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2016 Broncos Offseason Road Map

So we’re three days away from the Super Bowl, and no matter what happens, that will the conclusion of the Broncos’ outstanding 2015 season. For John Elway and the front office, there will be time to either celebrate or grieve, but that time will be limited. That’s because Elway will face what will easily be the most challenging offseason during his tenure as general manager. There is much that needs to be done, and it needs to be done in only a month’s time, as the start of the 2016 league year—and thus free agency—is on March 9.

So, because I may not get time to post this promptly after the Super Bowl, I’ll provide you with my 17-point road map as to how I would navigate the rocky offseason terrain that lies immediately ahead. Suffice to say, with 17 points it’s highly likely that not all of them will be fulfilled to my satisfaction, either to Elway wanting a different direction or players disagreeing on their value. But barring something truly extraordinary on Sunday I doubt the Super Bowl is going to change my mind much.

1. Get a timely answer from Peyton Manning on whether he wants to play in 2016

Unlike in 2015, the Broncos can’t really afford to wait until right before the start of free agency for Manning to decide what he wants to do, as the cap space he’s currently occupying needs an answer as to whom it is going to be used on. I would set a deadline of February 17—10 days after the Super Bowl and three weeks before the start of the new league year, for Manning to tell the Broncos what he wants to do in 2016.

1a. If Manning retires, then hold a ceremony and wish him a fond farewell.

1b. If Manning doesn’t retire and you want to move on, immediately cut him.

As we know, the Broncos will realize $19 million in 2016 cap savings if Manning departs, either from retirement or from being cut. That’s a lot of cap dollars that will immediately be put to other use.

1c. If Manning doesn’t retire and you want to keep him, say goodbye to Brock Osweiler and be sure to draft a QB high in 2016.

You’d have to do some real cap acrobatics to fit in both Manning and Osweiler on veteran QB contracts, so I think they’ll have to choose between one or the other. This is not my preferred scenario since there’s more risk being able to get a viable rookie QB with only one year of training behind a very old Manning, as opposed to the four years in training you’ve already invested in Osweiler. But I include it as an option just because it the quarterback decision is a momentous one either way.

2. If you go with Osweiler, try to offer him a contract similar to Nick Foles.

Contract comparables have been so difficult for Osweiler, but now that he has a few games under his belt, I think there’s enough to justify a Foles-style deal. I’m not going to bother trying to list an APY with Osweiler, because if you look at Foles’s contract you’ll see how misleading it is—both sides can be flexible with that. I’m more concerned about the 2016 cap number, and if Foles could be had at $4 million, I think Osweiler could be had at $5 million. If Osweiler does walk, as a veteran QB he’s a very good candidate for a 3rd round 2017 comp pick, and likely no less than a 4th.

3. Cut Britton Colquitt.

This move remains obvious, and one of the first moves the Broncos should do. $3.25 million in 2016 cap savings will be realized when Colquitt is cut.

4. Retain Von Miller.

There’s little question that the Broncos will not let Miller come even close to sniffing unrestricted free agency.

4a. It is preferable to extend Miller quickly and avoid using the franchise tag on him

With the limited cap space the Broncos have against all the free agents they have to deal with, locking up tens of millions in a franchise tag may not be wise when they need that elsewhere. Thankfully, Justin Houston’s contract is available to copy for Miller. Such a deal will feature a high signing bonus (probably around $22.5 million after accounting for cap inflation) that the Broncos normally aren’t comfortable with, but if you’re going to commit yourself to a player long term, Miller is the one to do it with. With that estimated $22.5 million signing bonus prorated over 5 seasons, if you keep 2016’s base salary low, such as the $1 million Houston got, you could come away with a 2016 cap number of $5.5 million.

4b. But if an extension can’t be had before the start of free agency, be sure you have the cap space to franchise tag him.

We don’t know what the 2016 franchise tag amount will be yet, but it was $13.169 million for Houston last year. With a rise in the salary cap and Houston’s deal in the books, it would not surprise me if it pushed above $15 million. As you can see, a difference of as much as almost $10 million in cap space to work with is a lot.


5. Do something with DeMarcus Ware’s contract

Given the cap challenges that lie ahead for the Broncos, there simply is no way that Ware’s $11.66 million cap number can stay, given Ware’s advanced age and with Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett waiting in the wings. I won’t completely rule out the chance of Ware staying, because while he is past his prime physically, you can make an argument that his leadership on the defense is still valuable.

There are three ways to address Ware’s contract:

5a. Cut Ware.

This is the simplest thing to do, and the one that appears the most likely, given that the Broncos will realize $10 million in cap savings when it happens.

5b. Ask for a pay cut.

There’s not much to be lost in trying this as long as you’re prepared to cut him if he balks at it. It would have to be quite a hefty pay cut to make it worthwhile, though. let’s say for the sake of argument in point 5c below, it’s a pay cut that saves $6 million in 2016 cap space.

5c. “Extend” Ware to spread out his cap hit.

This is generally not a recommended cap trick as it causes headaches in the future, but it’s on the table if you really want to keep Ware for 2016. Here’s one way you could work it in this scenario: create a two year “extension” that really contains an automatic void in 2017. Then, convert $9 million of Ware’s $10 million base salary into a prorated signing bonus that creates $6 million in cap space for 2016, but also results in $6 million of automatic dead money against the 2017 cap.

6. Place ERFA tenders on Matt Paradis, Todd Davis, Brandon McManus and Bennie Fowler.

The total cost of these expected moves will be $2.325 million.

7. Place a first round RFA tender on Brandon Marshall.

This will probably cost about $3.5 million. I’ve gone back and forth a 1st or 2nd round tender for Marshall, and I think it’s prudent for the Broncos to take the extra $1 million cap hit to assure that no one tries to poach him with a deal with a high 2016 cap number, one that the Broncos likely couldn’t match if they’re up against the cap.

The other reason why I’m OK with this is that it would prepare for the scenario of Marshall holding out in pursuit of an extension, of which he’d have the right to do since he’s not under contract until he signs the tender. If I were Marshall’s agent, I certainly wouldn’t take a holdout off the table. So if your hand is forced to extend Marshall, you’d be committing at least $3.5 million to him in 2016 anyway.

8. Place a second round RFA tender on CJ Anderson.

There shouldn’t be much question about this tender. It’ll likely cost about $2.5 million.

9. Let Malik Jackson walk.

This is the most painful point of all, but it’s one that I think will be in the best interests for Denver. If Derek Wolfe got a $9.175 million APY deal, and a non-starter in Vinny Curry got $9.45 million in APY, Jackson can easily command eight figures on the open market if he wants it, a market that is going to be a buyer’s paradise with Wolfe, Curry, and Mike Daniels all off it, and Muhammad Wilkerson likely to be constrained by the franchise tag.

Wolfe has commanded a $6.8 million cap number. I foresee Jackson doing at least the same (we’ll go with a round $7 million), and that pushes out multiple other mid-level players the Broncos may need. With the Broncos likely already securing elite cap numbers to Demaryius Thomas, Von Miller, and perhaps Brock Osweiler or another quarterback down the road, and several others garnering high level cap numbers, I’m leery about also fitting Jackson into that tier for the Broncos. The salary cap assures that you can’t keep every one of your good players, and if you try, you end up with messes like the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints frequently get into.

The final argument in favor of letting Jackson walk is if he does command an APY of over $10 million, that will mean a highly likely 3rd round compensatory pick for the Broncos in 2017.

10. Try negotiating an extension for Danny Trevathan, but don’t break the bank.

I’d put a limit on Trevathan’s APY at not much more than $5 million, around Stephen Tulloch, and limit his 2016 cap number to about $4 million. If he asks for more due to what the market offers, he’s someone else that might have to walk. At well above $5 million APY, that’s probably worth a 5th round comp pick in 2017.

11. Extend one—but not both—of David Bruton or Omar Bolden.

The Broncos could stand to retain some solid veteran depth at safety.

11a. Try to extend Bruton first.

This is simply because I feel that Bruton is the better of the two. I wouldn’t go much more than $2 million per year, though.

11b. If Bruton can’t be retained, extend Bolden

For Bolden, I’d set a limit of $1 million per year.

12. Give Ryan Harris another 1-year deal.

He has proven that he would be a very good swing tackle. It shouldn’t take much more than $1.5 million to keep him.

13. Consider another 1-year deal for Antonio Smith if the cap room is there.

If you let Jackson walk, it might be a good idea to bring Smith back for depth and to compete with Vance Walker, Kenny Anunike, and any possible newcomers at that position. However, Smith will be in his mid-30s and he got a $2 million deal last year, so I would put his priority much lower, and let him walk if the cap space simply isn’t there. Do not spend more than $2.25 million on him for 2016.

14. Let Evan Mathis, Vernon Davis, Andre Caldwell, and Ronnie Hillman all walk.

Mathis was a nice addition for 2015, but as his age you’re playing with fire for the future, and you have to expect Max Garcia to step up as a starter for 2016. Hillman has played well, but at this point you really need to reclaim that magic of finding an unheralded rookie for the zone blocking system. None of these UFAs should be worth more than a 7th round comp pick, but they will pad your CFA lost/gained level to give you flexibility to shop for low level UFAs without jeopardizing non 7th 2017 comp picks.

15. Be patient with altering Ryan Clady’s contract

Clady has publicly shown a willingness to “restructure” his contract—though that may or may not translate into be willing to take a pay cut. While it’s at least on the surface a nice gesture, it may have been a mistake for Clady to do so. This is because the Broncos are in no position to leverage Clady when the right tackle position is in such terrible shape. The only way it’s fixed right now is if you retain Clady on the left side and put Ty Sambrailo at RT.

Personally (and I feel quite strongly about this), I would be prepared to carry Clady’s full $10.1 million cap hit in 2016 unless and until the Broncos obtain a viable RT solution in free agency or the draft that allows Sambrailo to move to left tackle. But I will admit that if Elway was able to successfully squeeze Peyton Manning of all people, he has the negotiation skills to squeeze Clady. Still, I would exercise extreme caution, and recognize that the Broncos need Clady more than some may think.

16. Right tackle is the only position the Broncos should potentially address in free agency at a value higher than $4M APY.

Barring cap casualties, there may not be a free agent RT worth that much anyway—and remember that the Broncos will want an RT that fits what Kubiak wants to do. The cap space should end as a net gain assuming you cut Clady and move Sambrailo to LT. A limit of $4 million APY should prevent the Broncos from cancelling out any potential 3rd-5th round 2017 comp picks for Osweiler, Jackson, or Trevathan should any of them walk. But prefer SFAs to UFAs to pad the CFA lost/gained ratio anyway—a few extra 7th rounders won’t hurt, especially since 2017 comp picks will be tradeable.

17. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to restructure Chris Harris or Demaryius Thomas to get a little more 2016 cap space.

Cap conscious teams like the Broncos usually don’t do this, but 2016 is an unusual year. There is likely no need to resort to this until the summer, however, when it’s time to sign rookies, and it’s also why I’ve largely held off from addressing the rookie pool for now, because when it’s all said and done the net cap space needed to make room for them under the top 51 is likely not going to be much more than $2 million. Here’s the potential 2016 cap savings out of restructures:

  • Thomas: maximum of $9.18 million
  • Harris: maximum of $4.6 million

I’d prefer to restructure Harris over Thomas since Harris is more of a sure quantity at this point, and there’s a potential contract voiding available for Thomas in 2017. Aqib Talib also has a restructure potential of about $6M, but I would advise against it due to his age, just in case they need $10M in cap space for 2017 by making him a cap casualty.

2016 Salary Cap Projections

All of these projections assume the following:

  • Peyton Manning gets his final $2 million back (you gotta believe, right?)
  • A leaguewide 2016 salary cap of $150 million, of which is likely an underestimate
  • Britton Colquitt is cut
  • ERFA tenders are placed on Matt Paradis, Todd Davis, Brandon McManus and Bennie Fowler.
  • 1st round RFA tender is placed on Brandon Marshall.
  • 2nd round RFA tender is placed on CJ Anderson.
  • Ryan Clady is retained at his $10.1 million cap number.

The two big factors that I will be adjusting for in these projections are the following:

  • Whether to retain Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler
  • Whether or not an extension with Von Miller can be obtained without using the franchise tag

Unfortunately, the cheaper moves for both of these factors require the Broncos to successfully complete contract negotiations with both Miller and Osweiler. Finally, note that in the offseason the top 51 cap numbers count, so in some scenarios I have to add or subtract those players (who will likely consist of current practice squadders at the absolute minimum salary).

The Tight Cap Plan (keep Manning, franchise tag Miller)

In this plan, it mandates that DeMarcus Ware must be cut. It also mandates that Chris Harris and Demaryius Thomas get their contracts restructured. For Harris, I go for near the maximum possible by converting $6 million of his base salary into a signing bonus. Prorated over 4 years, this saves $4.5 million against the 2016 cap in exchange for pushing $1.5 million each in 2017, 2018, and 2019. For Thomas, I give him an $8 million signing bonus, gaining $6 million in cap savings.

It also limits extensions of other UFAs to only depth role players. Even with those cap savings moves, I could only fit in extensions for Bruton and Harris. With Osweiler, Jackson, and Trevathan all walking along with numerous others, the Broncos would be a lock for multiple high 2017 compensatory picks. That’s a silver lining because they would be needed as the Broncos need to hit on multiple draft picks to restock their depth.

Current Cap Space: $6,923,505 (assuming $150M 2016 salary cap & $3.3M carryover)
Savings Expenditures
Britton Colquitt (cut) $3,250,000 Von Miller (franchise tag) ($15,000,000)
DeMarcus Ware (cut) $10,000,000 Brandon McManus (ERFA) ($600,000)
Chris Harris (restructure) $4,500,000 Bennie Fowler (ERFA) ($600,000)
Demaryius Thomas (restructure) $6,000,000 Todd Davis (ERFA) ($600,000)
Matt Paradis (ERFA) ($525,000)
Brandon Marshall (RFA) ($3,500,000)
CJ Anderson (RFA) ($2,500,000)
David Bruton (UFA) ($2,000,000)
Ryan Harris (UFA) ($1,500,000)
50th player ($450,000)
51st player ($450,000)
Resulting Cap Space: $2,948,505 (assuming $150M 2016 salary cap & $3.3M carryover)


The Loose Cap Plan (keep Osweiler, extend Miller without the franchise tag)

This plan gives the Broncos much more room to operate, likely to the tune of $20 million in cap dollars. With that space, it clearly allows you do the following:

  • Extend Danny Trevathan (max of $4M against the 2016 cap)
  • Extend Antonio Smith (max of $4M against the 2016 cap)
  • Extend Malik Jackson ($6.925 against the 2016 cap)
  • “Extend” DeMarcus Ware ($6M in 2016 cap savings)
  • No restructures needed.


Current Cap Space: $6,923,505 (assuming $150M 2016 salary cap & $3.3M carryover)
Savings Expenditures
Britton Colquitt (cut) $3,250,000 Von Miller (extension) ($5,500,000)
DeMarcus Ware (“extension”) $6,000,000 Brandon McManus (ERFA) ($600,000)
Peyton Manning (cut) $19,000,000 Bennie Fowler (ERFA) ($600,000)
50th player $450,000 Todd Davis (ERFA) ($600,000)
51st player $450,000 Matt Paradis (ERFA) ($525,000)
Brandon Marshall (RFA) ($3,500,000)
CJ Anderson (RFA) ($2,500,000)
David Bruton (UFA) ($2,000,000)
Ryan Harris (UFA) ($1,500,000)
Brock Osweiler (UFA) ($5,000,000)
Malik Jackson (UFA) ($7,000,000)
Danny Trevathan (UFA) ($4,000,000)
Antonio Smith (UFA) ($2,250,000)
Resulting Cap Space: $498,505 (assuming $150M 2016 salary cap & $3.3M carryover)


Now, I intentionally put the Broncos up against the cap here merely as an illustration as to show what could be done if you extend Miller early and go with Osweiler. I still think it would be a long shot to keep all of Ware, Jackson, and Trevathan in this example, and someone like Thomas or Talib would still likely need a minor restructure in order to make room for rookies and any low level free agents the Broncos might want.

My Preferred Plan

Here is how the cap would flesh out if my 17-point plan above is followed:

Current Cap Space: $6,923,505 (assuming $150M 2016 salary cap & $3.3M carryover)
Savings Expenditures
Britton Colquitt (cut) $3,250,000 Von Miller (extension) ($5,500,000)
DeMarcus Ware (cut) $10,000,000 Brandon McManus (ERFA) ($600,000)
Peyton Manning (cut) $19,000,000 Bennie Fowler (ERFA) ($600,000)
Todd Davis (ERFA) ($600,000)
Matt Paradis (ERFA) ($525,000)
Brandon Marshall (RFA) ($3,500,000)
CJ Anderson (RFA) ($2,500,000)
David Bruton (UFA) ($2,000,000)
Ryan Harris (UFA) ($1,500,000)
Brock Osweiler (UFA) ($5,000,000)
Danny Trevathan (UFA) ($4,000,000)
Antonio Smith (UFA) ($2,250,000)
Resulting Cap Space: $10,598,505 (assuming $150M 2016 salary cap & $3.3M carryover)

Note that I give myself over $10 million of extra cap space here just in case negotiations with Miller prove too difficult to get an extension before having to resort to the franchise tag.