Gut Reaction: CJ Anderson Is Still A Bronco

I wrote a few days ago that the Broncos’ original-round tender to CJ Anderson might have been a sign that they weren’t entirely sure if they wanted to keep him for the long term or not, and going higher might have signaled they wanted to extend him when they hadn’t made up their mind.

After they decided to match the offer the Miami Dolphins gave Anderson, I will say I was wrong about that. Instead, it does appear the original RFA tender decision came, in part, because John Elway underestimated the market for running backs.

With that said, there might have been another reason why the Broncos tendered Anderson at a low level: Because they were looking at getting every penny they could toward paying for a starting quarterback.

Had the Broncos been able to extend Brock Osweiler, they would have been paying a good chunk of cash to him, even if they had been able to sign him to a deal averaging $13M to $14M per year. If the Broncos had traded for Colin Kaepernick – and I won’t rule out that possibility entirely – they are likely handing out $11M to him, regardless of how they get that money restructured.

That changed when the Broncos acquired Mark Sanchez. While Sanchez does enter a competition for the starting QB job, he comes at just a $4.5M salary. If the Broncos decide to draft a quarterback and let it be a competition between that player, Sanchez and Trevor Siemian, they will commit far less cash to that position this season, a combined total that would come in less than what they would have likely paid to Osweiler or Kaepernick in 2016.

So we might be able to find some reasoning as to why Elway chose the “right of first refusal” tender, even though he’s paying more for Anderson now. But he may be fine with that knowing that the Broncos are likely going with Sanchez, Siemian and at least a third-round draft choice at quarterback.

Just as important is that tendering Anderson at the second-round level does not guarantee you get Anderson for cheap after 2016. If Anderson had been tendered at that level and turned in a strong 2016 season, he’s certain to ask for at least the type of salary he will get under his new contract. Or he may have sought even more if he outperformed RBs like Doug Martin, Lamar Miller and Chris Ivory, who all signed new deals this offseason.

And then comes the question about whether or not you can get him to agree to an extension at that point, particularly when you have other players you will need to extend. Brandon Marshall will be under the second-round RFA tender, but he’s likely to command an extension similar to what Danny Trevathan got from the Bears, if not more. If Darian Stewart plays at a high level again, he won’t take a $2M APY contract again. The Broncos must also figure out if Sylvester Williams is worth keeping under the fifth-year option of his rookie deal or if extending him for a lower cap number is preferable. Kayvon Webster will also become a free agent and I imagine the Broncos would like to have him around for his special teams play. I would suspect Emmanuel Sanders will be allowed to leave in free agency, but you never know.

And I will repeat a point that still holds up from my last piece about Anderson: The Broncos will likely have five players eligible for restricted free agency next year: Todd Davis, Bennie Fowler, Brandon McManus, Juwan Thompson and Sam Brenner (I had overlooked Thompson in my last writeup, but he will be an RFA if he sticks with the Broncos through 2016).* The Broncos seem to believe Davis can replace Trevathan in the starting lineup, McManus’ job as placekicker appears to be safe, Fowler had his moments in 2015 and the jury is still out on whether or not Thompson or Brenner can become contributors.

So what happens if Davis proves he’s worthy of being a starter, Fowler shows he could be the new No. 2 receiver and McManus continues to live up to the moniker “Money McManus”? Are you prepared to put second-round tenders on all of them, along with the other personnel decisions you must make? And even if you say McManus should only get the ROFR tender, what happens if somebody wants to sign him to an offer sheet? At what point does “2nd-round tender means we may not lose the player” become tougher to justify when it means committing more money to players who you may or may not want to extend past the tender year?

As much as we focus on the current offeseason, next offseason needs to be in the back of everyone’s mind and recognizing some of the decisions that will have to be made. More importantly, it must be accepted that when a team finds plenty of valuable contributors among undrafted rookies or waiver claims, that tough decisions may have to be made about their futures. You would like to keep all those players at low-cost deals, but it’s not always possible, especially when they play at a level that warrants paying them well. And when it comes to RFA tenders, keeping them all at the second-round level just to keep other teams from signing them away may not always be feasible.

With all this said, I am surprised the Dolphins structured the contract like a typical contract. That Anderson will count for a cap number that is actually less than what the second-round tender would have cost the Broncos is a surprise. The Dolphins had the cap space available to structure the signing bonus so it applied to the first two years of the deal, while leaving no dead money in the final two (this is what the Buccaneers did with the Martin extension). That would have made it more difficult for the Broncos to match the offer given their available cap space.

Instead, the Broncos will keep Anderson for two years with a very reasonable cap charge in 2016 and a still reasonable hit of $4.3M in 2017. That’s still less than the charge in 2017 for Martin ($7M), Miller ($6.5M) and Ivory ($6M). For the two years Anderson will definitely be on the payroll, the cap numbers are definitely workable.

The important thing is the Broncos know they will commit to Anderson for at least two years and have at least a better idea of where things are headed with the offense this season. They still need to get Ryan Clady’s cap charge reduced or cut him (and either one was going to happen regardless of what they did with Anderson) and figure out which free agents who are left might be worth signing to low-cost deals. And cutting Britton Colquitt isn’t out of the question.

Always remember, though, that with every move you make, there is going to be risk involved. You want to minimize risk as much as you can, but there’s no way to avoid it entirely. This is why personnel decisions are a difficult exercise, even when a move appears obvious on first glance.

* UPDATE, 3:31 P.M. MDT: I originally listed Matt Paradis as a restricted free agent in 2017. Actually, he will be an exclusive rights free agent for the second straight year.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.