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Three offseason priorities for Denver Broncos

“I’ve said, coming in, really looking at this team, looking at every game — which I did several times — it isn’t broken,” Joseph told reporters Friday. “Yes, there are things we could, and must, do better, places where we need to improve. But this team won nine games last season. But I also understand the expectations here. It’s why it’s a great job; it’s why I can’t wait.”

Let’s take a look through Joseph’s rose-colored visor. Though it struggled in the ground game down the stretch, Denver’s defense remains a top-five unit in the league, thanks to a lock-down secondary and an improving defensive line that boasts Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis. The Broncos’ linebacking corps, led by Von Miller and Shane Ray on the outside, is a game-changing force. The addition of a healthy Jamaal Charles to the running back room is a potentially disruptive complement to C.J. Anderson.

To put it bluntly, the overhaul backfired in Elway’s face. Stephenson and backup Ty Sambrailo have teamed to make Broncos right tackle the offensive-line equivalent of Cleveland Browns quarterback this season. Okung and the guard tandem of Michael Schofield and Max Garcia have been liabilities at times in their own right, leaving first-year starting signal-caller Trevor Siemian to swallow the poisonous concoction of shoddy pass protection and a derelict ground “attack.”

Okung’s four-year, $48 million contract is essentially a one-year commitment with an escape hatch if Elway balks at picking up the option for an additional four years. The Broncos can also choose to release Stephenson before his $4 million salary becomes guaranteed in mid-March. Cutting ties is the easy part. Finding capable replacements — especially at left tackle — is the challenge. The best course of action might be to renegotiate Okung’s deal and lure a free-agent right tackle such as Detroit’s Riley Reiff or Baltimore’s Ricky Wagner.

That mental toughness was on display once again when the Broncos faced the Buccaneers in Tampa on Sunday afternoon. This didn’t seem like much of a game until Denver lost starting quarterback Trevor Siemian to a shoulder injury on his left (non-throwing) shoulder late in the second quarter. Suddenly the Broncos, leading 14-7 at the time of the injury, were forced to rely on untested rookie Paxton Lynch for the entire second half. All that dilemma did was give their defense more motivation to take over and the remainder of the Broncos ample reason to elevate their own performances.

The final score — 27-7 in favor of Denver — won’t tell the full story of what happened inside Raymond James Stadium that day. This was one more substantial piece of evidence that the Broncos, now 4-0, should be considered early front-runners to hoist another Lombardi Trophy.jersey

Their bid for another epic victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and possibly their chance to defend a Super Bowl championship, ended with a whimper Sunday afternoon in front of 76,893 chilled and dejected fans at Sports Authority Field. Then, immediately following a 16-3 defeat to their formidable AFC rivals, the Broncos’ frustrations boiled over, as a seemingly ho-hum attempt at postgame unity began and ended with a bang.

When the beaten Broncos spilled into the locker room, before the door was opened to reporters and other outsiders, coach Gary Kubiak gathered his players and asked if anyone wanted to address the team. Veteran left tackle Russell Okung, who signed with the Broncos last March, stepped forward to speak, and cornerback Aqib Talib strongly objected. According to several witnesses, that set off a spirited shouting match between the team’s defensive backs and offensive linemen — one which Kubiak had to diffuse before it turned ugly.

The Denver Broncos traded Kapri Bibbs and a fifth-round pick to the Niners for a 2018 fourth-round selection.An undrafted free agent in 2014, Bibbs averaged 4.4 yards per carry on 29 attempts in 2016.

The 49ers add Bibbs to a backfield headlined by Carlos Hyde and newly signed veteran backup Tim Hightower. The team also traded up in the fourth round to draft Utah runner Joe Williams. Bibbs was expendable for John Elway who has C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker as his top tailbacks.

Charles was a bellcow burner in Kansas City, possessing top-end speed and a guarantee to gain chunks of yards. Although he owns the highest yards-per-carry average in NFL history, it’s fair to wonder how much is left in the tank after recurring knee injuries wiped out the majority of his past two seasons.

Charles tore his right ACL in 2015 and was slow to return to game action in 2016. The twin knee operations ended his campaign after just 12 carries in three games.