Broncos pursue free agent Earl Mitchell; Defensive tackle will visit this week

Posted at 11:11 AM, Feb 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-19 13:32:04-05

DENVER -- Joe Woods walked into his new position as the Broncos defensive coordinator with a top priority.

"We have to do a better job against the run. And we will," said Woods, pictured above. "We will fix it."

With the 3-4 scheme remaining entrenched, the solution begins with personnel tweaks. Looking to bolster their line, the Broncos will host free agent defensive tackle Earl Mitchell midweek, according to an NFL source. The Dolphins released Mitchell in a cost-cutting measure, turning him into an attractive commodity on the open market. NFL Network reported that Mitchell is planning to visit the Seahawks, Niners and Falcons in addition to the Broncos.

Mitchell played for Broncos coach Vance Joseph last season in Miami, where Joseph served one year as defensive coordinator. The former Arizona Wildcats standout also knows the Broncos staff, having worked in Houston with defensive line coach Bill Kollar. Kollar carries a reputation for helping linemen realize their potential, and had a good relationship with Mitchell.

Like the Broncos, Mitchell, 29, could use a reboot.

While the Broncos owned the NFL's fifth worst rush defense (130.3 yards) last season, the Dolphins sank to third from the bottom at 140.4. Injuries played a role, including to Mitchell. He began last season on injured reserve with a lingering calf issue. While sidelined, the 6-foot-1, 289-pounder dropped weight to ease pain in his back. He returned with intensity, playing his best game at San Diego on Nov. 13. He recorded four tackles, among them a game-changing stuff of the San Diego Chargers' Melvin Gordon for a 6-yard loss at the goal line. 

Mitchell started the final five regular-season games, and finished the year with 28 combined tackles. There was speculation Miami might try to keep Mitchell on a restructured deal. Instead, the Dolphins cut the veteran, saving $4 million in cap space. 

The Broncos need help upfront. Defensive end Derek Wolfe represented the lone consistent run stopper a year ago. Nose tackle Sylvester Williams, who is an unrestricted free agent, was unable to build off his breakthrough 2015 season and rookie Adam Gotsis lacked the strength to make an impact. Defensive end Jared Crick played well, but was miscast as an everydown player. The Broncos signed him as a situational pass rusher to complement Vance Walker. Walker, however, suffered a season-ending ACL knee injury in training camp after stuffing the run as well as anyone in August. He is a free agent, and his return has not been ruled out depending on his health.

Mitchell signed a four-year, $16 million deal with Miami following the 2013 season. He is known for his quickness and burst, and could benefit from a return to a 3-4 scheme. The Broncos are looking for upgrades at multiple positions, including offensive tackles and guard and defensive line. Brandon Williams, Dontari Poe and Calais Campbell are among the top free agent defensive linemen available, but all would come at a much higher cost than Mitchell as the Broncos attempt to address multiple needs. 


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