Roster Decisions For The 2018 Broncos As Of The Combine

Yesterday, John Elway gave a press conference in Indianapolis as the NFL gears up for the Scouting Combine. Within this conference held some possible clues as to how the Broncos will attack the 2018 league year when it begins on March 14.

It’s important to keep in mind that what was said by Elway is by no means binding until transactions (or lack thereof) are official. Everything is going to this plan until it doesn’t. Nonetheless, Elway tends to be, for better or worse, a fairly straight shooter when it comes to the media, so there’s value in hearing what he said and taking some insight from it to try to figure out where Denver will be headed in two weeks.

This article will take tweets from reputable reporters citing what Elway said, and I’ll follow it with my commentary. Please refer to my 2018 offseason road map as to where my opinions lie as to where the Broncos should go.

While this is a broad statement that on the surface does not tell much, it concurs with my belief that the Broncos should leave no stone unturned in improving the quarterback position. It cannot yet be determined if this means the Broncos will pursue my recommendation of adding both a veteran and a rookie, but it is at least encouraging to hear Elway say in fairly strong words that the position needs improvement.

I also particularly like the mention that the salary cap will not be a hindrance to pursuing this improvement. I’ve given my own example on how the Broncos could sign the likeliest most pricey free agent, and there are several other structures that exist that can get the job done.

I think it’s certainly reasonable to grant Lynch another training camp to see if he can get it together for what the NFL requires. If nothing else, under most transactions it would cost the Broncos cap space in order to part ways with him. The most notable exception is if another team shows interest in trading for him after the Broncos have come to a reasonable conclusion as to who their 2018 starting quarterback will be.

I’m very happy to hear this. One recent narrative that I have not understood is the idea that the Broncos should not be paying high level wide receiver salaries if they have subpar or unproven quarterback play. That has always struck me as backwards. If the Broncos are unable to get a top level quarterback in either free agency or the draft, something that can help out the lower level quarterbacks are receiving threats that can make the quarterback’s job easier. And even a high level quarterback likes reliable receivers. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are proven talents, and it’s encouraging to hear that Elway does not appear willing to shed such talent.

Picking up Thomas’s option locks him into cap hits of $12 million in 2018 and $17.5 million in 2019. With Sanders, retaining him in 2018 also retains the Broncos’ option on his 2019 year. If the Broncos decline that option, Sanders will become an unrestricted free agent eligible for the compensatory pick formula in 2020.

Elway conveying a non-committal message on Talib and Anderson is not terribly surprising. The cap savings that can be had for both players is crystal clear. One word of caution that I would offer is that neither Talib nor Anderson need to be cut or traded promptly. Neither player has any guarantee triggers remaining on their contracts, meaning that they can be retained at least all the way to the beginning of training camp, and at most (barring injury) all the way to the day before Week 1 before any guarantee issues come up.

I hope that Elway exercises due caution in ensuring that replacements for either Talib or Anderson are shored up before he makes the likely irrevocable decision to part ways.

I received expected pushback from suggesting that the Broncos may have to fully guarantee Menelik Watson $6 million on March 18, but as of today that now appears to be more likely than not that that will happen. But I think it’s worth exploring why this may come to be:

  1. It could be because the Broncos deduced, as I did, that the free agent right tackle market was going to be pathetic, and that the odds were decent that Watson, whether you like or not, would be the best option available to the Broncos at the position.
  2. There’s also the possibility that Watson may not be able to pass a physical on March 18. This is important because Watson’s 2018 salary has always been guaranteed for injury only. If this is the case, then the Broncos have a sunk cost in Watson that they might as well ride until at least through training camp to see if he can contribute in some fashion.
  3. And as always, there’s the possibility that the plan is to keep Watson…until new facts alter the plan. As one example, there are rumors that the Dolphins could be parting ways with Ju’Wuan James. If that happens, then that may open up a right tackle solution that did not previously exist. The first few days of free agency are wild, and expect the unexpected.

One potential silver lining in retaining Watson for 2018 is that, like Sanders, the Broncos hold an option on his 2019 year, also making him eligible for 2020 comp picks if the Broncos part ways with him via declining that option.

I’m fine with retaining Davis…if it’s on a contract that will be appropriate with the Broncos’ plans for the position. As I’ve implied here, that may not be a reality. There is certainly no harm in continuing negotiation with Davis and his agent while the Broncos have those exclusive negotiating rights until March 12. But the Broncos have likely set their maximum they’re willing to invest in Davis, and that may be less than he can get from other teams.

There is certainly some concern about Wolfe’s long term health after repeated neck injuries. But recent reports have trended toward the optimistic for at least 2018, and I always thought it was reasonable to expect that Wolfe would be back for that season.

It is also worth noting that, once again, the Broncos hold an option on Wolfe’s 2019 contract year. So if he regresses for most reasons, he’ll be eligible for 2020 comp pick consideration.

Finally, Elway obviously didn’t comment on this, but it’s worth a mention at the end:

This is…interesting. Safety is one of the deepest positions on the Broncos as of now, with Darian Stewart entering the second year of a four year extension, with Justin Simmons and Will Parks entering the third years of cheap rookie deals, and with Jamal Carter coming off making the roster as an undrafted rookie. Why would the Broncos be interested in Cravens?

One thought is that perhaps the Broncos have buyer’s remorse in extending Stewart, particularly with Simmons and Parks waiting in the wings. If this were the case, Stewart could be cut with getting relief from his $4.5 million base salary. $4.2 million of dead money from his signing bonus would have to be accounted for, but that hit could be lessened in 2018 with a June 1 designation.

Another thought could be to use Cravens in a hybrid safety/linebacker role, possibly as a replacement for Corey Nelson. But that’s not a role that Cravens seems to relish by any means.

Whatever the case, if the Broncos do decide to trade for Cravens, the compensation needs to be limited–and in particular, conditions need to be written in to indemnify against the possibility that Cravens may not wish to play football in 2018, as was the case in 2017.

If Cravens is acquired on his current contract, because he did not play in 2017, his contract tolled a year, meaning that he will be under contract to that rookie deal for three more seasons.