It’s not likely you’re going to see the Broncos consider any more free agent signings until after the draft, but once the draft is finished, you’ll not only see the likelihood of veteran FA signings increase, but there will be some other decisions the Broncos will need to make, too.
Those pertain to players who are on the current roster; specifically, what to do regarding the fifth-year option on Bradley Roby’s rookie deal and the second-round restricted free agent tenders given to Todd Davis and Brandon McManus.
While each situation might seem simple to some people, one thing to keep in mind regarding any decision is to consider all factors that can come into play and not just judge the situation based on the player’s most recent season.
Let’s examine the three players and consider the factors that will be weighed in regarding their contract situations.
Roby enters the final year of his rookie contract, but as with all first-round picks, there is a fifth-year option that teams may exercise the year prior. When exercised, the money becomes guaranteed for injury only. If the player is still on the roster on the first day of the next league year, the money becomes fully guaranteed.
The fifth-year option for Roby will likely come in around $8M for a single season. Given that Roby is coming off a down year and that he’s currently the No. 3 cornerback, it would seem a logical decision to decline the option, right?
Not so fast. There’s more to the picture than meets the eye.
First, Roby differs from Sylvester Williams – a player who the Broncos did not exercise the fifth-year option – in that Roby plays a premium position while Williams does not. The option would have been more than $7M for Williams, a salary that approaches the one-year deal that Bennie Logan signed with the Chiefs to be their new 3-4 nose tackle. That was too much money to justify for that position, especially because Williams isn’t considered a top player at the position. He eventually signed with the Titans, taking a contract averaging $5.5M per year, a lower per-year cost than what the rookie option would have been.
Roby is in a different situation. The top cornerbacks in this year’s free agent market got paid salaries that put them in the top 10. A.J. Bouye, who is coming off his best season as a pro but was relatively unknown before that, got $13.5M per year. Stephon Gilmore, considered a No. 1 cornerback but not an elite player, got $13M per year. Dre Kirkpatrick, a player that got his rookie option exercised and played it out last season at $7.5M, signed for $10.5M per year and $12M fully guaranteed. Prices for cornerbacks are increasing and there’s no sign that the market will slow down any time soon.
Though it’s true Roby is the No. 3 cornerback on the Broncos’ depth chart, there’s no telling how long that will remain so. While I have mentioned that Aqib Talib’s deal turned out to be great value for the Broncos, consider these two things: Talib is 31 years old and missed a couple of games last season because of a thigh injury. Though he’s coming off arguably his best season, there’s no telling how long it will be until his play declines. And some may be concerned about what happens if he has another off-field incident, one that makes the Broncos question whether or not to release him (keep in mind Talib has no more guaranteed money in his deal and the Broncos could cut him at any point without owing him another penny).
Roby, in terms of his play, is comparable to Prince Amukamara when the Giants exercised the option in his rookie deal. Amukamara is a good but not elite cornerback and he could be inconsistent at times. The rookie option at the time was $7M when the Giants exercised it. While it’s true the Giants never extended him, who knows what they might have done had they not been able to sign Janoris Jenkins as an unrestricted free agent.
Roby could also be compared to Kirkpatrick in some ways. Kirkpatrick spent most of his time as a No. 3 cornerback in his first four years with the Bengals, then took on a larger role last year when the Bengals chose not to bring back Leon Hall while extending Adam Jones for three years. Kirkpatrick wasn’t exactly impressive in his first few years with the team. Yet that didn’t stop the Bengals from picking up the option.
So it’s not a closed case that the Broncos will decline the option for Roby. If anything, they are more likely to exercise it. Better to keep Roby around at a salary of $8M, which still puts him outside the top 20 in terms of APY salary for cornerbacks, than to decline the option and risk that he has a strong season while Talib declines and have to pay Roby a much higher salary in 2018.
The Broncos can always revisit depending on what Roby does in 2017. If he has a strong season, the Broncos could extend him and structure the deal so that while it may look like they are paying Roby a high APY salary, his effective deal pays a lower APY salary but gives him additional money in 2017 and fully guarantees his 2018 salary. And while it’s true that the Broncos could be on the hook for his salary if he’s injured in 2017, that situation doesn’t happen often and the Broncos could still believe it’s justified to see what he can do in 2018.
If he’s not injured and plays well, but not well enough to justify an extension right away, the Broncos can keep evaluating him in 2018. If he’s not injured but doesn’t play well, the Broncos can cut him before the 2018 NFL calendar year starts and not owe him any money. Though he wouldn’t count for a compensatory pick, keep in mind that teams shouldn’t make decisions solely with comp picks in mind.
If the Broncos really want to figure out if Roby is worth keeping for the long term, exercising the fifth-year option is the best way to do so. It may seem like a lot of money for a No. 3 cornerback, but just because he’s the No. 3 cornerback now doesn’t mean that’s what he will be in 2018.
The Broncos tendered Davis at the second-round level. By doing so, the Broncos retain the rights to Davis for the 2017 season unless he signs an offer sheet with another team and the Broncos don’t match. And, of course, the Broncos would get a 2017 second-round pick from that team as compensation.
Given that another team isn’t likely to sign Davis to an offer sheet, Davis’ only options are to either sign the tender or seek an extension with the Broncos. On June 1, the Broncos have the option of using the “June 1 tender” which would subject Davis to another tender, the “June 15 tender,” that allows the Broncos to pay him a one-year deal at 110 percent of his 2016 salary, unless Davis either signs the RFA tender or an extension by June 15. A holdout does Davis no good… the Broncos would retain exclusive rights to contract negotiations through 2017 and, if Davis were to miss the season, he’d lose out on money and hurt his chances at getting a long-term deal.
Because Davis has little to gain by not signing the tender or an extension, it’s likely he will sign his tender by June 1 to avoid the June 15 tender situation, unless he and the Broncos reach agreement on an extension. He might not do it right away, but that’s because he and his agent are playing a waiting game for the time being. RFAs may sign offer sheets with other teams through April 21. So Davis can wait until after that date to consider signing the tender.
The question that must be asked is what Davis should get in an extension. Davis is a good but not great inside linebacker who does a better job defending the run than he does in pass coverage. That would mean an extension should fall in line with what a player of his talents is worth.
Of the 10 highest-paid inside linebackers in terms of APY salary, the list ends with Lawrence Timmons, who signed a contract worth $6M per year. Davis, though, is probably better compared to players like Kevin Minter and Demario Davis, who would be Tier 2 players at ILB. Minter signed a one-year, $4.25M deal with the Bengals while Davis was signed to a two-year, $8M deal with the Browns last season.
A three-year deal that pays Davis $4.25M per year, or perhaps $4.5M per year, would be a fair deal. The question is whether Davis would take that deal or prefer to sign his RFA tender, play out the season and try to get a better salary elsewhere.
The Broncos don’t have to rush on any extension for Davis. They could keep an eye on Corey Nelson’s development and, if he impresses, they could choose to extend him and let Davis depart after 2017. Zaire Anderson is on the roster, but it remains to be seen if he can develop into a starter. And there’s always the chance the Broncos could take an inside linebacker in the later rounds of the 2017 draft.
Circumstances would suggest the Broncos won’t extend Davis right away. He will most likely sign his RFA tender after April 21 but before the Broncos impose the June 15 tender on him, then seek to prove he’s worthy of a long-term deal.
The points regarding the RFA tender apply to McManus, too, so I won’t repeat them. And I suspect it won’t take long for McManus to sign his tender because the one-year salary of $2.74M is comparable to the APY salaries for Matt Bryant ($2.8M APY) and Steven Hauschka ($2.95M APY). Most likely, you’ll hear the news after April 21 that he signed his tender.
As for what the Broncos will do, chances are they’ll allow McManus to play on the tender and not worry too much about an extension. They can always use the franchise tag on him in 2018 or simply extend him after the 2017 season ends. And it wouldn’t surprise me if the Broncos sign an undrafted rookie kicker to provide competition.
In other words, don’t expect a lot of movement on an extension for McManus. The RFA tender compensates him fairly this season and the Broncos will have plenty of time to decide how McManus fits into their long-term plans.