Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $27.7M ($143M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 58
Pro Bowlers: 9
Unrestricted Free Agents: 12(7 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 28
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
Demaryius Thomas is more or less an irreplaceable player and needs to be signed long term. He is a top 5 player at the position and can make plays anywhere on the field. The Broncos will likely use the franchise tag on him but it is in the best interests of both sides to get him locked up long term…Orlando Franklin’s versatility along the offensive line makes him a valuable asset. With the Broncos likely becoming a more balanced offense and Peyton Manning possibly heading off into retirement in the next year or two, having a player like Franklin gives the team a core to work with in the development of a younger player…This looks to be a weak group of safeties in free agency so re-signing Rahim Moore is probably the right move given the landscape…Virgil Green can play the role of blocking tight end and won’t cost much to keep….Will Montgomery brings a veteran presence and won’t cost much to keep around for another season.
Free Agents to Let Walk
Julius Thomas is looking for big money and there is really little reason to justify it. While he has been a great touchdown player, his overall numbers are not impressive and he is constantly injured. With the team eventually needing to re-sign Von Miller to a high priced contract, I can’t see allocating premier money into a position like tight end…Terrance Knighton really is not a great fit for the defense they will run in Denver and that relationship seems strained anyway since they refused to rework his contract last season. This is best to be a mutual split….I can understand bringing back Wes Welker is the cost is right, and he won’t get much interest around the league, but I’d be worried about his health and the possibility of having to watch him have his career ended on a hard hit. They will need to replace his snaps if he is released, but they may be able to find a younger option to do that.
Contracts to Modify
I do not believe that there is any reason for the Broncos to be restructuring Manning’s contract or asking him to take a pay cut, but clearly there is something there right now. Recently PFT had a report that they were close on a restructure which sounded as if they were attempting to find a way to spread out the timeframe in which they paid him his salary. Manning has a $21.5 million cap number which can be brought down significantly if they “extend” him and add on some cap holders at the end of the contract…Brandon Marshall should be an exclusive rights player, which means he will be back for pennies on the dollar, so he should be open to a pretty reasonable extension. This might be the time for both sides to make a deal…Von Miller counts for nearly $10 million against the salary cap and working out an extension, more likely after free agency is complete, should make their in season management more workable…It is possible the Broncos could consider releasing Manny Ramirez, but they may be better off guaranteeing a small portion of his salary and in return having him remove a playing time incentive from his contract that currently counts for $1.6 million against the salary cap.
Players to Consider Releasing
Releasing Andre Caldwell saves $1.35 million. He is a bit part of the offense and expendable…Unless there are significant losses along the line I would expect Chris Clark to be released, saving the team $1.4 million against the cap.
Manning’s three years in Denver have led to three disappointing finishes, and the most recent one led to the replacement of the coaching staff and talk that maybe Manning’s time in Denver was finished. It is rare to see a team with a Hall of Fame quality quarterback that has won their division three years in a row undergo such a facelift, but that seems to be what is happening in Denver as they retool the defensive schemes and offensive approach.
Last season the team went out and spent in free agency to give Manning the defense he needed to lessen the burden on the veteran quarterback, signing DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and TJ Ward. But as Manning’s health declined so did the team’s play and the overall impact was minimal. Normally I would expect a team to be gun shy about going back into free agency, but the front office I believe put the blame on the coaching staff making it less of a concern.
Still I would not expect the team to make a major splash in free agency. I think they will look for a cheaper option as replacement for Thomas, perhaps being linked with Owen Daniels as a short term contract while developing a younger player. I would guess they will look for depth along the defensive line and possibly linebacker, where the costs won’t be so high. If the Raiders release Antonio Smith he would be a natural fit in Denver, essentially a swap of Knighton for Smith, who should be very familiar with the team’s new staff. This is a good free agent group of right tackles and I could see that being an option as well.
In the draft it should be all about bringing youth onto the defense and bringing in a young receiver or tight end. The team can’t fal into the trap of getting old chasing a ring and then wake up post Manning with a roster of 30 year olds and no young players with experience to take over. Right now the window for many of the players on the team is an extra two years, at most, of peak performance. This is the time to begin the process of identifying the veterans that you can replace in 2016 and 2017 with younger, cheaper, and better options to help transition the Broncos into the post Manning era.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.