Jump To Contracts

Contract Extension Examination: PJ Locke & Fabian Moreau

The presumption for the Broncos’ starters in the defensive backfield for the 2023 season was Patrick Surtain II, Damarri Mathis, and K’Waun Williams at cornerback, and Justin Simmons at safety alongside either an emerging Caden Sterns or a stalwart Kareem Jackson.

Surtain and Simmons held up their bargains in remaining elite players in the NFL, but Williams and Sterns were lost for the season very early, Mathis was benched, and Jackson has been suspended multiple times. One of these three roster spots has been happily filled by Ja’Quan McMillian for what should be several seasons to come on rookie contract costs.

The other two spots saw the emergence of 4th year player PJ Locke, and journeyman veteran Fabian Moreau. Locke and Moreau have been important parts of a Broncos turnaround on defense, but they will also be unrestricted free agents after this season. How should their futures be addressed?

A difficult read of the defensive back market

For Locke, he will be entering unrestricted free agency at age 27. Here’s a rough list of recent safeties who signed contracts at a similar age:

NameAgeSeasonsAPYFull Guarantees
Tracy Walker273$8,333,333$16,000,000
Juan Thornhill283$7,000,000$14,000,000
Donovan Wilson273$7,000,000$13,500,000
Malik Hooker283$7,000,000$11,000,000
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Jr.261$6,500,000$6,500,000
Marcus Epps272$6,000,000$6,000,000
Xavier Woods 273$5,000,000$6,035,000
Jayron Kearse272$5,000,000$5,000,000
Jabrill Peppers262$4,500,000$6,000,000
Nick Scott282$4,000,000$3,000,000

In this list of comparables, one can see a fairly divergent range of APYs, and a very distinct two tiers of full guarantees. Contract length is also in the two to three season range. Locke’s next contract should fit in somewhere within this range, and if one were to try to find a midpoint in these comparables, something like $13 million over two seasons, or $20 million over three, with around $9 million in full guarantees. However, market perception of Locke will matter–are there enough teams that value him on or above this tier?

Moreau’s future is even cloudier. He played out his rookie contract in DC, which included a Proven Performance Escalator in his fourth season of $2.133 million. That’s the highest pay he’s gotten his entire career: he had a minimum salary benefit contract with the Falcons in 2021, then got $1 million guaranteed from the Texans in 2022 before failing to make their roster, and bounced between the Giants’ active roster and practice squad before arriving in Denver in 2023. Despite Moreau’s solid play in relief of a benched Mathis, this is not a history that is favorable to much more upward mobility when Moreau will turn 30 before next season.

Patience may need to be practiced

If I were the Broncos, it would not hurt to offer Locke and Moreau team friendly contracts and see whether they will find them favorable. If they do not, then there may need to be some testing of the free agent market to see how much competition there is for their services. The Broncos are not entirely without incumbent alternatives on the roster: Sterns will be back from injury on the final season of his rookie contract, and Mathis still has two seasons to go on his rookie contract–despite his poor second season, his strong rookie season can’t be entirely ignored. Finding a solution in the defensive backfield that’s sustainable for the Broncos yet fair to Locke and Moreau will be a decent challenge to watch as the 2024 offseason approaches.