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Three offseason priorities for Denver Broncos

Denver's loss at Kansas City last week ensured that both Super Bowl teams from the previous season would fail to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

The Broncos and Panthers organizations still boast the front office leadership, veteran coaching staffs and talented core of players to inspire faith in their potential for a return to 2015 heights with a few adjustments.

Let's examine three offseason priorities for the Broncos:

1. Take another stab at revamping the offensive line: As a virtual coach on the field, Peyton Manning's pre-snap machinations and quick release masked an overmatched offensive line in 2015. Once Manning called it a career, general manager John Elway made it a priority to upgrade the blocking, signing bookend tackles Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson in free agency.

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.

2. Fix the run defense: It's no secret that Denver's dominant 2015 defense lost interior stalwarts Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan to free agency. Injuries have exacerbated those defections, as run-stuffer Vance Walker went down with an ACL tear in training camp and steady inside linebacker Brandon Marshall has missed extensive action with a hamstring tear. While the pass rush and secondary remain championship-caliber, the run defense has been gutted, plummeting from 83.6 yards allowed to 135.2 -- 29th in the league. Derek Wolfe is a standout defensive end, but he can't plug the run without reinforcements along the defensive front.

3. Settle on a quarterback solution: After Broncos coaches and defensive stars sang Siemian's praises to NFL Network's James Palmer last week, the quarterback suffered through the worst outing of his young career in a blowout loss to Kansas City. As dysfunctional as Denver's offense has been with touchdown drives of just 39 and six yards over the past three games, coach Gary Kubiak wants to take another look at first-round rookie Paxton Lynch in the season finale. Is that a sign that doubts are starting to creep in after Siemian spent the majority of the season showing glimpses of the field vision, pocket movement, accuracy and streamlined delivery to suggest he can emerge as the long-term solution to the post-Super Bowl 50 quarterback conundrum?

If displaced Dallas captain Tony Romo has his eyes on Denver -- as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported last month -- will Elway resist the temptation to pair a proven quarterback with a championship defensive nucleus? Romo comes with plenty of risk at this stage of his career, but Elway witnessed the reward up-close via a 506-yard performance in the Broncos' 51-48 instant classic versus the Cowboys three years ago. If Elway wants a more in-depth scouting report, he can pick the brain of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the head coach in Dallas from 2007 to 2010.

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