While there are still two weeks left in the regular season, it doesn’t hurt to get an idea about where things stand with the current roster and a rough idea about what the Broncos need to do this offseason.
I will go over each position, including any practice squad players and those on injured reserve, and go over relevant status as warranted. I will include my own thoughts on what might be the best approach for the Broncos to make this offseason at each position.
Basic info: The Broncos have an estimated $30.7M in available cap space, but that number is based on an estimated cap of $166M. The cap may go higher than that, so the Broncos may have a little more room to work with. They have 37 players who are under contract for next season, nine players on the practice squad who will likely get futures contracts, nine players who will be exclusive rights free agents (ERFAs), three who will be restricted free agents (RFAs) and 11 players who will be unrestricted free agents (UFAs).
Quarterback: Both Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch will be back next season. Third-string QB Austin Davis will be an UFA and it may make sense to bring him back, but he’s not a priority. There should be no shortage of veteran QBs who could serve as a third-string passer and any such player signed will be at the veteran minimum.
Running back: CJ Anderson will be due a $2.9M salary and a $100,000 workout bonus for a cap number of $3M. It’s easy to see he’ll be back at that salary and cap figure. Devontae Booker will be given every chance to show he can be the No. 2 back. Juwan Thompson is listed as “under contract” with the Broncos, but his $690,000 salary is cheap and not guaranteed, so there’s no downside to keeping him. Kapri Bibbs is an ERFA and those type of players are no-risk, all-reward players because the salaries are cheap and not guaranteed. It’s possible Terrell Watson, a practice squad player, will get a futures contract, for which no money is guaranteed. Throw in Andy Janovich at fullback and the Broncos have a lot of young players at the position, all at reasonable cap numbers.
That leaves Justin Forsett, who will be an UFA. I think it makes sense to retain him at the veteran minimum, but again, I wouldn’t consider it a priority. If Forsett signs elsewhere or retires, the Broncos could consider another veteran on a cheap salary. And while the injury to Anderson made it clear our depth wasn’t that good this year, it makes sense for the Broncos to continue developing the younger players.
Wide receiver: Emmanuel Sanders was extended earlier this year. Demaryius Thomas enters the final year of his contract before a $4M option comes into play. I don’t believe the Broncos have to exercise the option right away, so they can use 2017 to evaluate Thomas’ play and determine if it’s worth keeping him beyond next season.
Cody Latimer, Marlon Brown and Kalif Raymond all remain under contract for 2017 on cheap salaries, though Latimer will count for the highest cap number at $1.18M. Latimer hasn’t achieved at what one would expect a second-round pick to achieve, but it’s fine to keep him around to compete for a roster spot.
As for the rest, Jordan Norwood is an UFA and likely won’t be back. Bennie Fowler is an ERFA, so it will be OK to tender him. Earlier in the year, Over the Cap listed him as a RFA, and if that were true, it wouldn’t be worth keeping him. Jordan Taylor is also an ERFA and should be tendered. I don’t see the Broncos actively pursuing WRs in the offseason, though they might add a cheap veteran who could return punts and kicks. But doing so would be the purpose of competition, not for a “sure thing” as a return man.
Tight end: Virgil Green will have a cap number of $3.3M next year. I suspect the Broncos might find that too high for a player of his talents. However, he has no guaranteed money, so it does no harm for the Broncos to keep him, but I can easily see them ask Green to take a pay cut. If he doesn’t agree to it by training camp, he may very well be cut if other players develop.
That brings us to Jeff Heuerman and A.J. Derby, both who have done some good things but do need more development. The Broncos also have Henry Krieger-Coble and Steven Scheu on the practice squad. Scheu is an interesting player, because he is similar to Green in terms of his size and might be thought of as somebody who could play fullback if necessary. But even with the young players they have, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Broncos draft a tight end.
Offensive guard/center: I’ll get this part of the O-line out of the way first because it’s easier to see that the Broncos don’t have much work to do here. It’s not difficult to see that the Broncos will keep Michael Schofield and Max Garcia around, given their cheap salaries, and that they will give Matt Paradis the ERFA tender. They are pretty well set at backups, too, as Billy Turner and Connor McGovern are on cheap contracts, James Ferentz can get the ERFA tender and practice squad player Dillon Day will get a futures contract.
The only other player to mention is Sam Brenner, who is a RFA but will not be tendered. Given the many young players the Broncos have for the interior line, they have little reason to pursue such players in the draft. It’s possible they look at free agents if they think one of the guards can move to tackle, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Offensive tackle: This is the position everyone will be focused on this offseason. I will mention that the Broncos have Justin Murray on the practice squad and he will get a futures contract, but as we know, there’s plenty more to discuss.
Ty Sambrailo has been plagued by injuries ever since he was drafted and it’s hindered his development. Because his rookie contract is cheap and there’s no guaranteed money due, there’s no risk to keeping him around.
Donald Stephenson is a different case, though. If he is on the roster to start the 2017 league year, his $4M salary become fully guaranteed and he’ll have a cap number of $5M. If his salary didn’t become guaranteed at any point, I would be OK with keeping him if he took a pay cut, but he has zero incentive to do it given the contract structure. Thus the only choice the Broncos have is to cut him before the salary is locked in. Obviously, the Broncos should add another player in free agency – they just need to make sure the player will fit their scheme and not throw money around to attract any player they can find.
Russell Okung, though, is a trickier one to make a decision. While it’s true that Okung isn’t a good pass protector, I think more of it has to do with the fact that other parts of the offense aren’t working and he’s unable to compensate. When right tackle is a weak spot, you don’t have the fullback to make your offense work and your best running back is on IR, it affects everything else and insisting any one player make up for it all is asking too much.
With all that said, Okung will get a fully guaranteed salary of $11.5M in 2017 an additional $9.5M in salary in 2018, should the Broncos exercise the option in his current deal. It’s difficult to justify paying that much money to Okung, even if the issues on offense aren’t all his fault. But given that the left tackle field in both free agency and the draft is bare, it’s tough to justify declining the option. It’s one thing to find a new right tackle, but do you want to risk looking for two new tackles when there aren’t any better options for the left side?
I suspect John Elway will try to negotiate with Okung about a new deal that would not lock in the Broncos to as much guaranteed money. That may be the best option to take at this point, given the uncertainty of the free agent market and the draft. The Broncos should still draft an offensive tackle, but it’s likely they’ll have to settle for that in the later rounds, given that this isn’t a good year to take a tackle early.
Defensive end: We know Derek Wolfe will stick around. Jared Crick will have a salary of $1.5M and a cap number of $1.75M, which is right in line with a rotational player, so he should be retained. Adam Gotsis will be back as well on his cheap rookie deal.
Vance Walker and Billy Winn are both UFAs. I wouldn’t mind the Broncos retaining Walker, but they can be patient because I don’t see teams lining up for his services. Winn might be worth bringing back, but again, it’s not a priority. It’s possible the Broncos consider other UFAs, but they shouldn’t overspend. Calais Campbell has been mentioned several times, but it would have to be a short-term deal.
Defensive tackle: Sylvester Williams will be an UFA. As I have discussed before, 3-4 tackles don’t command a lot of money. I think it’s best to let Williams test the market and bring him back if he doesn’t find a better offer. If he departs, the Broncos are left with practice squad players Kyle Peko and Travis Raciti, both likely to get futures contracts. I would expect the Broncos to talk to other UFAs if Williams doesn’t return, but again, they shouldn’t overpay. And it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Broncos address the position in the draft.
Outside linebacker: Von Miller, of course, has the highest cap number among the Broncos. Shane Ray will enter the third year of his rookie deal and he has improved much this season. Shaquil Barrett and Vontarrius Dora will be ERFAs and tendering them are easy decisions. Kevin Snyder was added to the practice squad recently and should get a futures contract.
This leaves UFAs DeMarcus Ware and Dekoda Watson. I know it may not be a popular decision, but I expect the Broncos will allow Ware to depart. There’s a small chance he could take a one-year deal to stick around, but I wouldn’t count on it. Watson might be re-signed, but he’s not a priority. It’s possible the Broncos look at free agency, but they will be looking for a rotational player because Ray has made enough progress to warrant moving into the starting lineup.
Inside linebacker: Brandon Marshall and Corey Nelson are both under contract for 2017, while Todd Davis is a RFA and Zaire Anderson is an ERFA. Tendering Anderson is an easy decision. As for Davis, I suspect he’ll get the original round tender, even though that risks another team signing him to an offer sheet that the Broncos may not match. What we must remember, though, is that the original round tender goes to players who you aren’t certain that you want to give a long-term extension at some point. Davis has done some good things but I don’t think he’s reached the point that the Broncos want to commit to him for the long term.
If somebody does sign Davis to an offer sheet and the Broncos don’t match, they will likely look at a veteran UFA to replace him. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Broncos draft an ILB, regardless of what happens with Davis.
Cornerback: Chris Harris will stick around. Aqib Talib now enters the point of his contract in which the Broncos can cut him at any time, but because he’s still playing at a high level and the Broncos have plenty of cap space for 2017, they have no incentive to cut him before the 2017 league season starts. The Broncos also have Lorenzo Doss under contract and practice squad player Taurean Nixon will likely get a futures contract.
Bradley Roby enters the final year of his rookie deal and the only question to ask is whether or not the Broncos should exercise the fifth-year option on the deal. The option will likely come in around $7.5M, perhaps closer to $8M. I’m not sure if Roby is worth that much, but he’d be worth keeping at, say, an average salary of $6M per year. I think the Broncos should approach Roby about an extension before the deadline for exercising the option approaches. That way, they can get him locked up for a few more years at a reasonable salary.
Kayvon Webster will be an UFA and I think he should be retained on a three-year deal. I seriously doubt he’s going to fetch a lot of money on the open market because he has proven to be more valuable as a special teams player than as a starting cornerback. While it’s easy to see that CB is a premium position and that all it takes is one team to bid up the price, there are other players who are more likely to generate a bidding war.
Here are some players who are far more likely to generate interest from teams who want to chase after CBs should they hit the open market: Trumaine Johnson, Prince Amukamara, Stephon Gilmore, Morris Claiborne, A.J. Bouye, Darius Butler, Logan Ryan. It will be a deep position in free agency and the names I’ve mentioned are going to draw far more interest than Webster ever will. So I don’t think it will be that difficult for the Broncos to re-sign Webster to be the special teams gunner and continued depth at cornerback.
Given that it is a deep draft for the cornerback position and that it remains to be seen how much longer Talib will play at a high level or the future status of Roby, I would not be surprised if the Broncos use an early draft pick on a cornerback.
Safety: The Broncos have extended Darian Stewart and still have T.J. Ward, Justin Simmons and Will Parks under contract. They will have no reason to pursue any free agents, though they might consider the draft if they aren’t sure if they want to extend Ward, whose contract expires after the 2017 season.
Kicker: Brandon McManus is a RFA and will get the original-round tender, but it’s possible the Broncos will try to extend him first.
Punter: Riley Dixon is still under his rookie contract.
Long snapper: Casey Kreiter was placed on IR but will be an ERFA and tendered. I don’t expect the Broncos to re-sign Thomas Gafford, who will be an UFA.