The Broncos have already paid $600,000 in signing and workout bonuses to running back Ronnie Hillman this year, but it would be a surprise if they would pay his remaining $1.4 million salary. Not when that salary is non-guaranteed and not when Hillman has fallen to No. 3 on the depth chart behind C.J. Anderson and Booker with No. 4 tailback Kapri Bibbs continuing to play well.
Hillman had a 21-yard kickoff return midway through the fourth quarter Saturday. While returning would enhance his value, it’s not always a good sign for an established veteran to play special teams in the fourth quarter of a preseason game.
UPDATE (7:00 PM MT) Klis has now reported that while Hillman has already been paid a $100,000 signing bonus and $100,000 workout bonus, the remaining $400,000 in guaranteed base salary contains offset language:
But if he’s released and another team signs him for the $760,000 minimum, the Broncos would not have to pay him the $400,000.
Indeed, if the difference between Hillman and Bibbs is minimal, there is a real positive opportunity cost in choosing Bibbs and his $525,000 salary over the additional $1.4 million set to be due to Hillman.
The only thing that I would add is that before the Broncos consider cutting Hillman, they should first work the phones to see if anyone is interested in trading for him. $1.4 million is on the high end, but not entirely unreasonable, for a player of Hillman’s caliber. In fact, if a team interested in Hillman was willing to increase its compensation, I would not be opposed to the Broncos offering to pay Hillman an additional few hundred thousand in order to get his salary for his new team closer down to the veteran minimum of $760,000 that he would be due.
Another possibility to be considered is whether Hillman could be traded for a player–either directly, or indirectly via draft compensation. Klis mentions that the Broncos could be looking for more help at right guard due to injuries suffered by Ty Sambrailo and Darrion Weems, and Connor McGovern going through rookie growing pains. He specifically mentions Ravens reserve Ryan Jensen, and while Baltimore shouldn’t be in the market for a running back given the presence of Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, and rookie Kenneth Dixon, if the Broncos have extra draft ammunition from trading Hillman elsewhere it will give them more ammunition to do business with Baltimore. (Of course, if the Broncos do trade for Jensen, it’s best to hope that this trade works out better than the last time the Broncos traded for a backup Ravens offensive lineman.)