Yesterday, I shared one fork of the road map that involves keeping Russell Wilson on the roster, which is my preference. But I am also well aware of the possibility that this will not happen. Here's a look at what I'd best see the other fork looking like, if Wilson is not on the roster.
After laying out core moves the Broncos should make no matter what for the 2024 season, there's a fork in the road. That fork is a critical one: whether or not the Broncos decide to keep Russell Wilson on the roster.
I'll lay my cards out on the table and make my opinion clear: the Broncos should indeed keep Russell Wilson.
The performance of the 2023 Broncos has to be described as a disappointment that did not meet expectations. It was a team that should have made the playoffs, but had a few too many inexcusable losses. Improvements must be made to end what is a disgraceful eight year drought from the postseason.
As always, roster changes will be part of achieving that improvement. For this offseason, however, I'll be forking off a couple of different paths for this road map that will come in subsequent articles. This first part will chronicle several goals that I feel should be accomplished no matter what to start off the path.
Yesterday, the Broncos decided to play Jarrett Stidham for their final two games of the regular season. It was easy to see from as soon as the news started to break that Russell Wilson's $37 million injury guarantee for his 2025 salary would be at the heart of this decision, and that indeed came from more details via Jordan Schultz, confirmed by Troy Renck and Dianna Russini. Where does that leave the Broncos and Wilson both now, and toward the upcoming season?
Garett Bolles and Justin Simmons are two players on veteran contracts that are not expiring but have only one season remaining. Both players have also continued to play at the high levels they have sustained since signing their veteran contracts. Both players have played integral leadership roles for the Broncos on their respective sides of the football. And both players are set to have high salaries in 2024 ($14 million for Bolles, $14.4 million for Simmons) that would be useful to prorate some of their associated cap dollars into the future.
All of these goals could be attained by securing a pair of short term extensions that keep them in the fold at least one season longer than they are under contract for now.
Last week, I addressed the contracts of players that will see their contracts expire after this season. But there are also contracts that are not expiring that the Broncos should also address as well. And in my opinion, no contract looms larger than that of Patrick Surtain II
In 2021, I implored the Broncos to select a great football player, regardless of position, with the 9th overall pick. George Paton answered that imploring by selecting Surtain. He has proven so despite--no, because--his name being not spoken often during a typical NFL broadcast, due to blotting out whoever he is covering. That type of silent coverage, both figuratively by action and literally by word, is reminiscent of the play the Broncos immediately got when they traded for Champ Bailey.
The earliest that a drafted player can have his contract altered is after his third regular season has concluded, per Article 7, Section 3(k)(i) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. For Surtain, that will be January 8, 2024. Once that date comes, work can--and should--be done to extend his contract.
The Broncos made a surprising change at kicker late in the offseason by cutting longtime kicker Brandon McManus. It didn't take them until all the way until just before the regular season started to settle on a replacement by trading a 7th round pick for Wil Lutz, who Sean Payton was familiar with when he was in New Orleans. I was critical of these moves at the time, but so far Lutz has held up well in taking the job. But he'll be a free agent next offseason, so the Broncos will have address the kicker position once again.
The presumption for the Broncos' starters in the defensive backfield for the 2023 season was Patrick Surtain II, Damarri Mathis, and K'Waun Williams at cornerback, and Justin Simmons at safety alongside either an emerging Caden Sterns or a stalwart Kareem Jackson.
Surtain and Simmons held up their bargains in remaining elite players in the NFL, but Williams and Sterns were lost for the season very early, Mathis was benched, and Jackson has been suspended multiple times. One of these three roster spots has been happily filled by Ja'Quan McMillian for what should be several seasons to come on rookie contract costs.
The other two spots saw the emergence of 4th year player PJ Locke, and journeyman veteran Fabian Moreau. Locke and Moreau have been important parts of a Broncos turnaround on defense, but they will also be unrestricted free agents after this season. How should their futures be addressed?
As I continue to take a look at Broncos with expiring contracts, next up from players who are contributing remarkably over the course of the 2023 season is Josey Jewell. He's a player that I think poses a conundrum due to the previous contract that he signed to stay in Denver.
The Broncos are going have a series of contract decisions to make in the coming offseason--both on contracts that are set to expire, and some that are not set to expire. Thus, over the coming days, I want to take a look at some of the players in question to try to set some baselines for when I build my annual offseason road map for 2024 once the Broncos' 2023 season has concluded.
I'll start with pending unrestricted free agents for 2024, and I'll start with the one who is having a remarkable season just at the right time for his future contractual security: Lloyd Cushenberry.