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The Broncos’ 2016 Salary Cap & Contract Needs, Pre-2015 Season Edition

Unless some major contractual development happens until the 2015 season ends for the Broncos, this will likely be my last rather lengthy take on what lies ahead for the team in this regard. Things could change a lot as we learn about the state of the Broncos after 2015 is in the books, but I think it’s good to lay out what challenges are ahead so that we can be aware of them as this year progresses.

UPDATE (4:17 PM MT): Well, just my luck that a major contractual development takes place mere hours after I finished this.  The Broncos signed Evan Mathis to a one-year deal worth up to $4 million.  This takes their combined 2015/2016 cap space down to potentially $13 million.  The post has been updated with this news, and may be updated further as we learn more about Mathis’s deal.

In sum (pun intended), I’m going to lay out a series of potential cap numbers, categorizing them into several major groups. All numbers are, of course, estimates, and I’ll try to explain the margin of error in some of the line items.

If you’re not interested in the wall of text explaining all these options, scroll to the bottom to find a table of all the options available.

Salary Cap Space: $14.5 million

Via OTC’s calculator:

  • 2015: $5.637,975
  • 2016: $8,862,442

Now, expect that 2015 number of $8.1 million to go down slightly as the Broncos cut down to 53 and make regular season transactions before it’s carried over to 2016. However, we’ve tended to underestimate the salary cap rise at OTC, so that 2016 number could also go up. Either way, for now work with the idea that there will be about $17 million in space.

Now, what liabilities can the Broncos be expected to add in 2016?

Potential Liabilities ($54.1 million)

2016 Rookie Pool: ($5.5 million)

Trades, draft position, and compensatory pick awarding could change this number, of course. But for now, this number is based upon the Broncos’ own 2016 picks they still hold (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th), Baltimore’s 5th from the Gino Gradkowski trade, and a 3rd, 4th, and 6th in compensatory picks.

Oh, and by the way, the position of the Broncos’ normal picks is based upon picking last in each round. Having any other sort of expectation just wouldn’t be right, would it? Speaking of which…

Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl Bonus: ($4 million)

…since we all want the Broncos to win the Super Bowl, we also want Peyton Manning to earn back his pay cut, right?

RFA and ERFA Tenders: ($5.8 million)

This doesn’t get nearly as much attention, but it should: the Broncos have four potential 2016 starters that aren’t under contract for that year but have their free agent rights reserved by the Broncos. Those four players are as follows, with their tenders estimated on similar increases from past seasons:

  • CJ Anderson ($2.354M second round tender): Assuming that Anderson continues to build on an impressive 2014, this would be the minimum tender to place on him to scare offer sheets away. There may even be a case to boost Anderson’s tender to a first round level, which would add another $1 million to reach $3.35M.
  • Brandon Marshall ($2.354M second round tender): The Broncos actually have an unusual option to tender Marshall, and it’s because he was drafted but had his rookie contract terminated by the Jaguars. Thus, this is the rare case where an original round tender (which would be about $1.54 million) would net the Broncos a draft pick back if they didn’t match, and it would be a 5th rounder. However, judging by the strong preseason Marshall’s had so far, and the fact that Danny Trevathan (more on him in a moment) could be walking in 2016, and I think bumping Marshall’s tender a mere $810,000 is a prudent assumption to make.
  • Todd Davis ($585,000): As he could be Trevathan’s replacement, there should be little doubt that he get an ERFA tender at this point, which would be the veteran minimum for a player with two accrued seasons.
  • Matt Paradis ($510,000): Because Paradis spent 2015 on the practice squad and signed a futures contract, he’ll be stuck with the ERFA status for two straight seasons, with this tender being the veteran minimum for one accrued season players. If Paradis continues to hold down the starting center job this could be a huge bargain for the Broncos.

Potential UFA Extensions: ($38.75 million)

Now, here’s where things get rough. Make special note that these numbers are on an APY basis, but the actual cap numbers can be made much lower if the Broncos want to mortgage future cap years to retain any of these players.

  • Von Miller ($15 million): We’ve discussed the biggest pending contract of them all extensively enough. The $15M here will actually be based on my guess of what it would take to franchise tag Miller, as I think his APY will be around $17M.
  • Brock Osweiler ($5.5 million): I’m cautiously optimistic that my proposed cap number will hold water, and that the contract of Nick Foles won’t scramble things up. If you feel that more space should be prepped for Osweiler, then by all means do so.
  • Malik Jackson ($7 million)
  • Derek Wolfe ($4 million): I don’t expect these two numbers to be accurate. What they are instead is a representation of the possible high and low ranges of the 3-4 defensive end market. $7M APY would best Jason Hatcher’s $6.875M APY, and I don’t see either Jackson or Wolfe getting into the upper tier in the tens of millions. $4M APY equates to the two year extension the Packers gave Mike Neal, and I don’t think either Wolfe nor Jackson will to worse than that.As it stands right now, Jackson has clearly earned the right to be paid more than Wolfe, thus why I’m setting it up this way for purposes of this article. However, the 2015 season could easily change that. Unless there’s a big gap between the two, I’d expect the Broncos to get them to bargain against each other, and retain whoever can give them the better deal.
  • Danny Trevathan ($4.25 million): If this seem a bit high for Trevathan, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking so. However, I think the recent mega contracts to players like Lavonte David, DeAndre Levy, and Mychal Kendricks will greatly help Trevathan’s financial cause. Of course, there’s no way Trevathan is getting paid anywhere near as much as them. However, look at the free agent market for traditional linebackers in 2016. It’s mostly filled with over the hill players like Derrick Johnson, Chad Greenway, and Jameel McClain, with the always questionable Rolando McClain perhaps the only better young talent. I expect the market for Trevathan to be competitive, and I think he can best Wesley Woodyard’s APY of almost $4M APY if he recovers properly from an injury filled 2014.
  • Ronnie Hillman ($3 million): If I wrote this article a couple weeks ago I never would have included Hillman in this section, but he’s been making the argument that he deserves playing time in the NFL. I’ll still be conservative here though and just give him the same contract that Knowshon Moreno got from the Dolphins.
  • UFAs from other teams ($? million): The Broncos are set up to not have to rely much on the UFA market, but this line should still be added to note that there may be some shopping that they want or need to do. Unfortunately, there’s no good way to quantify this number at all.

Now obviously, the Broncos won’t be spending cap dollars on all those liabilities, but $17 million in current cap space won’t come even close to satisfying what most will think are reasonable needs. So what can the Broncos do to gain cap room?

Potential Cap Casualties: $48.15 million

Note that any of these players could be asked to take a pay cut and still be kept, but it also means less potential cap savings.

  • Peyton Manning ($19 million): We all know it’s possible that Manning could retire after this year, so there’s not much to elaborate upon here.
  • DeMarcus Ware ($10 million): When the Broncos drafted Shane Ray in the first round, the choice could easily be construed as one to replace Ware. The question is whether that happens in 2016 or later.
  • Ryan Clady ($8.9 million): Same thing as Ware, except replace Ray with Ty Sambrailo.
  • Aqib Talib ($7 million): This is the real dark horse candidate. Say Bradley Roby makes big strides forward in 2015, and Kayvon Webster or another young cornerback develops enough to get the chance at some first string snaps next year. Can a $10 million cap number to Talib still be justified?
  • Britton Colquitt ($3.25 million): I’m going to keep banging this drum until this terrible contract is off the books.

Potential Restructures: $24.2 million

This is a move that the Broncos under John Elway have been hesitant to do, but the option is there to convert non-guaranteed base salaries to prorated signing bonuses that shift cap numbers to the future. Here are four contracts that have the best potential for restructures, with all numbers representing the maximum restructure potential:

  • Demaryius Thomas ($9.8 million)
  • Aqib Talib ($6.5 million)
  • Chris Harris, Jr. ($4.9 million)
  • TJ Ward ($3 million)


What should, or will, the Broncos do in 2016? We won’t know for sure until this season is over. But it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the table below from time to time to remind what lies ahead as we learn more in 2015. I’ve tagged each column and row with a letter and number so that you can refer to each transaction in a simple manner in the comments section.

Current 2016 Cap Space: $14.5 million (includes 2015 carryover)
Liabilities Cap Casualties Restructures
1 Von Miller: ($15M) Peyton Manning: $19M Demaryius Thomas: $9.8M
2 Brock Osweiler: ($5.5M) DeMarcus Ware: $10M Aqib Talib: $6.5M
3 Malik Jackson: ($7M) Ryan Clady: $8.9M Chris Harris, Jr.: $4.9M
4 Derek Wolfe: ($4M) Aqib Talib: $7M TJ Ward: $3M
5 Danny Trevathan: ($4.25M) Britton Colquitt: $3.25M
6 Ronnie Hillman: ($3M)
7 CJ Anderson (RFA): ($2.354M)
8 Brandon Marshall (RFA): ($2.354M)
9 Todd Davis (RFA): ($585k)
10 Matt Paradis (RFA): ($510k)
Draft picks: ($5.5M)
Peyton Manning SB Bonus: ($4M)
Evan Mathis incentives: ($1.5M)
Total ($55.6M) $48.15M $24.2M