The Broncos had to let go of a significant part of their rookie class from the 2019 NFL Draft, as Noah Fant and Drew Lock were both sent to Seattle as part of the cost to acquire Russell Wilson via trade. However, there is still much success that the Broncos had in that draft that is still on the team. One of those players is Colorado native Dalton Risner, who has started in every game that he was healthy enough to do so ever since joining the team as a rookie. What could a long term future that continues his long tenure within Colorado look like?
Guard is a fairly feast or famine position
In order to get significant pay at guard, a player needs to be either the cream of the crop, or at least very highly regarded over his career. At the position, there are only six players that have crossed the $13 million APY threshold–although Quenton Nelson is likely to be the seventh, as he fits the traits of this tier of being both a regular Pro Bowler and a very highly drafted guard. Beyond that small top, the remainder of veteran pay gets slimmer quickly, with only two other players (Andrus Peat and Cody Whitehair) with eight figure APYs. There used to be a third, the Broncos’ own Graham Glasgow…who quickly acquiesced to a significant pay cut at the beginning of this offseason.
And aside from the current clubhouse leader in Brandon Scherff, who benefited from back to back franchise tags in DC, free agents on the open market at guard struggled to get massive deals: Alex Cappa, Austin Corbett, and James Daniels all signed contracts neatly placed around the $8.8 million APY range. This is just a position that is not moving the needle that much.
A sample contract
|Year||Base Salary||Prorated Bonus||Roster Bonus||Cap Number|
italics – fully guaranteed salary
This is a four year, $40 million extension that blasts past the Cappa/Corbett/Daniels trio from this offseason, and is competitive with the Peat/Whitehair duo, on two metrics. Risner gets $23 million in new money fully guaranteed at signing, most of it coming from a $13.745 million signing bonus that does include some old money from his current Proven Performance Escalator boosted 2022 base salary of $2.69 million, but is offset by paying a good chunk of that money now instead of during the season.
$23 million is also the cash flow over the first two seasons, which is the more important metric to compare to Cappa and Daniels in particular, since the Steelers and Bengals are infamous for being sticklers on not guaranteeing base salary beyond the first season for almost all players. But even if those players and Corbett end up earning all of their first two years, none will earn more than $20 million over that timespan. As another favorable cash flow structure, in 2025 Risner is due half of his pay in a roster bonus that is due soon after the start of the new league year, in order to force the Broncos to either pay it to him immediately, or to grant him entry to free agency right at the start.
I am giving Risner concessions in these metrics, because as a tradeoff I am giving the Broncos a major concession in APY–at $10 million, that’s hardly much of an acceleration over the guard contracts signed on the market this offseason, and is below the eight figure APYs Whitehair and Peat signed in 2019 and 2020.
Would Risner be amiable to a hometown discount?
It’s clear it was a dream come true for Risner to be able to return to Colorado to play for the Broncos to start his NFL career. Would he also be similarly dreamy to finish his career, or at least play almost all of it, in Denver? If so, would he be content to get long term security instead of chasing after top dollar in free agency? Only Risner knows for sure, and whatever he wants most deserves to be respected. But it might behoove the Broncos to start off with an offer that comes in even lower than I’ve sketched out here, closer to the contracts guards other than Scherff signed in free agency this offseason.
I think the Broncos could afford to do so because they have decent leverage at guard as it stands right now. Quinn Meinerz is in good position to start at right guard. Glasgow, as mentioned, took a significant pay cut to stay in Denver. Netane Muti is still on the roster and could compete for a starting role. The Broncos also drafted Luke Wattenberg in the fifth round. Risner could ensure himself a lockdown of a starting role in the long term with an extension, which in turn could also make a trade of Glasgow or Muti more amiable to a Broncos team that is very strapped for draft capital in 2023.
However, because Risner, Meinerz, Glasgow, and Muti could all be fighting over only two starting spots, I would not expect any extension to come to fruition until that competition is finished at the earliest, and that could very well take place through almost all of training camp and the preseason.