With the 2017 NFL Draft in the books, most of the UDFAs generally known, and Bradley Roby’s fifth year option has been exercised, there’s enough in place to take the earliest reasonable look at a few contractual aspects worth keeping an eye out for the Broncos with regard to 2018.
TJ Ward is the leading name to watch out for here. At this time last year, I speculated that the drafting of Justin Simmons and Will Parks in 2016 would signal the departure of Darian Stewart in 2017. Instead, the Broncos signed him to a four year extension. When that happened, the speculation now shifts to Ward, who is two years older than Stewart and will turn 31 before the 2017 regular season concluded. Keep an eye on the play of Ward, Simmons and Parks during 2017 to see whether it becomes more likely or not that Ward will be extended or re-signed. If he’s allowed to test the market, I’d be curious if a reunion with Wade Phillips in Los Angeles is in the cards, as their current safety depth looks suspect.
Todd Davis is the only other clear starter on offense or defense with an expiring contract that can lead to unrestricted free agency. The market for his services is not likely to be significantly higher than the $2.746 million he will be paid in 2017 via his 2nd round RFA tender. Inside linebackers such as AJ Klein and Kevin Minter landed only in the $4-5 million APY range. With Davis, the Broncos will have the advantage to see if his 2017 play justifies future investment.
Then there’s the curious case of Brandon McManus, who has yet to sign his own RFA tender. It remains my hope that an extension can be worked out between McManus and the Broncos. However, it appears at least for now that any progress in those grounds will hinge on McManus signing the RFA tender, as John Elway mentioned with brevity this weekend. If no extension can be reached, the Broncos could be looking for a new kicker in 2018.
The other players slated to reach UFA status in 2018 are Virgil Green, Michael Schofield, Jared Crick, Kasim Edebali, Corey Nelson, Bernard Pierce, Marlon Brown, Cody Latimer, and Billy Turner. Whether or not any of these players will have future value for the Broncos depends even heavier on their 2017 performance than the known names.
Matt Paradis is the most important RFA in 2018. Many will wait with bated breath to see how he recovers from his double hip surgery this offseason. If he recovers as planned, and has another high level season, then a second round RFA tender at a minimum will be coming his way.
Shaquil Barrett is another pending 2018 RFA. He had a quiet 2016 season, and if his 2017 season is similarly quiet, the Broncos may be able to get away with placing the lowest RFA tender (ROFR) on him, which would yield no compensation if he was signed away due to being undrafted. But if Barrett has a better 2017, they may have no choice but to place the 2nd round tender on him as he plays a premium position.
Bennie Fowler is the only other RFA that might be worthy of any tender, and that would be unlikely to be anything more than a ROFR tender.
A decision on Demaryius Thomas’s option must be made
Before the end of the 2017 league year (early March 2018), the Broncos have an opportunity to exercise a $4 million option bonus on the final two years of Thomas’s contract. If they decline it, Thomas’s contract voids, and allow him to become a UFA eligible for the compensatory pick formula.
If they exercise the option, Thomas will have a 2018 cap number of a little over $12 million. If Thomas is still playing at a high level (of which would be a prerequisite of exercising the option), that figure would be a relative bargain. A cap number of $12 million would barely put Thomas in the top ten among wide receivers, and would likely get pushed out of it by other extensions, such as DeAndre Hopkins. However, in 2019 his cap number balloons to around $17.5 million, currently second only to Antonio Brown, and his base salary will be $14 million, currently the highest.
I would assume for the time being that Thomas’s option will be exercised. It would take some unusual events, such as a massive decline in his play, or a massive rise in the play of an unheralded wide receiver on the roster, to change that assumption.
Possible cap casualties
The Broncos will probably be on the lower end of salary cap space come 2018. However, a very rough guess as of now would be about $20 million, still enough room to maneuver in a manner typical to their operations. Still, if they would like some extra cap room, or if there are players that simply aren’t justifying their pay, there are a few names that stand out.
The most blatant name from a cap savings standpoint is Aqib Talib. The structure of his contract has paid dividends for the Broncos, and we hope that it will continue to do so. But he will be 31 this season. If there’s a significant slippage in his play in 2017, the Broncos can move on very easily if they so choose.
Regardless of whether he were to be cut in 2017 (after June 1) or 2018, doing so would free up $4 million against the 2018 cap. If Menelik Watson does not work out, another approximate $4.8 million could be saved. Domata Peko also has a $3.7 million base salary charge in 2018, and at his age it cannot be counted out that his deal may be two years in paper but only one year in practice.
Finally, after sustaining a high cap number in 2017 due to the Dolphins’ failed attempt at an offer sheet, CJ Anderson now has one of the most team friendly contracts on the books. If things don’t work out he can be cut at any time with zero dead money on the Broncos’ cap. 2018 and 2019 both contain salaries of $4.5 million that he is due.