Offseason Overview: Veteran Contract Situations

In continuing information about the offseason work that the Broncos are likely to consider, I wanted to keep people updated as to where things stand with the veteran players on the roster and how the Broncos might approach things in the offseason.

One thing to keep in mind with players is the difference between fully guaranteed money and non-guaranteed money. While certain players have money in 2017 that is currently “injury only” guaranteed, that money becomes fully guaranteed if a player is on the roster by a certain date. So, for the purposes of this post, I am treating things under the assumption that money will either be locked in toward the start of the 2017 NFL year or it will not be locked in.

When money becomes fully guaranteed makes a difference in terms of when you need to make a decision regarding a player’s future. If you have a player that isn’t guaranteed any money until he is on a game-day roster for the regular season, there is no risk in keeping the player on the roster and no rush to getting him to take a salary reduction, unless your cap space is tight. Because the Broncos are projected to have nearly $39M in cap space, their only focus will be on which players are guaranteed money at what point.

As far as anybody on a rookie contract goes, since all of them will be cheap contracts (the most expensive in 2017 will be $1.2M cash and $2.4M cap space for Shane Ray), there’s no sense in cutting any of those players before training camp, unless one of them has a serious off-field issue.

So keeping our focus on what to do with veterans, let’s examine some of these contracts and what the Broncos may have to do with the players in questions.

Demaryius Thomas: We’ve debated Thomas’ performance ever since he signed his contract extension in the summer of 2015. Thomas is due $8.5M in fully guaranteed salary and cutting him does not give the Broncos any cap benefit. Trading him only frees up $1.4M in space. Because the Broncos aren’t in need to clear cap space, you can count on Thomas staying on the roster. There is an option the Broncos will need to exercise, but according to the article Mike Klis originally wrote at the time Thomas signed the extension, the option is for 2018, whereas Over the Cap lists it must be exercised in 2017. If the latter, the Broncos will have to make a decision at some point in 2017 about where to go with it. But if the decision doesn’t come until closer to the 2018 NFL season, then the case is pretty much closed, at least for 2017.

Russell Okung: I think everyone is familiar with Okung’s deal: The Broncos have an option for the remaining four years of his contract which, if exercised, fully guarantees Okung’s salary for $19.5M in 2017 and 2018. Thus the Broncos must determine before the start of the 2017 league year if Okung is worth keeping. They aren’t likely going to spend time trying to renegotiate the deal – they’ll either exercise the option or decline it, though if they decline, they might leave open the chance for Okung to re-sign under new terms. As we’ve seen, Okung excels at run blocking but isn’t that good in pass protection. I suspect the Broncos’ decision will come down to how much they believe it’s necessary to have some stability at left tackle or if they think they can find a better option in free agency.

Aqib Talib: Some may have wondered if Talib would be a cap casualty in 2017, given his cap number of $12M. But between Talib’s strong play this season and the fact the Broncos don’t need to clear cap room, it’s more likely Talib will stick around. Talib’s $11M salary is all base salary and not guaranteed, meaning the Broncos don’t have to pay a roster bonus or workout bonus before the regular season starts. If off-field issues come up before training camp, the Broncos can safely cut Talib to gain $10M in cap space with no money paid out. Of course, if it did come to that, the Broncos would need Plan B in place.

T.J. Ward: The Broncos safety enters the final year of his contract and is due a $4.5M base salary that isn’t guaranteed. He can be safely cut at any point prior to the start of the regular season. With that said, I don’t think he’ll be cut – in fact, he’s a candidate for an extension and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Broncos work to do that, just as they did with Emmanuel Sanders before the start of this season.

Donald Stephenson: This one is straightforward: If he’s on the roster on the fifth day of the 2017 league year, his $4M salary becomes fully guaranteed. Given his struggles, the most likely outcome is the Broncos cut him before the start of that league year, freeing $3M in cap space with $2M in dead money.

Virgil Green: He will enter the final year of his contract but the $2.8M base salary due is not guaranteed. The Broncos don’t have to cut him right at the start of the 2017 league year. It would not surprise me, though, if the Broncos treat him the same way they treated Jacob Tamme, who was asked to take a salary reduction before the start of the season. They could opt to roll some of that money due into incentives and give a him a chance to earn it back.

CJ Anderson: He’s due a $2.9M base salary, of which $1.7M is fully guaranteed. Given that it represents such a low amount, the Broncos are almost certain to keep him and have no reason to approach him about a salary cut.

I think the most logical steps the Broncos will take are cutting Stephenson, getting with Ward’s agent about an extension, keeping an eye on Talib’s offseason travails and perhaps talking to Green about a salary reduction. As for Okung, that depends on what he does over the course of the remaining games. Even if the Broncos pick up the option on his contract, they would still have more than enough room to address other free agent needs and fit their 2017 draft picks under the cap. I lean toward keeping him at this point, but that could change if he regresses over the remainder of the season.

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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.