Here’s the blueprint for the Broncos in 2017 | VailDaily.com

Here’s the blueprint for the Broncos in 2017

Yes, we admit to schadenfreude — taking joy in the suffering of others — with regard to the Broncos' demise this year. After all, one can't spell schadenfreude with Freud.

But unlike Freud's 49ers, who are a complete teardown, the Broncos are not far from returning to the lofty heights of Super Bowl 50. Denver has strong organization, a capable general manager in John Elway, a top-flight defense, good players at a lot of so-called skill positions and an attractive opening for a head coach.

Here's how the Broncos should spend their offseason.

Replacing Kubiak

Unlike some Broncos fans, I don't think Gary Kubiak was the problem this year. It was the offensive line, a novice quarterback and the general difficulties of following up a Super Bowl season.

Kubiak's hire, however, is illustrative of Elway's thinking when it comes to the process. No. 7 likes "his guys," people with whom he's familiar. Kubiak was Elway's backup forever in Denver — that relationship can be a conflict, but wasn't — so it wasn't much of a surprise pick two years ago.

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Kubiak was also from an offensive background. Do remember that when Peyton Manning was relatively healthy in 2015, the Broncos were still flinging the ball around and scoring a bunch of points. Kubiak also correctly assessed the situation when Manning wasn't healthy and devised a game plan with Brock Osweiler to play field position and let the defense win the Super Bowl.

So who's next? Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is among the whispered names, and it makes a lot of sense. Elway is clearly tight with the Shanahan family, Mike having coached Elway to two Super Bowl wins and Kyle doubtless being around the team during those years.

Younger Shanahan is offense-oriented, which is what the Broncos need. The Falcons have also burned up light bulbs on the scoreboard, putting up points and done a good job with quarterback Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Kyle Shanahan fills all the boxes.

Also of note in the coaching department is that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' contract is up. Retain him at all costs.

Broncos free agents

The big unrestricted names are DeMarcus Ware, Vance Walker, Sylvester Williams and Jordan Norwood.

Ware is 34 and been injured for parts of the last two seasons. If Denver can get him to a small-sized contract with incentives, then he comes back. After Walker blew an ACL in training camp, he should be good to go, and should return. Williams? Not so much.

As for Norwood, don't let the door hit you where the good Lord split you. While the offensive line is the major offseason project, catching a punt cleanly would be a nice thing in 2017.

The line

It. Must. Be. Fixed.

Matt Paradis stays at center, while the rest is up in the air. Tackles Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson were the high-profile acquisitions of last offseason, and well, that didn't work in 2016. Do the Broncos bring back Okung, jettison Stephenson or say goodbye to both? Our money says Stephenson is gone.

At guard, Michael Schofield wasn't Stephenson awful, and Max Garcia?

I don't see the team letting go four of its five offensive linemen walk, but there's $38 million in cap space and 10 draft picks to work on this.

This is Elway's offseason.

Quarterback

Yes, Tony Romo is a going to be a free agent. Don't go there. Stick with Trevor Siemian. He got 14 games-worth of experience in 2016, and there were times he looked good behind a nonexistent offensive line.

Give him a line and a bit of a rushing game and the kid can develop. Also remember that young QBs are cheap and less of a hit on the cap. Bring in Romo with his high price tag, and you have less money to spend on the O-line. Then you have broken Romo, and you're back to Siemian running all over the place.

Sure, let Paxton Lynch compete for the job, but Siemian can make the throws. (In the greater scheme of things, let Lynch hold the clipboard and learn. He was out of his element in his two starts.) Also when healthy, Siemian can leave the pocket and run for yardage.

The draft

In 1981, the beloved Bill Walsh spent three of his first four picks on the secondary, addressing a major issue for the 49ers. (The 1980 Niners couldn't have stopped the 2016 Broncos passing game.) Those picks were Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright and Carlton Williamson.

It's hard to match that, but said example is another way of saying draft offensive linemen. Also pick up a running back or two. The Broncos aren't going to find an Ezekiel Elliott at No. 20, their spot in the first round. Hope C.J. Anderson comes back and add to Devontae Booker.

With some improvement to the line and semblance of a running game, the Broncos can be back in the hunt in 2017.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, cfreud@vaildaily.com and @cfreud.