With the Denver Broncos’ season over and the team drafting in the top 10, it’s time to look at the decisions the team will have to make this offseason.
Now that the season is in the books, it’s a good time to go over the roster and assess where things stand entering 2021.
Earlier this week, the Broncos signed 11 players to futures contracts, meaning the team will have 59 players under contract for 2021. Keep in mind that, during the offseason, the top-51 cutoff takes effect (meaning only the top-51 cap hits count).
The Broncos are projected to have between $17-to-$18 million in cap space, and that estimate assumes a $176M base salary cap, as the cap floor was negotiated last year between the NFL and NFLPA for 2021. It’s possible the base cap rises higher than that, in which case, the Broncos would have more space to work with.
Now, let’s look at what may happen with each positional group.
The only thing we can safely say at this point is the Broncos will likely cut Jeff Driskel to save $2.5M in cap space. With Brett Rypien showing he can be a reliable backup, there’s no need to keep Driskel.
That leaves the Broncos with this question: How much confidence is there in Drew Lock going into 2021? That answer will tell you whether the Broncos draft a quarterback early or what they do in free agency.
At this point, it may make the most sense to add a veteran who can push Lock, but if so, wait out free agency until prices come down. However, if there’s a draft prospect the Broncos love, things could change.
Melvin Gordon played well, for the most part, this season and should return, although he will miss the first three games of the season because of a suspension once his DUI case is adjudicated.
Phillip Lindsay is a restricted free agent and the second-round tender is projected to be $3.4M. It’s possible it comes in a little lower, depending on where the base cap is set. Despite his injury-plagued season, it makes sense to keep Lindsay on the tender.
That leaves the depth, with Royce Freeman and Levante Bellamy returning, though it’s likely the Broncos add a running back, whether in the later rounds of the draft or as a rookie free agent.
Courtland Sutton will return from injury and despite missing most of 2020, proven performance escalators will bump his salary up to about $2M. With Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and KJ Hamler in the fold, the Broncos don’t need to pursue a wide receiver for the starting lineup.
The question is what to do with the depth players. With Tim Patrick a restricted free agent, and thus eligible for a considerable raise, and DaeSean Hamilton earning PPE to raise his salary, the Broncos could be paying more for depth than they wish to pay.
Diontae Spencer is an exclusive rights free agent and cheap to retain, though it’s possible the Broncos add a young receiver to compete with him for the return man job.
Noah Fant is settled in as the top guy and Albert Okwuegbunam will return from injury, so that’s two pieces of the depth chart in place.
Nick Vannett played better down the stretch to justify keeping him for the time being. But if the Broncos find an inexpensive upgrade in free agency or somebody in the draft, the team could cut him to save $2.7M.
Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli are RFAs. I don’t see the Broncos tendering either one, but maybe Fumagalli sticks around on a one-year deal.
The Broncos should have their starting lineup set with Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow, and Ja’Wuan James. Cushenberry’s development at center will be key because if he doesn’t take the next steps, Glasgow could be moved to center with Netane Muti taking the right guard spot.
Elijah Wilkinson is an unrestricted free agent but O-line coach Mike Munchak seems to like him. However, if the Broncos bring Wilkinson back, the team won’t pay too much for him and while he hasn’t been great by any means, all it takes is one team who thinks he might be a serviceable starter to pay him more money than the Broncos are willing.
Demar Dotson, who did a good job in pass protection while Wilkinson was injured, will depart as an unrestricted free agent — and given his age, he might retire.
Calvin Anderson and Austin Schlottmann are ERFAs and will represent cheap depth. The Broncos are likely to look to the draft for more offensive line depth, and perhaps somebody who can be groomed to start at right tackle in 2022.
Shelby Harris had a very good season, but he injured his knee going into the final week. If he undergoes surgery, that puts his chances of getting a big contract — whether from the Broncos or another team — into question.
The other dilemma the Broncos face is what to do with Jurrell Casey. He has an $11.8M cap charge for 2021 and there’s no dead money if he’s cut.
However, if Casey is cut and Harris isn’t re-signed, the Broncos will be left with Dre’Mont Jones as their most experienced defensive lineman under contract. The free-agent pickings for interior defenders could be slim, too.
DeMarcus Walker will be a UFA and is best utilized as a depth player. However, Harris’ injury situation might increase the chances the Broncos try to extend Walker.
Sylvester Williams is an unrestricted free agent, but with Mike Purcell returning from injury, Williams won’t be retained. Over the Cap lists Jonathan Harris, who missed the season with injuries, as an ERFA, but with his health in question, he’s likely not tendered.
Von Miller enters the final year of the extension he signed after Super Bowl 50 making him the highest-paid defender in NFL history (at the time). I don’t believe he will be cut, nor do I believe the Broncos should ask him to take a pay cut. However, he’s probably not going to be extended, because the team will want to see how he looks upon return from injury.
The Broncos will have to decide whether or not to pick up the fifth-year option for 2018 first-round pick Bradley Chubb, and my belief is it should be exercised without much thought after he earned a Pro Bowl nod.
Malik Reed’s emergence as a good depth player means the Broncos will probably let Jeremiah Attaochu depart in free agency. It goes without saying that UFA Anthony Chickillo, who was added when the Broncos lost multiple players to injuries, won’t be retained.
Alexander Johnson will be a RFA and should get the second-round tender, while Josey Jewell will earn PPE, thus both starters from 2021 get raises.
The depth will be the area to address, with Joseph Jones a UFA, and Austin Calitro a RFA. Calitro isn’t likely to be tendered, but might get a one-year deal.
The Broncos will get Justin Strnad back from injury, last year’s fifth-round pick, but one would think the team will keep an eye on free agency and the draft at this position.
A.J. Bouye will miss a couple of games because his suspension carries over into 2021. However, he may be the most likely cap casualty, given a $13.375M hit and inconsistent play this season. Bryce Callahan will have a cap charge of $8.3M, but the low hit plus his great play in 2020 means he’ll be retained.
But the Broncos will need more help at the position. Not only could the team use another player who can start, but depth as well. Kevin Toliver II is a RFA and not likely to be tendered, while De’Vante Bausby is a UFA and struggled down the stretch.
There might be a few free agents worth pursuing if the Broncos want another experienced player in the mix. And the Broncos have seldom not drafted a cornerback, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they draft one again.
Of course, all eyes will be on Pro Bowler Justin Simmons, who played under the franchise tag and, with the season over, he may now start negotiating with the Broncos for a new contract.
Per this tweet from KOA’s Benjamin Albright, the two sides may not have been as far apart as some may believe this past summer. Of course, whether they get a deal done now will depend on what the new GM decides.
There is a question about what to do with Kareem Jackson, who carries a $12.8M cap charge in his contract year and, if cut, would free $10M in space. This situation bears watching.
Fan-favorite Will Parks is a UFA, but the question is whether he would rather stay with the Broncos or try his fortunes elsewhere again. Trey Marshall is an ERFA and should be retained.