As the clock is about to strike on the time at which NFL teams can officially announce deals for unrestricted free agents, there are a few things to keep in mind, either regarding moves the Broncos could make, the approach John Elway takes and past lessons that we should remember, but keep forgetting every time we get smitten with the big ticket free agents.
1. The Broncos won’t sign Tony Romo unless he’s willing to take a lower-cost deal for a chance to win a Super Bowl. In other words, the $10M to $12M range with injury protections for the Broncos and incentives is the type of deal Romo will have to take. If Romo insists on too much money, John Elway won’t sign him and he’ll roll with the two young QBs already on the roster.
2. If Romo signs with the Broncos, that doesn’t mean they can’t sign any other top free agent. Keeping Romo at no more than a $12M APY salary means that the first-year cap hit can be kept around $8M or $10M, which still leaves you more than enough room to add a top player for the offensive line and one for the defensive line, plus space for a couple more free agent signings once the first phase of free agency ends, with still enough left for draft picks.
3. If Romo does sign, it doesn’t mean either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch is gone immediately, unless the Broncos get a trade offer they can’t possibly pass up. Bear in mind that such an offer needs to involve at least one high draft pick… meaning if you believe it takes two first round picks to pry Jimmy Garoppolo away from the Patriots, you should demand the Broncos ask for the same for Siemian or Lynch. I’m not joking, people.
4. Remember that Elway likes to look for value and not chase after the biggest names. For example, when Bronco fans were talking up Andy Levitre, Elway opted for Louis Vasquez. And though Elway hasn’t gotten it right every time, he’s gotten it right more than he’s gotten it wrong.
5. Don’t be quick to scoff at any cheaper signings of players you might not have heard about. After all, we know the dividends Darian Stewart paid.
6. The first wave of free agency will go through this weekend, after which the second wave begins, and that’s when you can find better value. Emmanuel Sanders is the perfect example.
7. Keep in mind that the Broncos still have Donald Stephenson on the roster, but if they land a guard in the first wave of free agency, they are more likely to let him go and gain additional cap space.
8. If Stephenson is let go, don’t expect that means Michael Schofield is locked in at right tackle. Or Ty Sambrailo, either. Remember, the offseason has only just begun.
9. Remember that much of what will get reported about expected deals for players is based in part on past free agent signings and in part on what agents think they will get, but what will actually be paid may be a different story. And positions that demanded a lot of money in the past might not demand as much as people think this go-around.
10. Also, remember that only the top 51 player salaries will count toward the cap during the offseason, so it’s OK to add veterans on cheap deals with no guaranteed money. Those players will be the types who are there to compete for roster spots and some of them will be training camp cuts.
11. In relation to point 10, some of the players who got signed to future contracts will be training camp cuts, too. The final roster is never set in the first few days of free agency.
12. Another in relation to point 10, the same could happen to some of the past Broncos draft picks, but there’s no reason to cut them now because the Broncos will have plenty of space to work with to address needs. Players on rookie deals are only cut if their salaries are too high for even a depth player (and that mostly applies to first-round picks like Bjorn Werner) or they have too many off-field issues (think Johnny Manziel).
13. Don’t expect the Broncos to accumulate a lot of compensatory draft picks this time. Remember that between the available cap space and the Broncos’ immediate needs, there less of a need to be concerned about future comp picks. Always strike a balance between immediate and future needs.
14. With that said, it’s a good idea to look at street free agents, because you never know which ones may have something left in the tank or who might be a decent fit for the Broncos’ schemes, even if said street free agents are coming off down years.
15. Finally, remember that the draft will be another area in which the Broncos could address needs and the Broncos have more than enough picks to work with. As I said earlier, the offseason has only just begun.