Bradley Chubb was drafted with an pick that was unusually held high by the Broncos, at 5th overall. Since then, the first four years of his NFL career has been a rollercoaster: an outstanding rookie season and a Pro Bowl 2020 season, but a torn ACL in 2019 and lingering foot injury problems in 2021. With so much injury variance in his history, this puts plenty of uncertainty in what his next contract should look like.
The top two EDGE tiers are sharp and vast
There are not that many edge rushers that occupy the current top tier in the NFL. TJ Watt, Joey Bosa, and Myles Garrett are names that shouldn’t surprise in the $25 million to $28 million APY range, and Nick Bosa is poised to likely join them soon enough. After them are two unusual cases tied at $23.5 million APY,: Khalil Mack, whose contract is unusual in that it dates all the way back to 2018, and (in a different type of peculiarity I’ll get to in a moment) Maxx Crosby.
Beyond that top tier, old friend Von Miller occupies a vast gap at a nice $20 million APY contract signed at age 33, and after that, there is a very broad range of players in a second tier whose APYs are in the teens: 11 between $15 million and $17.5 million APY, and twice as many when the range is expanded to $13 million APY. Aside from Miller, there is a massive $6 million APY gap between the merely very good edge rushers, and those deemed as elite.
Which side is Chubb going to reside upon? Well, as mentioned, his high variance in performance due to injury makes it difficult to judge that as of now. But here’s where I want to get back to Crosby, because when Chubb has been at his healthiest, he is more than comparable to Crosby: 12 sacks his rookie season (Crosby’s highest was 10), comparable tackles for loss (14 in Chubb’s highest season, 16 for Crosby) and forced fumbles (four apiece in each player’s career thus far). Crosby only really ascended beyond Chubb last season in QB hits (30 versus 21 for Chubb at his best) and passes deflected (7 over 4). Both have been named to the Pro Bowl, and Chubb may have an additional irrational edge in perception from draft status.
Given the contract the Raiders gave Crosby, if Chubb is healthy and returns to form in 2022, it’s going to be a challenge to argue that he shouldn’t be in the same range.
The franchise tag could still nudge Chubb into the top tier
Now, with a player that has had inconsistency with injury problems like Chubb, a natural thought would be that he would be a prime candidate to use the franchise tag on, to make sure that those injuries are in the past, with an excellent 2022 and 2023 seasons to use as better knowledge for a later extension. While I think that is overall a solid strategy, there are a couple potential challenges with that.
First, Over The Cap currently projects the franchise tender for linebackers at $18.291 million. That alone would guarantee that Chubb, at the very worst, would be the clubhouse leader among the second tier identified. But second, remember that the NFL remains ridiculously behind the times in not recognizing edge rusher as its own position, instead designating them as either linebackers or defensive ends, depending on how the league decides to declare the team’s defense as a 4-3 or 3-4 front alignment. If Chubb is franchise tagged, I fully expect him to make the regular argument from franchise tagged EDGEs that he should be instead considered a defensive end–and given that the Broncos are likely to use more nickel and dime formations this season that could reduce the number of interior defensive linemen to two, Chubb could succeed in that argument.
Such a successful argument would be quite lucrative for Chubb, as the franchise tender for defensive ends is currently projected at $20.775 million. That would launch Chubb even beyond his former teammate and much closer to the lower bound of the top tier that Crosby established. The Broncos and Chubb could perhaps come to a settlement on the tender amount somewhere in the $19 million range. But in any case, if Chubb is franchise tagged, it establishes a fact on the ground that he’ll be considered something more than a very good edge rusher in the NFL.
What’s the Broncos’ future plan at edge rusher?
“You can never have too many pass rushers” is a common saying in the NFL, and the Broncos very much believed in it with their actions in the 2022 offseason. They placed an RFA tender on Malik Reed, signed Randy Gregory to a five year, $69.5 million contract, and used their highest draft pick to bring in Nik Bonitto. And if that wasn’t enough, the team is also transitioning Baron Browning from linebacker to edge rusher. Add in Jonathon Cooper, who had an impressive rookie season for a 7th round draft pick, and the Broncos are now ridiculously deep at this position.
How will the Broncos manage all of that talent? We’ll have to first see how 2022 plays out, of course. This observation could start as soon as training camp, if it’s deemed that there’s too much good talent to feasibly keep on the roster. In such a good dilemma, the odd player out is likely Reed, who is also a free agent next season and is on a higher salary than Browning, Bonitto and Cooper by virtue of his RFA tender. If Reed must depart, ideally it would be by trade, to help rebuild the Broncos’ desiccated 2023 draft capital.
But beyond simple roster numbers for 2022, if any of those younger players can emerge as starting caliber, the Broncos will have to ask themselves how much money they want to lock into the roster at edge rusher in the near term, with so many expenditures on the way. Gregory’s $14 million salary in 2023 is locked in as a guarantee, but beyond then his contract is completely discretionary. A Chubb extension would need to plan around very high edge rusher expenditures for 2023, and likely hope that one of the younger players can replace Gregory by 2024.
A possible contract, if Chubb returns to top form
I do not foresee Chubb being extended before or during the 2022 season, unless Chubb is willing to take a contract that is clearly within the second tier of EDGE pay, which at most would be about $18 million APY. Because the franchise tag will be at a minimum of $18.291 million, I do not see that to be in Chubb’s best interest. I also think that unless Chubb can produce at least a borderline Pro Bowl season in 2022–otherwise, I think the prudent decision is to rely on the franchise tag and see what 2023 brings.
But if Chubb could produce that Pro Bowl season, or very close to it (since the Pro Bowl is a very imperfect honor), here’s a contract that I could foresee being agreed upon some time in the 2023 offseason:
|Prorated Signing Bonus
|Prorated Option Bonus
italics – fully guaranteed salary at signing
This is a four year, $95 million contract that bests Crosby’s contract in almost every metric at $23.75 million APY, with $51 million guaranteed at signing and up to $54 million within the first two years of the contract. The only metric this contract is behind Crosby is in first year cash flow at $25 million (via a $23 million signing bonus and a $2 million 2023 base salary), but by year two surpasses Crosby’s $50.16 million cash flow, via a $6 million guaranteed base salary, and a $20 million guaranteed option bonus that prorates over four seasons once paid. And to ensure that this contract surpasses Crosby’s in vested guarantees at $53 million–and to give a mild nudge toward commitment toward a third year–in 2025 Chubb would be due a $3 million roster bonus soon after the start of that new league year. If the Broncos wished to part ways with Chubb before the 2025 roster bonus is due (particularly in the case that his injury history continues), they would have the option of cutting him either normally or via a June 1 designation, with both scenarios resulting in some sort of cap space gain.
This is structured as a four year contract with a fifth void year, for two reasons. One is to prorate a considerable chunk of cap dollars, at $9.6 million, further out into the future to make room for other potential signings. The second is to ensure that Chubb’s contract expires after his ninth accrued season. This would in turn ensure that if the Broncos want to move on from Chubb after 2026, he would be eligible to generate the highest possible compensatory pick for the team in free agency, whereas if the contract expired after his tenth accrued season, the comp pick would be capped at the 5th round. And if this was a true five year contract and the Broncos wanted to cut him after four, there would be no comp pick potential for his departure.