If the season started today, Nate Irving would be the Broncos' middle linebacker.

This was the same scenario at this time last year, only for Broncos fans to wonder halfway through the season: Whatever happened to Nate Irving?

Irving can play. His problem since the first week of his rookie training camp in 2011 has been staying healthy. The Broncos now like him better as a strongside linebacker, where he played well in replacing injured Von Miller through the final five games of the 2013 season.

But now that the first wave of NFL free agency has passed, and the May 8-10 draft seemingly lacking rookie starting-caliber middle linebackers (even highly regarded C.J. Mosley may be better suited as a weakside linebacker), the Broncos are again entering an offseason with Irving and Steven Johnson competing for "Mike" position.

The Broncos' first move in free agency occurred before the market opened. But middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson picked the Indianapolis Colts instead.

The Broncos next liked, in no particular order, Karlos Dansby, Jon Beason, Perry Riley and Daryl Smith as "three-down" middle linebackers in free agency.

All signed elsewhere. Maybe that's a good thing. Had the Broncos signed a middle linebacker, they likely would have had enough money to sign only two of the three defensive standouts they did get, which were DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. What the Broncos have to do now is come up with a Plan B free-agent list for the "Mike" position, or their scouts, coaches and execs have to hunker down in the film room and find a middle linebacker gem in the draft.