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A Brief Look At The Broncos’ 2019 Free Agents

I’ll have much more to say on the topic of the pending free agents Denver has coming up in 2019 during my annual offseason roadmap at the conclusion of the Broncos 2018 season. But I thought it would be worth to quickly discuss some points made in a pending free agent review that Mike Klis wrote yesterday.

Let’s get right to it:

Ron Leary has an injury guarantee on his 2019 salary that could be triggered.

Yesterday, Klis said that Leary “has an uncertain future after injuries caused him to miss 15 of 32 games the past two seasons and he is due to make a non-guaranteed, $8.5 million next year.” However, when Klis reported the details of Leary’s contract when he was signed in March 2017, he included this trigger: “His 2019 salary is guaranteed against injury only.”

This, of course, is highly relevant because Leary tore his Achilles tendon on October 14. Recovery from such an injury could take an average of almost a whole year. I think it is highly likely that Leary will not be able to pass a physical come March, and if that’s the case, they’ll have no choice but to pay him over $8 million in 2019. The Broncos just went down this road with another offensive lineman in Menelik Watson, who saddled the team with over $8 million in dead money after deciding to part ways. Hopefully the Broncos, unlike with Watson, can focus on getting Leary rehabilitated and give him a chance to rebound by the time the 2019 regular season starts.

Klis may be underestimating Bradley Roby’s value on the free agency market.

Klis states that “the going rate for free agent starting cornerbacks is $10 million to $12 million a year. Roby will have to finish strong in the Broncos’ final seven games to get that kind of deal.” However, back in July I pegged the going rate more at the $12 million to $14 million APY range, and felt that a fair deal for Roby would be around $13.5M APY.

To be clear, I am having second thoughts on that offer given Roby’s play in 2018, and if the Broncos could extend him closer to Klis’s range, that would be good. However, I still believe that despite his play in 2018, Roby is still capable of getting a deal similar to what I projected back in July. Fans of the Broncos should not relax too much into thinking that Roby can be retained on a deal similar to what Chris Harris Jr., signed.

But I may be underestimating Matt Paradis’s value on the free agent market.

Let’s be fair: my take that Paradis could be extended at $9.6 million APY is looking less tenable. I now think Klis is more accurate in saying that Paradis could be resetting the center market by “exceed[ing] the $10.5 million annual average Tampa Bay’s Ryan Jensen draws as the NFL’s highest-paid center”.

I believe this will be accurate despite Paradis suffering a Grade 3 syndesmotic ligament tear this season. Unlike with Leary, such an injury’s recovery time is typically 3-6 months, just in time for Paradis to be fully healed for the start of unrestricted free agency.

Again, to be clear I think the Broncos should work on making a Paradis extension a priority. But I think they’ll have to pony up to do so.

I would not rule out extending Jeff Heuerman–if the price is right.

Klis states that “it would be a surprise if the Broncos didn’t make a strong offer to bring Heuerman back.” This may be a bit surprising for fans to read, as Heuerman has not contributed much on the entire balance of his rookie deal. But at the same time, it’s not like the Broncos have much to work with at tight end in general, and Heuerman is the only tight end on the roster with on field familiarity past this season.

I’ll try to see if I can explore what an appropriate extension would be for Heuerman at a later date. It should not be outlandish, but at the same time I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

Trying to read the tea leaves for closing thoughts

Given that Klis is tuned into the Broncos’ front office, it’s worth trying to put together a picture of what his article could be relaying:

  • On the four players mentioned above, it feels like the Broncos will prioritize retaining Heuerman, knows that it will have to step up to the plate to Paradis, isn’t sure if Roby’s worth a premium veteran cornerback contract, and may be fearing getting caught under yet another injury guarantee trigger with Leary.
  • Shaq Barrett appears to be a priority over Shane Ray, and Klis explicitly reported that Ray was “available for trade” but they “weren’t willing to part” with Barrett. The Broncos seem to be resigned that they will lose both to free agency, and I think that’s accurate given the presence of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb as starters for years to come.
  • Klis says “[t]he Broncos could do worse than try to bring him back on a short-term deal” with Jared Veldheer, and that Domata Peko “[will] likely seek a better deal in the market.” I stand by my belief that the Broncos should offer reasonable one year deals to each, and let the chips wherever they may fall in the market.
  • I think Klis was wildly overestimating Max Garcia’s free agency value “at least $5 million a year”, and this felt like me as wishful thinking by the Broncos that they could get a decent compensatory pick for letting him leave. But sadly, this line is now moot as Garcia tore his ACL today. He is now not just highly unlikely to get $5 million APY come March, but might not even get a contract for 2019 at all. That would be terrible for someone like Garcia who, regardless of his contribution, has at least worked hard throughout the entirety of his rookie to try to get to the point of reaching unrestricted free agency. I hope this injury doesn’t entirely derail Garcia’s career.