Welcome to what I call Midweek Musings. My plan is to sit down with all you Thin Airers and go over some items pertaining to the Broncos — and perhaps to other teams — each Wednesday night. Think of this as like what Ted Bartlet used to do for Mile High Report and It’s All Over Fat Man, in which he would sit down with random observations about the Broncos and the NFL.
Let’s take it from the top, shall we?
1. The decision about extending Demaryius Thomas has been discussed for several weeks now. I’m going to tell you that the smart thing to do is for the Broncos to extend Thomas, and that I don’t think it’s going to come down to the Broncos having to break the bank over the long haul, or with jeopardizing the long-term situation. I’ve gone over this a couple of times in either posts or comments, so I’m going to focus on a few other points to consider.
For those who have followed my blog (which I won’t be promoting too much, and I’ll get to that later), I made a couple of posts about how the teams that have been built well over the years approached retaining draft picks. One of the things I noticed was that these teams (the Ravens, the Patriots, the Packers) worked to re-sign their first-round picks if they proved worthy of being a first-round selection. The Ravens’ post is particularly worth your time, because you can see that the first-round picks the Ravens extended past their rookie deals were certainly worth keeping, and the ones that weren’t were allowed to walk.
If you look at how John Elway has approached things thus far, he’s doing things a lot like the Ravens have done them. Ryan Clady was worth the first-round pick spent on him, so Elway eventually extended him. Knowshon Moreno and Robert Ayers were good players, but not impact players worthy of a first-round pick, so Elway allowed them to depart. Tim Tebow was not worth a first-round pick, so Elway traded him while his value was still high.
Now we come to Thomas, who has proven to be worth the first-round pick used to get him. Thus, if you want be a perennial playoff contender, you better extend the players who were worth the first-round pick you used. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank for Thomas. I’ve previously discussed that it’s possible to structure a contract that averages $14M per year, with $15M fully guaranteed this season, and two more seasons of injury-only guarantees that allow Thomas the chance to collect the majority of the contract value, as long as he performs at a high level.
It’s understandable that fans don’t want to jeopardize the Broncos’ chances of extending other players, but Elway hasn’t allowed big-money contracts to do that the franchise. When Clady signed his extension two years ago, he became the second-highest paid left tackle in the NFL in terms of average salary per year, and since then, only Tyron Smith has exceeded that figure. If Elway can get an extension for Clady to fit under the cap, while ensuring the Broncos’ long-term future isn’t impacted, he can do it for Thomas, and it doesn’t have to be Thomas getting $16M per year to do it.
2. I would not expect any other player to get a deal done until Thomas gets his deal done, and until Elway has a chance to see how everyone performs during the season. He has shown a willingness to aggressively pursue such extensions for deserving players, as was the case with Chris Harris. One might argue Harris jumped the gun, and that’s a fair argument to make, but the only other player up for extension who can make an argument he’s top five at his position is Von Miller, and he could be a franchise tag candidate unless he puts up a defensive MVP type of season.
While Miller is certainly worthy of an extension, everyone else enters with the question as to how they will fare in the new schemes. While it would be nice to extend more of these players now, if any of them don’t perform well in the preseason or in the regular season, it doesn’t look like money well spent.
Elway, as general manager, keeps his cards close to his chest, but when he sees somebody he really wants to keep, he’ll make the hard sell. I would expect him to keep doing that. People just need to be patient.
3. I read about how Chris Clark wants to prove detractors wrong, so it sounds like he’s got a chip on his shoulder. That can sometimes work to a player’s advantage, although it’s not a guarantee he’ll excel. We’ll see if he’s more comfortable at right tackle in a zone-blocking scheme. I remain skeptical he’ll handle the position well, but if he proves me wrong, I’m certainly not going to complain.
4. I’m becoming a bigger fan of the Broncos signing punter Karl Schmitz. For those of you who were on IAOFM, you know how often people discussed how Britton Colquitt’s contract took up more cap space than it should have, so many were hoping another punter would come in to take his place. Based on what I read from Andrew Mason, Schmitz is pushing hard for a roster spot, and not only can Schmitz handle punting, but he can handle kickoffs.
The ability to handle kickoffs could be a plus if Schmitz can win the punting job. It means the Broncos don’t have to worry about keeping two kickers on the roster, should Brandon McManus not improve. If Schmitz wins the punting job, he can handle kickoffs, and the Broncos would be fine keeping Connor Barth around. Barth won’t command a high salary (less than $1M) and the difference between his salary and McManus’ is negligible.
The one thing we need to hope for is that it doesn’t come down to having Colquitt and Barth on the roster, because that’s not a good combination to have, given Barth is not good at handling kickoffs. Colquitt and McManus wouldn’t exactly be a good combo, but I could live with it for one season, but I’m definitely pulling for Schmitz.
5. I believe there are a few other players who have been with the Broncos for at least three seasons who might have roster spots on the line. Going over those players:
Andre Caldwell: It makes sense for the Broncos to keep him around as a veteran to compete for a roster spot, and because his salary isn’t guaranteed, the Broncos owe him nothing if he’s a training camp cut. Jordan Norwood would be a better veteran option to retain, because he would be cheaper and he can return punts, so I’m hoping he can impress. Jordan Taylor has been making waves in OTAs, so he could slip onto the roster if that continues in training camp and the preseason. Bennie Fowler also impressed, so Caldwell is going to feel some pressure from some of these younger players.
Ronnie Hillman: The only news coming out of OTAs thus far is that Juwan Thompson is getting time at fullback and that C.J. Anderson still leads the depth chart. That leaves Montee Ball, Hillman, Kapri Bibbs, and Jeremy Stewart to compete for touches. Hillman has seen some work with the first team, but I suspect the Broncos will want two backs who can handle the load, with the rest kept for depth purposes. With that said, I think Hillman falls more into the category of a player the Broncos might attempt to trade. Given that Hillman has to pass through waivers, teams who are higher on the priority list might be willing to send a late-round pick to take a chance on Hillman for a year.
Tony Carter: It’s true the Broncos tendered Carter as a restricted free agent, but at the time, the talk was that the Broncos might try to trade him. Now that the Broncos have drafted Lorenzo Doss, who some have called a potential hidden gem at cornerback. If Doss impresses at training camp, Carter may not make the final roster. There’s still a chance that Carter could be traded, though, if a team wants to ensure it gets first crack at him.
6. I mentioned earlier about my blog at which I’ve posted thoughts about the Broncos and the NFL. I am going to shift posting such thoughts to here, at In Thin Air, from this point forward, to help build this community. I think it’s important to keep the former IAOFMers together as much as possible, and given what Nick has done to allow us all a place to discuss all things Broncos, I want to do my part to help. So you can expect to see some thoughts from me on a weekly basis here.
As far as my blog goes, I’m in the process of doing other things with it. I won’t bother plugging it here, but if you are curious as to what goes down, it’s currently located here, and that’s where you can find out what comes next.
Enjoy the rest of your week, everyone.