The past week, I crafted out some potential contract extensions that could lie ahead for Russell Wilson, Bradley Chubb, Dre’Mont Jones, and Dalton Risner. Should all those players be extended along those lines, it will put considerably new expenditures on the Broncos’ roster to manage. As such, it’s worth taking a peek on what this means for other players on the roster and for the team as a whole.
The requisite cap talk
As I hope to make clear, I am not too concerned about salary cap space in these discussions, because there are so many ways teams can allocate their cap dollars to make roster building work in the NFL, and barring the type of force majeure we saw in 2020, teams can highly likely count on the dollars, real and cap, to continue to grow.
But it’s worth exploring where the Broncos would stand in 2023 if the following happened:
- Risner and Jones are extended exactly as I projected–both of which were deliberately designed to keep 2023 cap dollar charges from them very low.
- Wilson still counts $27 million in cap dollars, either with or without an extension.
- The franchise tag is used on Bradley Chubb, and the Broncos lose a grievance on his position that forces them to tender him for around $20.775 million.
Assuming a $225 million salary cap in 2023, these transactions would put the Broncos almost $10 million over. Uh oh.
Except, not uh oh, because there would be more transactions to come after these. For starters, if Risner and Jones are both extended, it would likely come at the expense at other players at their position. A Risner extension would make it wildly unfeasible to pay Graham Glasgow $11 million, as there might not even be a place for him to start anymore alongside Risner and Quinn Meinerz, and he would almost certainly be cut or be forced to take yet another massive pay cut to stay. And although he’s due much less, at $3.5 million, I think that age 32 Mike Purcell would also be faced with a similar pay cut or be cut decision. Those two moves alone get them in the black.
But the Broncos will also have plenty of restructure potential to massage further. Here’s the list of the players that contain that potential from just simple restructures alone (meaning no void years are added to maximize proration):
- Randy Gregory: $9.69 million
- Courtland Sutton: $8.6 million
- Justin Simmons: $6.66 million
- Garett Bolles: $6.335 million
- Tim Patrick: $3.46 million
However, among these players, the only one that I would be comfortable with restructuring would be Sutton, who is the only one who will not be over 30 before 2023 is over. In particular, I would stay far away from touching Gregory’s contract, as if Chubb is extended the Broncos will want to retain a comfortable exit ramp from his contract in the hopes that any of Nik Bonitto, Baron Browning, or Jonathon Cooper emerges as a viable starter opposite Chubb.
If Sutton’s salary is restructured, along with cutting Glasgow and Purcell, that ups the cap space to about $15 million, with some more ability to make moves. But that will still be limited.
The Broncos need to hope that the current roster is mostly sound
The draft capital cost of acquiring Russell Wilson was able to be mitigated some by George Paton for due to some wheeling and dealing that was also costly (particularly trading away Von Miller), and it resulted in an abundant enough draft class in quantity.
But 2023 is an entirely drier story. While Paton did well to pick up an extra 2022 5th rounder as a “cost” (those are scare quotes) in deferring a 3rd rounder to the next draft, the 2023 draft capital is still desiccated: two 3rd rounders, and one each in the 4th, 5th, and 7th. Very bizarrely, the Broncos didn’t see a single compensatory free agent depart in 2022, so comp pick reinforcements aren’t coming either. The Broncos aren’t going to be able to rely on cost controlled contracts from this rookie class as much as other teams will be able to.
Free agency is also going to be a limited avenue due to the eventual monster extension that Wilson will get. This is also why I’m being proactive in talking about possible players for the Broncos to extend, because they may need to leverage any advantage they can get in signing incumbent players early to keep their roster intact.
The good news is that if the core players of Chubb, Risner, and Jones are retained, at least on paper the Broncos’ only major remaining roster hole is the one that has haunted this team the longest: right tackle. Hopefully one of Calvin Anderson, Tom Compton, or Billy Turner can prove to be more than a one season solution, but if the Broncos need to make a major veteran addition at that position, even with their major extensions they can probably make it work.
Pending free agents in 2024 will also be reasonable to work with: some of the most notable likely include players at lower valued positions like Albert Okwuegbunam, Lloyd Cushenberry, and Josey Jewell. KJ Hamler could be a more intriguing case should he bounce back from injury. Cornerback could be one position under pressure with both Ronald Darby and Michael Ojemudia up that point, but as Jason Fitzgerald has observed here, it’s at least a position that can be reasonably had in free agency.
However, needs can pop up in the NFL very unexpectedly. Career altering injuries can happen, and careers can also decline at any moment. The Broncos need to hope that, in the insane competition that is the NFL, that these surprise needs are few and far between–because for 2023 they’re going to be quite constrained as to how they can fill them.
Despite this risk, the rewards are vast. The Broncos have their quarterback, and alongside have a good roster developed in tandem between Paton and John Elway that should be able to compete with any other team in the NFL.