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.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc