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.
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.
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.