Best and Worst Contracts 2016: Denver Broncos

Today we’ll start the AFC West with our best and worst selection for the Denver Broncos.

Best: Chris Harris, 5 years, $42.5 million, $10M guaranteed

John Elway pulled off one of the greatest con jobs of all time to get Harris to agree to this contract late in the 2014 season. Harris was already gaining recognition around the NFL as one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL and he was every bit as good as teammate Aqib Talib. At the least Harris should have matched Talib’s $9.5M per year contract, but he’ll end up earning $6.5 million less over a 5 year period. While his overall guarantee of $24 million is closer to Talib’s that in no way should make up for the differential.

By the time Harris has signed this contract the cornerback market had already taken a turn for the better after a two or three year pullback, yet somehow the Broncos got Harris to work from the old contract landscape rather than trying to push forward the way other players would have. Just a few weeks later when free agency began Byron Maxwell, a lesser player, signed a massive contract for over $11 million a season. This past year Janoris Jenkins signed for over $12.5 million a year.  This was a heist by Denver’s front office.

There were other little things that I like about this contract as well. This may have been the first Broncos contract to use the end of contract option years. They used the bonus structure in this one so that they would even get a salary cap credit if an option was not picked up. I also liked the decision to take a low cap hit early in the contract so that their investment in the corner position, from a cap perspective, would not run so high while Talib and Harris were both on the team. Normally I don’t care for that contract structure but in this case I think it works perfectly plus they never get to a point where the cap numbers are excessive. Its just a great deal for the Broncos.

Worst: Donald Stephenson, 3 years, $14 million, $6M guaranteed

The Broncos are as good as anyone at contracts and are probably the toughest negotiators in the NFL. I had a hard time with this selection in part because I think the majority of the contracts skew towards the team side. There is Demaryius Thomas’ contract but that looking bad is a bit too much hindsight analysis. The decision on CJ Anderson’s tender may or may not have been ideally handled, but there can be benefits there on the backend. At the end I went with Stephenson because I thought they just overvalued him compared to some others at the position.

Maybe the Broncos valued his versatility and felt that he would be their left tackle, but at a $6M salary they could have basically kept Ryan Clady around. Stephenson has never been a full time starter in the NFL yet at $4.7M a year he is the 12th highest paid right tackle in the NFL. My assumption is the Broncos felt that the right tackle market was going to grow significantly but it never did.

Mitchell Schwartz, who was the highest rated free agent, signed for just $6 million a year and actually ended up with less of a percentage of his contract guaranteed than Stephenson. Joe Barksdale was about $1 million more. Still as far as contracts go they can get out of this one next March with just $2 million on the cap so its not terrible, I just think they could have gotten more bang for their buck.

  • McGeorge

    He signed Deryk Wolfe for a good deal as well.

    I think Elway’s worst contract was Von Miller.
    He was up to 19.5, and Von Miller caused him to fold.

    • orangeandblueaussie

      My worst would be DT. While is 100 plus catches and 1350yds are nothing to sneeze at, his performance has well underperformed that contract so far.

      Going back to 2009, Denver hasn’t had any luck with their major offseason contracts. Doom (Pec injury), Clady (injury and performance), Prater (suspension), DT (drops) have been disappointments. I think it’s too early to regret the Von contract. Does it reflect his value? I don’t know but it certainly reflects his market value. Such and Vernon established the benchmarks in that regard.

      • eddiea

        You and others may be right about DTs deal,but remember who was throwing to him. Even this yr,who’s the QB that’ll have the talent to pass? Now if after this season DT doesn’t put up decent numbers,it’s Elways fault but DTs deal will be Denvers Worst Contract.

        • orangeandblueaussie

          It wasn’t a perfect situation Sanders played well under the circumstances though so it’s hard to make excuses for DTs drops.

      • McGeorge

        Yeah, DT didn’t perform well. Lets see how he does this this year. But with Mark Sanchez as the QB I don’t expect DT to have a good year. One of the bad things about Sanchez is his timing is poor, so even if a receiver catches the ball, he might not be able to do so in stride, and his yards after the catch can be limited.

    • David Huynh

      To be honest Miller deserves all 19.5M, But elway did botch up the contract if he offered a more competetive contract earlier he couldve got Von for Houstons price range.

  • Werner

    The best Broncos Contract should be the one they didn’t sign for Brock Oßweiler and not going anywhere near the Texans numbers for him

    • McGeorge

      Good point.

      I see NFL fans bashing Elway for letting him go. We’ll see who has the last laugh.

      Id rather have Von Miller at 20MM than Osweiller at 18MM.

  • Ken Stauder

    Thanks Jason for the first 13 teams best & worst contracts. I hope you complete all 32 teams.