Major Contract Questions Facing the Broncos With or Without Peyton Manning

With the Broncos experiencing a fast playoff exit and many questions surrounding the future of Peyton Manning and where the team goes from here I wanted to quickly look at a few of the contracts I was getting questions about on Twitter.

Peyton Manning has a $21.5 million salary cap charge in 2015. That cap charge is made up of a $19 million salary and a $2.5 million prorated bonus charge. I can’t see any scenario under which Manning is released, but if he were to be released it would need to be done before March 9. On March 9 Manning’s $19 million salary becomes fully guaranteed.  If Manning retires the guarantee does not matter.

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If Manning retires or is released his “dead money” charge is just $5 million against the salary cap. The reason the number is so low is because the Broncos used a pay as you go structure with Manning due to his neck injury and the Broncos internal strategies with most contracts. This was very different than Manning’s last contract with Indianapolis in which Manning received a $20 million signing bonus. Manning made $58 million from Denver over the last three years.

Denver made a number of big signings last year in an attempt to fill any holes on the team, primarily on defense. Most of those players also signed team friendly deals that would allow the Broncos to gain salary cap space if they chose to go in a different direction and cut those players next season.

Aqib Talib has a $7 million cap charge but just $4 million in dead money if released. His cash salary is just $6 million which is very good value for the price. That salary will guarantee if he is on the roster three days after the start of free agency. TJ Ward has a $7.75 million cap hit and a $6.25 million cash salary. The cost to cut him is $3.75 million against the salary cap.  I would be surprised if they moved on from him.

The harder contract to work with is the one of DeMarcus Ware. That was a win now at all costs kind of move. He has a $8.67 million cap number but would cost the Broncos $6.83 million against the cap to release. Of that $6.83 million, $3.5 million would be cash still owed to the player due to the large guarantee they gave to Ware. If he is on the roster 5 days into free agency he earns another $3.5 million in full guarantees. Ware finished the season with 10 sacks, but was largely invisible down the stretch. 7 of those 10 sacks came in the first 7 games and only 3 came after the mid point of the year.

While Denver locked up cornerback Chris Harris to a very team friendly contract this year they have a large number of pending contract decisions.

Linebacker Von Miller is entering the final year of his contract and will carry a $9.754 million cap charge. He finished with 14 sacks, though like Ware they came in bunches early in the season when the Broncos offense was humming along, and is a big money type player. He is always a suspension risk and that my also make a contract extension difficult. His salary is currently guaranteed for injury only and becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the 2015 League Year.

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is a free agent and one of the best receivers in the NFL, though if Sunday was his final day in a Broncos uniform it was not a good one. Top wide receivers are currently earning between $11 and $12 million a year, but if Manning is to retire and the Broncos will be moving to a young QB in the future Thomas’ value to the organization may not be as high as it was before. They can franchise Thomas and opt to trade him at a later date.

Tight end Julius Thomas did not have the kind of season that should get him huge money but he is also a free agent. My assumption is he will be over-valued on the market and placed in the $7 million a year range which I doubt Denver would want to commit.  If they did a deal would have already been reached.

Wes Welker’s productivity dropped but he did play around 75% of the snaps for the Broncos and will get the chance to test free agency. He will likely be cheap, lower than the $6 million a season he is earning now, but those snaps need to be replaced if he goes.

Run stopper Terrance Knighton is also a free agent. He had been playing for just over $2 million a season and will likely receive between $4 and $5 in free agency.

Safety Rahim Moore played more snaps than anyone on the Broncos defense and will be an unrestricted free agent.

Guard Orlando Franklin has started all but one game in his four year career and needs to be re-signed. Playing with Manning always helps as seen by Zane Beadles $6 million per year deal signed last offseason. He would be no lower than $4.5 million or so to keep.

Center Will Montgomery signed a one year deal to be a jack of all trades lineman and now his contract is also up. He played in over 500 snaps this season. He is a low cost player if they want to keep him.

Even a number of depth players for Denver such as Virgil Green and Nate Irving are free agents

As I look over all these names the Broncos will have a tremendous amount of decisions to make this offseason. Even if Manning decides to stay they have 7 contributing free agents to decide on. If you throw Miller into the mix since he is nearing an extension it’s a tricky situation even if Manning stays. How long can you commit to this group in hopes of going for it one more year with Manning considering the way Manning faded down the stretch?  Can you work everyone in under cap friendly deals for 2015 so that you can go out and hit free agency again to try to improve the team since it seems clear they will need more in 2015.

And if Manning retires do you just start selling off assets, give Brock Osweiler one chance with Thomas on the franchise tag, and then plan for the future?  It’s going to be a very difficult decision for the Denver front office, one they probably realized they were really facing about 6 weeks ago when Manning started to look like a very old quarterback.

Remember you can use our Broncos cap calculator to play GM and work out what you would do with the roster.

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  • DS

    A few things here. Welker’s snaps can be replaced. There is Andre Caldwell and Cody Latimer (who saw very little time this year). Knighton will get resigned. $4-$5M is pretty cheap money for what he brings to the defense. I doubt that Denver would have a problem resigning Miller, especially for less than the $9M he’s expected to make next year. Even with his potential suspension issues. One of three things will happen with Julius Thomas. Either Denver resigns him on a team friendly deal, he walks, or they franchise him. The reason to let him walk is that he’s missed all of 2 years and most of a 3rd in just 4 years in the league and Virgil Green will cost them a fraction of what Thomas will. But that could be a reason to franchise him and see if he can come back to being anything remotely close to what he was last year. Especially when they’ll be able to do so at, roughly, $7M. Demaryius is another guy that will get resigned. He’s got a ton of talent, even if he has a hard time fighting through press coverage. Nate Irving is probably gone. Denver’s gotta look for a real MLB in the draft. Rahim Moore could also be shown the door. Serviceable safety, but nothing special. If they resign him, it’ll be for a slight pay bump.

    The player I’ll be most interested to see what happens with is Ryan Clady. At times, he looked like a shell of himself. At others, he looked pretty good. However, he didn’t look anything like the All-Pro LT that he was prior to getting injured. He’s making a lot of money and doesn’t count much against the cap if Denver decides that they’d like to give back the LT job to Chris Clark and let Clady walk. Needless to say, Denver has a ton of options here.

    • Byron Kerr

      no way Chris Clark. no way. I believe they will sign JT to cap friendly deal, but he may want to Eric Decker it especially with PM having only one more season. If PM leaves then all bets are off and rebuild starts. LB and S are needs definitely, and of course OL. But no to Clark as a starter any more.

      • DS

        Why no to Clark? Because he sucked at right tackle? If Clady had to play right tackle, he may suck too. Plenty of guys have been incapable of making the switch from right to left or left to right. Clark played well on the left side.

        And Eric Decker left because Denver didn’t want him, not because he was looking for a bigger pay day elsewhere. If Thomas leaves, it’ll likely also be because Denver doesn’t want to overpay him and they shouldn’t.

  • McGeorge

    I look at Arizona, post Kurt Warner. I think a lot depends on what Manning does, and how much he gets paid. He declined the last half of the season. If he plays like that, he’s a 2nd tier QB. Do they try with him one more time? Does Manning retire? Or does he come back with a pay cut?
    How good is Osweiler?
    How will Emmanuel Sanders do without Manning?

  • Jim

    I think you are underestimating Terrance Knighton. DT/NT’s like him are hard to find on the open market. I would guess he can get 4 year, $23-26M, $8-10M true guarantee in 1st year salary/signing bonus.

  • I had actually sat down and put together an offseason plan a few weeks ago, using the cap calculator to help with that, but since then, the Broncos have re-signed Chris Harris (to a more team-friendly deal than I expected) and certain players have become a lower priority in my eyes. As a Broncos fan, I can tell Jason where I would focus my efforts.

    * Orlando Franklin: I consider him to be the highest priority to re-sign, but this needs to be the Broncos doing two things. First, they need to decide if they want him to remain at left guard, or if they want to move him back to right tackle. There’s no question that the decision to put Chris Clark at right tackle never worked out. That does not mean Franklin must move back to RT if he is re-signed, but it will affect how much the Broncos have to pay him. And second, the franchise tag isn’t an option either way… this needs to be the Broncos extending him before free agency begins.

    With all that said, if Franklin is kept at guard, then the Broncos can cut Chris Clark to save some cap space, because Paul Cornick and Michael Schofield are on the roster at lower salaries, and they can compete for the right tackle spot, or they could sign another veteran to a one-year deal, then draft a right tackle to develop next season if they prefer to use Cornick as a backup or continue developing Schofield at left tackle (I’ll get to that in a minute). If Franklin moves back to RT, then they need to sign a low-cost free agent and draft a guard, while releasing Manny Ramirez.

    Briefly touching upon the O-line, I believe Clark and Ramirez are both released, or at the very least, will have to take a salary reduction, just as Jacob Tamme did this past offseason, regardless of where Franklin plays. Meanwhile, the Broncos will most certainly have to restructure Ryan Clady’s deal to free up some cap space (and if Peyton does retire, Clady will absolutely have to restructure or he’ll be released). Another possibility is to extend Louis Vasquez’s contract for another year, as Vasquez has been a dependable player. I know he didn’t have his best season in 2014, but I think the first half has more to do with him playing between Ramirez and Clark, whose struggles were evident, and then moving to RT, where he wasn’t as comfortable. I know Vasquez likes to play alongside Ramirez, but he has to understand that Ramirez isn’t a starting option any longer.

    Back now to Broncos free agents…

    * Demaryius Thomas: It’s true DT did not play that well down the stretch, but I had read reports that he had injured his finger and I suspect that affected him more than he let on. Additionally, you have to wonder if he was trying to overcompensate for Peyton Manning’s decline. Certainly you do not want to pay him like Calvin Johnson, but he’s still a much better receiver than Mike Wallace, and if he is truly willing to take a “hometown discount,” then giving him a deal similar to Wallace, but with a better structure (as in, two years and then “we’ll see”), makes sense. I don’t think you trade him, as he is in the prime of his career and the Broncos need some players in their primes as they prepare for life after Peyton.

    * Terrance Knighton: Knighton is a talented player, but I would be wary about how much money is committed to him. One thing to keep in mind that he has played his best under Jack Del Rio, and if Del Rio goes to Oakland, it’s likely Knighton may want to follow him there. Even if he doesn’t, it’s a legitimate question to ask whether or not Knighton’s success is attributable to Del Rio. I’m fine with him getting a four-year deal, but the structure will be particularly important, so the Broncos can get out of the deal after one year without adversely affecting the salary cap.

    * Virgil Green: The Broncos should easily be able to get Green signed to an extension similar to David Bruton, who is a valuable role player and special teams contributor.

    * Will Montgomery: It makes sense to retain Montgomery on a one-year deal. The only issue is that there isn’t much available at center in free agency and he could be tempted to go to another playoff contender.

    * Rahim Moore: As things currently stand, the talent pool in free agency at safety is thin. With that said, just because it is thin, doesn’t mean that average to good players will get to break the bank on contracts. Moore is worth bringing back, but only at the right price. Even if he does return, the Broncos need to draft a safety, because they aren’t going to bring back Quinton Carter, David Bruton is entering the final year of his contract, and while Ward is a good player, it’s a fair question to ask if the Broncos would keep him after 2015.

    * Julius Thomas: I know this will raise eyebrows, but we need to be realistic here. Thomas’ major issue is that he is not a good blocker… certainly not at the level of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, the two tight ends who could definitely be called “elite.” JT’s injury history troubles me as well… Gronk may have those issues, but he has come back and played at a high level each time, whereas JT has not always done so. At this point, I am content with letting him walk and let another team overpay him based on the “fantasy football” production. The Broncos could draft a tight end, or if Peyton does return, they can find a veteran to sign to a one-year deal.

    * Nate Irving: Tough call. Irving did have a good season prior to his injury, but the question is whether or not he is truly the long-term answer at linebacker. The Broncos might be better served letting him walk, unless he’s willing to take a low-cost deal. The main consideration to make here is that LB Brandon Marshall played very well this season and will command at least a second-round tender as a restricted free agent (assuming he is an RFA — I have read elsewhere that he is actually an exclusive-rights free agent, which would make the Broncos’ decision easier if that is the case).

    * Wes Welker: This one is obvious. It’s time for Welker to depart.

    * Von Miller: The Broncos will certainly enter negotiations this offseason, but I imagine they will bide their time. If absolutely necessary, they can put the franchise tag on Miller in 2016.

    I will say this: If Peyton does return for 2015, I believe it will be his last season. That means, after 2015, it will definitely be time for Denver to part ways with certain players. DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib could be safely released at that point, and a proper restructuring of Clady’s deal could still allow the Broncos to part ways with him at that point. Add in Peyton’s retirement (which I expect definitely after 2015), and the Broncos have a lot of cap space freed up, allowing them to keep younger players such as Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan and Omar Bolden… and of those four, none of them would command top-dollar salaries (exception: if Trevathan bounces back from his injury and plays at a high level).

    There is one caveat: The Broncos need to carefully monitor Brock Osweiler to determine if he is the player who can take over as the starter once Peyton decides to hang it up. If Peyton plays in 2015, and the Broncos think Osweiler is the answer, they’ll have to re-sign him, but be careful not to overpay.

    Thus far, John Elway’s moves have been mostly smart, aside from committing too much money to Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt (the former has been released, the latter likely will be this offseason) and getting nothing in return for the signing of Ty Warren (even if he did get him to take a salary reduction in his second season). I trust he will continue to do so and ensure the Broncos aren’t trapped in an unworkable cap situation, while finding the right players in the draft (as has been the case with most of his picks thus far).

    • McGeorge

      Rob,

      Great analysis.

      I don’t follow Denver so I’m not familiar with Brock Osweiler.
      How does he look, and what do people think of him?
      Should Denver draft a QB in the 2nd round?
      Let him sit a year behind Manning?

      >>There is one caveat: The Broncos need to carefully monitor Brock Osweiler to determine if he is the player who can take over as the starter once Peyton decides to hang it up. If Peyton plays in 2015, and the Broncos think Osweiler is the answer, they’ll have to re-sign him, but be careful not to overpay.

      • DS

        Osweiler finally threw the first TD of his career against the Raiders in garbage time. Granted he doesn’t play that much and mostly runs the ball when he is in, but he also played an entire half against the Raiders in last season’s regular season finale against the Raiders and didn’t look great. When I watch him play, I don’t see anything special. Just my opinion.

      • As DS said, Osweiler hasn’t really stood out, but then again, it’s a small sample size. Osweiler has shown good things in the preseason, but he’s also playing with second-stringers, against second-stringers. During the regular season, he has had his moments, but hasn’t stood out. When he came in against the Chargers after Peyton got hurt, he looked overwhelmed, but one might make the argument the Broncos should have ran the ball a couple of times instead of having him throw on every down.

        The Broncos have to be careful drafting a QB too early, because they do need to address other areas as well. If they think Osweiler might work, they can sign him to a low-cost extension. If not, they will absolutely have to draft a QB in 2016 while signing a low-priced veteran, and make sure fans understand it’s a rebuild/transitional period.

      • DevinDenver

        Just my two cents worth: if the Broncos really thought so highly of Brock Osweiler, then they would have sat Peyton Manning for a game or two down the stretch if Peyton’s quad injury were truly the cause of his decline in production. The fact that Osweiler did not see any significant action tells me that either: 1) Peyton’s alleged quad injury was not that severe and not the reason for his poor performances; 2) Osweiler is not really ready to take over; or, 3) a combination of the two.

    • DS

      Clady’s deal doesn’t need to be restructured for them to cut him next year. They could cut him this year and save $8M on the cap.

      • That is true, but it’s more likely they will ask him to restructure first, particularly if Peyton Manning returns in 2015. Clady did have a down season, but it’s possible he could bounce back and, if Peyton returns, the Broncos won’t want a change at LT.

  • AK

    “…if Manning is to retire and the Broncos will be moving to a young QB in the future Thomas’ value to the organization may not be as high as it was before.”

    I’m not a Broncos fan, but I do think resigning Demaryius is a must, regardless of Manning’s decision. Great WRs frequently make mediocre QBs look like $20mil./yr QBs. Look what Megatron does for Stafford, Julio Jones for Ryan, and AJ Green for Andy Dalton. Demaryius is a great WR. He’s the reason (literally) why Tim Tebow has more postseason wins than Andy Dalton. If Brock Osweiler is going to be the QB going forward (post-Manning retirement) the Broncos are going to need a talented WR like Demaryius to surround him with.

  • Ted Hurtz

    The wheels on the bus are falling off, falling off, falling off
    the wheels on the bus are falling off in don-key town!

  • ??? *º¤Ø?ؤº*(°?°?)

    AQIB TALIB $60 M CONTRACT BUST !!! YOU FLAT OUT STINK YOU THIEF !!!!! BRONCOS IN CAP HELL FOR FIVE YEARS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!