familiar with.  Part of that switch was a change in the position archetype for what a closed-side DE is, and what he does.  He’s 300-pound Derek Wolfe, and he two-gaps a lot.  Ayers is a different kind of player, and that's why he was put on the open side.

(Side note - did any of you realize that Ayers is only 18 months younger than Dumervil, and that he was 24 when he played his first NFL game?  I sure didn't.)

I know a lot of fans were kind of apoplectic about the whole Dumervil thing on Friday, and into the weekend, but I don’t think his departure (if he’s really gone, in the end) is as big a deal as some imagine it to be.  Let’s see what happens – if recent history is any guide, we should probably trust in John Elway.

What course of action do you prefer for replacing Elvis Dumervil?

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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