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Contract Extension Examination: Lloyd Cushenberry

The Broncos are going have a series of contract decisions to make in the coming offseason–both on contracts that are set to expire, and some that are not set to expire. Thus, over the coming days, I want to take a look at some of the players in question to try to set some baselines for when I build my annual offseason road map for 2024 once the Broncos’ 2023 season has concluded.

I’ll start with pending unrestricted free agents for 2024, and I’ll start with the one who is having a remarkable season just at the right time for his future contractual security: Lloyd Cushenberry.

The center market is fairly straightforward

By APY, the highest paid center in the league is Jason Kelce at $14.25 million, but his contracts have been atypical one year deals as he has been taking his career one season at a time. It’s important to observe his APY, but other metrics are more difficult to compare for him. Below are five fellow centers that occupy the top tier of pay on more typical multiyear contracts, all bundled fairly close together:

NameAPYFull GuaranteesYear 1 Cash FlowYear 2 Cash FlowYear 3 Cash Flow
Frank Ragnow$13,500,000$42,000,000$24,000,000$32,000,000$41,250,000
Ryan Jensen$13,000,000$26,500,000$14,000,000$26,500,000$27,710,000
Corey Linsley$12,500,000$26,000,000$17,000,000$26,000,000$36,500,000
Ryan Kelly$12,412,500$34,000,000$19,650,000$27,150,000$37,275,000
Erik McCoy$12,000,000$33,000,000$17,300,000$27,400,000$37,500,000

After these five in APY come Mitch Morse at $9.75 million, and then a big drop into a clear second tier in the $5 million-$7 million APY range. Also, none of the centers above signed their contracts before 2023, and thus movement has been slow at the position. Cushenberry should see a strong market to strengthen the center tier, along with Tyler Biadasz of Dallas, and especially so due to the very unfortunate ACL tear that Miami’s Connor Williams suffered.

A sample contract

SeasonBase SalaryProrated BonusRoster BonusCap NumberCash DueRunning Cash

italics – fully guaranteed salary

There’s little fancy about this contract as far as the pay goes: for 3 years at $42 million, the APY of $14 million tops all but Kelce. Among the non-Kelce top tier, the $28 million in full guarantees (an even two thirds of the contract) comes in 3rd, but is on a shorter contract length than those ahead of him. Cash at signing, $17.5 million mostly via a $16.37M signing bonus, trails Ragnow and Kelly, by Year 2 trails only Ragnow, and by Year 3 will be the leader.

One theme you will see throughout this series is the usage of more void years in contracts. After seeing how other teams have been utilizing them more often–particularly in smart and clever ways like the Philadelphia Eagles do–I believe it should be more standard to include void years in contracts from the beginning for more flexibility. That flexibility can be to either maximize proration in restructures, or limit the proration to smaller amounts should teams want to keep more money in base salary.

For Cushenberry, I am adding three void years on top of his three year contract. This prorates his signing bonus over all but one of the years at $3.274M each. The empty void year at the bottom is there if the Broncos want to restructure his 2025 base salary, which they will be committing to by fully guaranteeing it. That restructure can stretch over five years instead of four with the empty void year at the bottom.

Finally, I am splitting $1 million of Cushenberry’s 2026 pay off into a roster bonus due soon after the beginning of that new league year. This is another feature you’ll see frequently here that should be standard for players to push for in seasons with nonguaranteed money, to force the team to make even a small commitment to them in March, and if the team does not want to make that commitment, they can enter free agency at the peak of the market. Fellow offensive lineman teammate Ben Powers was able to secure a $500,000 roster bonus on the final season of his contract.

How much will the Broncos want to invest in the offensive line?

In 2024, the Broncos will be committed to fully guaranteed payments of $15 million to Mike McGlinchey and $12 million to Powers. Garett Bolles is also doe $16 million, and it will be the final season of his contract. And right behind Cushenberry with an expiring contract after 2024 is the remaining starter on the offensive line, Quinn Meinerz. Will the Broncos invest in top veteran contracts for all five offensive linemen?

Under John Elway, the Broncos did not prioritize the center position in contract extensions. They were content in letting both Matt Paradis and Connor McGovern go to other teams in free agency. Drafting Cushenberry was able to make those decisions work out by becoming a four year starter from the beginning of his NFL career. What will the Broncos do at this position under George Paton? Would they try to gamble again in finding a rookie center in the 2024 NFL Draft? Or could they try to see in incumbents in Luke Wattenberg and Alex Forsyth can take over the job? Or could they find a different veteran if a contract like I’ve structured above for Cushenberry is deemed too much for them?

These are important questions to ask as the Broncos decide if they want to keep the remarkable stability on the offensive line in 2023 as a feature for 2024.