Examining A Possible Contract Extension For TJ Ward

Last week, Troy Renck reported that TJ Ward and the Broncos have engaged in “preliminary talks on an extension”.  Ward also made it clear that he would like an extension:

I would love to finish my career here. I’d like to see something get done. They have done that in the past with guys. I think I have proven myself. But if they think I need to show more, then I will just have to keep proving it to them.

If Ward should indeed be extended, what should a new contract look like?

Will Ward’s past be indicative of his future?

It’s clear that Ward has outplayed his four year deal that he signed in 2014, one of the excellent free agency moves John Elway made that year.  Ward now ranks 19th in APY among safeties, a far cry for a three-time Pro Bowler.

However, Ward will be 31 at the conclusion of this season, and GMs always have to beware of paying players for the past instead of the future.  This is further complicated by the fact that heirs apparent to Ward may already be on the roster.

The first step is to get a better idea on the futures of Justin Simmons and Will Parks.

When the Broncos used 3rd and 6th round picks in 2016 to draft Simmons and Parks, I guessed that it might mean that they would allow Darian Stewart to walk in 2017.  Instead, they gave him a well-earned four year extension.  This then naturally shifted the speculation to the future of Ward.  While it is excellent to have the kind of depth at safety that the Broncos have, at some point the team has to ask itself if it’s a luxury.  If Simmons and/or Parks breaks out in their second seasons to the point of being considered a high level starter, should Ward still be retained?  The same question can be asked if UDFA safeties like Jamal Carter (who the Broncos gave $20,000 in guaranteed money) or Dante Barrett (who Chris Harris recognized as a possible sleeper) further add to the depth.

Renck cited Ward as having a desire to have an extension before the regular season.  Unfortunately for Ward, if such a move is to happen, it would be prudent for it not to occur until the conclusion of the preseason.  I think the Broncos owe it to themselves to see how far Simmons, Parks, and other safeties develop first.  Since that requires input from the coaching staff, I won’t yet comment on what conclusion they’ll reach to recommend to Elway.

A possible contract

Should the Broncos determine that Ward should remain in their future, this is the rough outline of the extension I would like to see:

Year Base Salary Prorated Bonus Option Bonus Cap Number Dead Money (pre-June 1) Cap Savings
2017 $4,500,000 $2,750,000 $0 $7,250,000 $12,750,000 ($5,500,000)
2018 $2,500,000 $1,500,000 $2,000,000 $6,000,000 $5,500,000 $500,000
2019 $4,000,000 $1,500,000 $2,000,000 $7,500,000 $1,500,000 $6,000,000

italics – fully guaranteed base salary

This is a two year, $15 million extension–at his age, I would not go any further than two more years, as the further away from 30 an NFL player gets, the more uncertain his future becomes. Included is a $4.5 million signing bonus, as well as a guarantee of his 2018 base salary.  This totals his fully guaranteed money at $7 million. At 46.7% of the new money, that’s almost exactly the proportion that Stewart got at 46.4%.  An APY of $7.5 million slightly edges out Stewart’s APY of $7 million, while still putting Ward well below bigger deals for younger players, such as Tony Jefferson.

Before the start of the 2019 league year, I have the Broncos holding a $4 million option on Ward’s 2019 contract year.  If exercised, Ward is immediately paid that option, prorated for cap purposes over 2018 and 2019.  Exercising the option also fully guarantees his other remaining $4 million in 2019 base salary.

I strongly insist on this option bonus being included in this contract for two reasons.  The first reason is that it ensures that if Ward’s play declines during 2018, the Broncos are protected in parting ways by allowing Ward to become a compensatory free agent.  This, of course, is modus operandi for the Broncos, so I’m confident this should not be an issue.

The second reason is that I want to divert some of Ward’s possible 2019 pay into the 2018 cap.  This is because the Broncos are currently projected to be dead last in cap space for 2019.  That’s due to high numbers on the books for Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Derek Wolfe, all with eight figure cap numbers.  Of course, it’s no guarantee that all three of them will be on the Broncos roster in 2019, but it’s certainly my hope that they are provided that they keep playing at a high level by then.  I would have similar hope for Ward should the Broncos determine that he should be retained beyond 2017.