Broncos 2015 Salary Cap Outlook

Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $27.7M ($143M cap limit)

Roster Overview

Players Under Contract: 58
Pro Bowlers: 9
Unrestricted Free Agents: 12(7 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 28

Salary Cap Breakdown

Broncos 2015 Salary Cap

Broncos Offenive Spending

Broncos Defensive Spending

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.

Offseason Plan

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.

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Broncos Release Kicker Matt Prater


The Denver Broncos released kicker Matt Prater from his contract before his suspension was set to end next week.

The move looks to be purely a financial one as Prater’s replacement, Brandon McManus, makes just $420,000 this season compared to $2.294 million earned by Prater. With big time players like Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas up for contract extensions and kicker not exactly looking like a critical position for the Broncos it made sense to save the money for more critical needs. It is a move, in my opinion, that more teams should consider in the future when making difficult roster decisions and having high priced special teams talent on the roster.

The Broncos will save $2.294 million in cap room in 2014 and $3.25 million in cap room in 2015 with the release. Prater will count for $812,500 against the Broncos salary cap in both 2014 and 2015. Prater should have also triggered just over $191,000 in bonus forfeiture that will be credited to the Broncos salary cap next season.


Best & Worst Contracts 2014: Denver Broncos


We are now down to the final two in our best and worst contract series…

Best Contract: Terrance Knighton

Terrance Knighton

While the Broncos have their fair share of good contracts, I think the contract for  defensive tackle Terrance Knighton now really stands out as the best contract on the  team. Knighton had a terrific 2013 season, was arguably the second best player on  the defense, and became somewhat of a household name through the latter part of  the season.  He became one of the best bargains in the NFL.

The most logical comparison to Knighton was Sen’Derrick Marks. Both were players  with some upside that were in the need of new homes. Marks was able to receive a  contract worth around $1.5 million all of which was guaranteed from the Jaguars,  Knighton’s old team. The contract was just one year in length.

The length of contract is an important one when realizing the strength of this deal.  Knighton would receive just $525,000 more than Marks in 2013, but in return for that contract gave up both guarantees and a year of free agency.  Knighton only had $500,000 of the entire $4.5 million contract guaranteed and could have been cut with almost no issues for the Broncos.

By accepting a contract year worth just $2.5 million in 2014, Knighton was essentially agreeing to the fact that the best he could do was be the same player he was in 2012 and that there was almost no room for improvement. There would be no contract escalation for his 2013 performance nor any other incentives to go further. Marks, on the other hand, received a big contract extension worth over $4 million a season to reflect his performance in 2013. Since he was not under contract to the Jaguars in 2014 he had a good deal of leverage to get a contract.

Following the completion of the 2013 playoffs Knighton made it known he wanted a new contract and felt he was underpaid. He was underpaid, but there was no incentive for the Broncos to rework his deal and the story about his contract quickly vanished. That’s the sign of a rock solid contract.


Worst Contract: DeMarcus Ware

DeMarcus Ware

This is not the easiest decision to make as it came down to two players. One was  punter Britton Colquitt, who would get the nod for the same reason as Mike Scifres of  the Chargers- it’s a lot of money to spend on a punter no matter how good the player  is. But Colquitt’s total contract is smaller than Scifres’ and the Broncos were not cap  pinched the way the Chargers were when doing the deal.

I do believe that DeMarcus Ware could pay huge dividends for the Broncos, but a $10  million a year contract for a 32 year old pass rusher coming off injury seems  excessive. Ware received $16.5 million  in full guarantees and $20 million in  virtually guaranteed salary on this contract.

The best comparisons for Ware are Jared Allen and Julius Peppers, both aging  players who signed new contracts this offseason. Allen signed a deal for $8 million a  season, with $15.5 million guaranteed while Peppers received $8.67 million a year  and just $7.5 million guaranteed. Allen’s $15.5 million is his max two year salary while Peppers is $17.5 million, both significantly less than Ware.

Part of the reason I am also selecting this contract is the fact that they had a more economical and younger option on their team last offseason in Elvis Dumervil, who they released and failed to re-sign during the fax-gate episode. With pass rusher Von Miller coming off injury and one slip up away from a major suspension, I think this Ware signing showed a bit more desperation than the Broncos usually show when modelling their contracts.

2013’s Best and Worst Broncos Contracts:

2013 Best Contract: Wes Welker (Still on team)

2013 Worst Contract: Joe Mays (Released before 2013 season)

Click Here to Check out OTC’s other Best and Worst Contracts from around the NFL!




Free Agency Thoughts: Denver Broncos


Key Additions: DeMarcus Ware ($10M per year), Aqib Talib($9.5M),  TJ Ward($5.7M), Emmanuel Sanders ($5M)

Key Re-Signings: Andre Caldwell ($1.35M), Winston Justice ($1.2M)

Key Losses: Eric Decker (Jets), Zane Beadles (Jaguars), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Giants), Knowshon Moreno (Dolphins), Shaun Phillips (Titans)

Major Cuts: Champ Bailey ($10M cap savings)

Free Agency Thoughts:

There was certainly a great deal of turnover in Denver this offseason. Gone are a starting receiver, guard, corner, running back and defensive end, all of whom played pretty well last year for the AFC Super Bowl representatives. The Broncos would allocate the cash by sinking big money to one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL, a top salaried cornerback, and a top level safety.  For the most part Denver has a team built around a one or two year window where, in most cases, an emergency reset button can be hit pretty quickly.

Taking a chance on Ware could pay big dividends or they could end up writing a big check for little. Ware battled injuries all of last season and $16.5 million in guarantees and $20 million in cash is a high number for a 32 year old declining pass rusher. It’s probably a move they needed to make since Von Miller’s status is always going to be a concern, but you just have to wonder how much they regret losing Elvis Dumervil who would have been more economical and played in last years Super Bowl. Signing Ware is probably an admission of the mistake.

Talib, if healthy for 16 games, is better than Cromartie and could be cut after one year if things go really badly. I do think this is a team that should have been in the Revis sweepstakes, but this is a good signing and contract. Ward I think is a terrific signing. He’s a good all around player on a team friendly deal.  Like Talib he could be moved after one season, but I’d be very surprised if there was any downside to his signing.

Sanders is a questionable call.  Decker is a better player, but I think the worry is he would warrant a five year contract which the Broncos had no desire to do, especially with Demaryius Thomas up for an extension soon. If one stays post-Manning it does make sense for it to be Thomas, but I don’t see the lure of Sanders at $5 million a season, even if it’s just a one season trial run.

Overall Grade: B

I like the notion of going for it when you are a team in a position like Denver, but I feel like they could have gone further. When you are already going to risk some cap health in 2015 with these contracts I would have rather done it with Decker and potentially Revis than Sanders and Talib.  Revis would have played no role in 2015, so I understand that one, but Decker should have been retained. The team will likely need to look for some offensive line help in the draft, but they were pretty capped out and could not be expected to do better than they did in lower level signings like Winston Justice and Will Montgomery. Even if things don’t click this year they wont be that compromised so it’s a good set of moves from a contractual standpoint.




Looking At Terrance Knighton’s Contract Decision


With free agency rapidly approaching this should be time that those non-household names are discussing the pros and cons of their various contract options. I think a good topical example to illustrate some of the considerations is the case of the Broncos’ Terrance Knighton versus that of the Jaguars’ Sen’Derrick Marks.

Last March both Knighton and Marks were free agents.  Knighton , a 3rd round draft pick in 2009, had spent four seasons in Jacksonville, starting 49 games in four years, though just four of them came in his final season.  Marks was a 2nd round pick in 2009 and started just 26 games in Tennessee, with 14 of those coming in 2012. The two were relatively comparable players of similar age and draft status. Both were looking for new homes.

Knighton would be the first to find a home, taking a two year offer from the Broncos on March 14. Only $500,000 of the contract was guaranteed, but he could earn up to $2 million in 2013 and another $2.5 million in 2014, an annual value of $2.25 million. Marks, on the other hand, took a one year offer much later in free agency from Jacksonville. It was said that he wanted to bet on himself that he could earn more money if given more opportunities and Jacksonville, in a state of rebuilding, would certainly give him that chance. The Jaguars would guarantee Marks’ entire contract, a one year deal worth $1.475 million. His potential earnings in 2013 were not as strong as the $2 million that Knighton could earn, but by taking less money for the season he was able to keep his 2014 season open for a new contract.

Both players would have solid seasons in 2013. According to Pro Football Focus,  Marks was the 9th best pass rushing defensive tackle in the NFL while Knighton was the 9th best overall player at the position. Marks would end up cashing in on his season by negotiating a four year contract extension worth a base value of $18 million with $8 million in various guarantees. By the end of 2014 Marks will earn slightly over $5 million in new money, which ranks about 7th in the position in 2014.

Knighton, on the other hand, reportedly would like a new contract to reward him for his season with Denver. Unfortunately Denver has no incentive to budge since they were able to lock him up for two seasons at very favorable terms. His $2.5 million salary is around 22nd in the league. By no means is that terrible but he seemed to favor a different path than Marks and it likely will not work out as well since the NFL is all about striking when the iron is hot and he may not be hotter than he was in 2013.

Knighton’s deal proved to be a very team friendly contract. Knighton essentially gave the Broncos a free lost cost option on his career in 2014 based on the contract structure he accepted. When negotiating a plan for free agency both Knighton and Marks, assuming they would be offered similar deals early in free agency, needed to weigh what benefits, if any, would come from a multiple year contract. In planning for a two year scenario I would plan for three scenarios:

Scenario 1: There is a good chance that the player fails to perform in 2013. He may be a bad fit, injured, or simply is not as good as he hoped. In this case the 2014 year is meaningless because the team will release him. My best opportunity here is to maximize my 2013 earnings.

Scenario 2: The player has a decent season, similar to the one he had in the final year of his prior contract. In this case there is a strong possibility that 2014 will occur with this team. It’s worth negotiating enough of a raise to increase the players’ earnings but not so high that it may entice the team to release him. Getting a slightly higher signing bonus is probably beneficial to keeping the player in uniform in 2014.

Scenario 3: The player has a very good 2013 season and outperforms the contract. Odds are the player ends up playing a cheap 2014 season for the team in the event that this occurs. Maybe consider working incentives into the deal that reward some type of higher end play.

The thing that jumps out to me in the three options here is that in two of those three scenarios the 2014 year is essentially worthless to the player.  If scenario 1 occurs the player will be cut. Sure it sounds great to get a contract for two years, but that second year is about as worthless as a piece of paper. In scenario 3 the contract becomes a detriment to the player because he would earn much more as a free agent than he would under the terms of the contract.

When we go back and look at Marks’ decision he clearly felt that scenario 3 had the most appeal and reward was high enough to take a smaller financial risk. Marks took a very risky approach to free agency. Marks did not sign in the first wave or even second wave of free agents. He waited until early April to pick out a situation that would benefit him the best in the long term. At that stage money could have been so dried up that he would have taken even less money in 2013 than he actually did. As things turned out he only took about $500,000 less in maximum compensation than Knighton did and got his entire deal guaranteed such that if he bombed in the summer he was going to get paid. This was a strong players’ contract where upside value was protected.

Knighton jumped into free agency quickly and signed the contract with the Broncos within the first few days of the signing period. It was a big win for Denver who gave him a very low guarantee of just $500,000 with the upside value of $2 million. For that consideration Knighton was willing to give up a potential year of freedom for a $500,000 raise in 2014. It would seem as if his side banked very strongly on scenario 2 being the most likely scenario and put more weight on scenario 1 than 3.

Knighton’s deal has very little protection for the player. Only 11.1% of the deal was guaranteed upon signing. The signing bonus was low making it easy to release him or ask for a paycut in 2014. The upside here was that he could earn up to $2 million if he made the team in 2013 and by signing quickly he landed a deal before the money may have dried up. There were no incentives or escalators based on the information I have on the contract despite the fact that the Broncos often use those mechanisms to get deals done.

That was a lot to give up in the event scenario 3 played out, which is what happened. The Broncos had all the leverage in the deal from day 1 and will likely use that leverage to maintain his contract. Knighton gave that leverage all up to accept the contract in 2013. About the only thing Knighton can do is threaten a holdout, but when you consider that the Broncos are a team that released their second best pass rusher over money concerns and held the Jets feet to the fire to get payback money for Tim Tebow, you should understand that this is not a team likely to give in to such tactics.

Could Knighton have landed a more player friendly contract had he waited a bit longer or took a one year deal?  We can’t answer that but the various scenarios are things we need to consider when understanding why certain contracts happen the way they do.  Because contracts in the NFL are not guaranteed players rarely have leverage when signing multi-year contracts with minimal signing bonuses or future salary guarantees. Sometimes it might be beneficial to leave a few dollars on the table to maintain as much leverage as possible for the future rather than finding yourself in a situation where you feel bound by a contract that causes you to be underpaid, which is the situation where Knighton has found himself. People may gang up on the Broncos if they don’t rework this contract but the fact is they are reaping the reward of a well negotiated contract.




Von Miller Will Nearly Play For Free if Suspended 6 Games


I just read the latest report from Chris Mortensen that Von Miller may be suspended for six games rather than four games as everyone initially suspected.

We had already touched on the financial ramifications of a four game suspension, but the additional two games makes the season almost a complete wash for Miller from a financial perspective. If suspended for six games Miller will lose 6/17 of his base salary for the season and more importantly 6/17 of his signing bonus proration for the 2013 season, which is subject to the forfeiture provisions of the CBA.

Miller was to earn $2,284,125 this year in base salary. His signing bonus proration for the season was $3,443,250. If suspended for six games Miller will lose $806,162 of his salary for this season and will forfeit $1,215,265 of his signing bonus, which will need to be paid back to the team over time. His total lost wages will be $2,021,426.

For the remaining 11 weeks of the season Miller will be paid $1,477,963 in base salary. When you consider the size of his bonus forfeiture his true takehome this year may only be $262,699 for 11 games of work. Unlike forfeitures triggered by holding out of training camp or other unpermitted absences from the team, my understanding of the CBA is that any drug/PED related suspensions are automatically forfeited and that the teams do not have the ability to reduce or eliminate such forfeitures.


Best & Worst Contracts: The Denver Broncos


A few weeks ago Jason LaCanfora published a list of best and worst contracts in the NFL so I thought it might make a good idea for us to do the same here at OTC, with a team by team approach. I’ll try to be a bit more analytical in terms of why money was paid and how it fits in the market, but the general premise is the same. The one key difference is outside of restructured rookie contracts under the old CBA we will only use veteran contracts as there is a big difference between best draft picks and best contracts.  Please note that there is a difference between a bad player and a bad contract when discussing some of the selections. Clicking on a players name will take you to his salary cap page.

Wes WelkerBest Contract: Wes Welker

I get the knocks on Wes Welker. I’ve had those same debates when discussing values on him with followers of my work. Welker is considered by many to be a product of a system in New England, and to some extent they are correct. Not many teams funnel the pass attack through the slot the way the Patriots did and even fewer teams have a QB capable of pulling that off the way Tom Brady has with Welker. So yes the stats are inflated due to an incredibly high amount of targets, but even if you normalize the numbers he is still a plus 1,000 yard receiver.

I think there is a perception that Welker is an old player because they associate him with Brady and Brady has been around for so long, but Welker was never a member of those Super Bowl winning Patriots teams. He’s only 32 and WR’s can definitely be productive until 34. Denver signed him for $6 million a season plus some incentives. If they choose to walk away next year they can do so with only $2 million in dead money, a number that compares favorably to other older WR’s like Steve Smith and Santana Moss. It’s $100,000 less dead money than they already have locked into Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, another one year trial player.

The signing of Welker also fits the Broncos perfectly in that they have a short window with Peyton Manning and he fits perfectly in with that window. One thing noticeable in that playoff game against the Ravens is that Manning did not have the same zip he used to have on his passes which makes the addition of Welker very important in the short term.   Welker is more talented than the 36 year old Brandon Stokley who filled that role last season and Manning’s natural abilities may force him more to Welker type routes than he would have gone to back in his prime.

There is also a long term benefit to the signing. His contract works as both leverage and insurance against WR Eric Decker, a talented young player about to hit free agency who will almost assuredly see his numbers drop.  Last year he produced nearly 1,100 yards with Stokley only stealing around 550 yards. Welker will be far more productive than Stokley and give the Broncos multiple options with Decker. While Decker  can be a future building block of a team it has to be at the right price and with Demaryius Thomas already well on his way to being a big money player when his deal is up in 2015 you want to keep Decker on as low cost a contract as possible. Welker gives the Broncos the best chance to see that happen.

Joe MaysWorst Contract: Joe Mays

Denver does not really have many truly bad contracts. They are very tough negotiators and use structures to make cutting players as painless as possible on the franchise. With most of the most overpriced players gone from the team there were a few names to consider here and I narrowed it down to two players- Mays and G Chris Kuper.

Kuper has always been overpaid, with his salary closer to the top quarter of the league while his play at best would be average, but he was always a starter and injuries have made it hard to say one way or the other on him. I could easily see choosing him as well. Likewise Mays was also always a mediocre player but with no track record as a starting player in the NFL and for some reason the Broncos seemed to fall in love with him, rewarding him with a 3 year $12 million dollar deal in 2012.

The ILB market is a pretty flat market in terms of price and the $4 million APY actually ranks in the top half of the position in the NFL. For defenses whose base package is the 43 his contract ranks around 6th. 37.5% of his deal was guaranteed, a top 10 number for veteran players at ILB. That’s a pretty hefty price to pay for a player whose true upside is really that of special teams ace.

Though Mays was also injured last year, he had been benched prior to his injury and relegated to special teams again. It really should have come as no surprise given his history with both the Eagles and Broncos. Still it’s not so bad of a deal that it is impossible to escape and it is quite possible that the Broncos will cut him during training camp, making this more of an overpriced contract rather than an outright bad one. They do still owe him $500,000 in guaranteed salary but assuming he has offsets that is money they will never really have to pay him this season as a team will sign him for the minimum to play specials and be a backup linebacker. If released his cap is only $666,666 with a $166,668 cap charge remaining in 2014.

Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles

AFC East: Buffalo BillsMiami DolphinsNew England PatriotsNew York Jets

AFC North: Baltimore RavensCincinnati BengalsCleveland BrownsPittsburgh Steelers

AFC South: Houston TexansIndianapolis ColtsJacksonville JaguarsTennessee Titans

AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs (July 9)