Looking Ahead To The Broncos’ 2019 Offseason

With the 2018 Broncos rookie class on board, and Shane Ray’s fifth year option being declined, 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 2019.

Notable UFAs

With Ray’s option declined, both he and Shaq Barrett are set to become UFAs. At the same time, the Broncos have spent a top ten pick on Bradley Chubb to go alongside Von Miller, who for now remains the highest paid defensive player in the NFL.

Thus, if all goes to plan as far as salaries are concerned, the Broncos have Miller and Chubb as their starting edge rushers for years to come. That means that the Broncos need to ask themselves how much they’re willing to invest in the position as a whole, and in particular to what would be presumed backup positions. John Elway has proven that he highly values edge rushers, but there needs to be some limit to set so that pay there doesn’t come at the expense of other positions. That limit should come into play when it comes to negotiating possible extensions for Ray and/or Barrett in the upcoming months.

Matt Paradis and Bradley Roby are the two other high profile pending UFAs for 2019. Paradis plays in an offensive line that has been shallow in talent for many seasons, while Roby plays in a defensive backfield that’s potentially taken a hit at cornerback with Aqib Talib moving on. Behind Roby is Tramaine Brock (also a pending 2019 UFA), and many young and unproven cornerbacks. As far as priorities go, I would focus on extending Paradis and Roby before I would focus on Ray and Barrett.

Jared Veldheer and Domata Peko are the other two likely starters on the final years of their contracts, but at their age I think the Broncos should go year to year with each of them. Zach Kerr is a reserve defensive lineman to keep an eye out on depending on how the overall talent at the position shakes out. Finally, Jeff Heuerman and Max Garcia are on the final year of their rookie contracts, but it’s far from guaranteed that either will make the 2018 roster–particulary Garcia, who is slated for a PPE base salary of $1.907 million.

Options a’plenty ahead

If the above list of UFAs seems longer than usual, it could get even longer still. That’s because 2019 will be the first year in which the Broncos’ regular practice of inserting option year clauses to manipulate the compensatory pick formula will come to fruition. Knowledge of the players with upcoming options to exercise or decline will be very important. This is because the Broncos will very soon have only about $10 million in cap space once Chubb signs his rookie deal, a number that will go down even further if any of the above UFAs are extended. Room for free agents, internal or external, may have to come at the expense of some of these veterans.

Emmanuel Sanders has a option assigned to his 2019 base salary of $10.15 million. In addition to turning 32 that year, the Broncos also drafted Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton within the first four rounds this year. If Sanders shows signs of decline, and/or is outplayed by Sutton or Hamilton in 2018, the Broncos could very well decline this option.

Brandon Marshall could also find himself in a similar situation, with an option attached to his $6.5 million 2019 base salary, the year he turns 30. With Todd Davis extended, and Josey Jewell and Keishawn Bierra drafted, watch to see if Marshall’s play in 2018 matches his 2019 salary as compared to the other inside linebackers on the team.

Derek Wolfe did not have as clear of a potential replacement acquired this offseason, but he too has an option attached to his 2019 base salary of $8 million. With Wolfe, the concern here is whether his recurring neck injuries will finally be too much of a toll for him to perform at that pay level. If that’s the case, they Broncos at least have a comp pick friendly out to use.

Finally, Menelik Watson has an option on his $5.5 million 2019 base salary. Unlike with the other players in this category, barring a major turnaround it should be fait accompli that this option will be declined. However, if Donald Stephenson was somehow able to get a $2.5 million deal in free agency, don’t count out Watson helping out Denver’s 2020 comp pick ledger.

Notable RFAs

Shelby Harris is the only RFA in which a tender seems more likely than not. For now, an ROFR tender would be appropriate, and it would be the rare case in which the Broncos would get draft compensation if someone signed Harris to an unmatched offer sheet. Denver would get a 7th round pick in that scenario, as Harris was drafted in the that round by the Raiders.

Jordan Taylor and Zaire Anderson are the only other 2019 pending RFAs that deserve a mention. Even then, given the added and retained talent at their positions that could also put pressure on Sanders and Marshall, it’s far from a lock that either player will make the 2018 roster.

Potential cap casualties

While any of the players with options could practically qualify as cap casualties even though officially they will be considered UFAs, there are a few players that could be victims of the traditional cutting process if things go south for their fortunes in Denver.

Darian Stewart is the leading name here. Come 2019, he will have no more guaranteed money coming his way, and at least $3.6 million in 2019 cap space can be saved if he’s cut. Stewart is also part of a crowded safety depth chart that just added Su’a Cravens to go along with Justin Simmons, Will Parks, and Jamal Carter. All four of those teammates will have considerably lower salaries and cap hits, so definitely watch if any of them outplay Stewart for a starting position.

Ron Leary’s 2019 base salary of $8.15 million is guaranteed for injury only, but there is a trigger that will fully guarantee it on the fifth day of that league year. It would take something way out of plan for the Broncos to consider parting ways with Leary, but if they do, they need to make a decision soon after free agency starts before being locked in with him for good in 2019.

Finally, Demaryius Thomas must be mentioned for the same reasons that Sanders was mentioned above. His 2019 base salary balloons to $14 million and counts over $17 million against the 2019 cap. Unlike with this offseason, next offseason there’s no option to exercise or decline, as the previous one covered both 2018 and 2019. So if the Broncos wanted to part ways with Thomas he’d become a street free agent.

  • Nick

    I also took a look at last year’s version of this, and here’s an evaluation on that:

    https://in-thinair.com/2017/05/02/looking-ahead-to-the-broncos-2018-offseason/

    –I thought TJ Ward would walk after 2017. He didn’t even make it out of the preseason.
    –I hoped that McManus would be extended, and he was.
    –I thought Todd Davis was the only other notable UFA, and I was right there. All of the others are valued no better than 7th rounders in the comp pick formula.
    –Paradis was an obvious 2nd round RFA tender, I considered that possibility for Barrett, and briefly mentioned Fowler who wasn’t tendered.
    –I assumed that DT’s option would be picked up, and I was correct.
    –I also highlighted Talib and Anderson as cap casualty candidates, and that was correct.

  • Drewredux

    I’d prioritize Roby, Barrett. Paradis’ hips are disconcerting.

    Shaq is just a solid all around player: the perfect equivalent of the edge “6th man”.

    If Holland shows a pulse, shop Ray vigorously.

  • cjfarls

    I figure barring an All-pro caliber season, HeMan is gone.

    But unless Josey blows up into an instant star, I expect B-Marsh to stick around (and maybe even if Josey blows up).

    DT might be an option for a restructure/extension… get his AAV down to something more reasonable, but give him a year or 3 of guaranteed money. He may be at the point in his career that stability with the team is more important than maximizing his earnings.

    Don’t forget possible cutting of Case Keenum… if he sucks up the field this year or gets beat out by Swag Kelly, we’re not going to pay him $20m to ride the pine in 2019. I believe he only has ~$5m dead money, so $15m in savings is huge. This is certainly not a preferred outcome, but is the huge oversight not mentioned in your article.

    • Nick

      I didn’t know how best to address Keenum. There’s not only the scenario that he might suck it up, but also the scenario that he gets hurt and then Wally Pipped. In that one, a trade becomes more likely than a cut.

      A slight correction to your numbers: he’s due $18M in 2019, with $7M of that fully guaranteed. Cutting him would incur $10M of dead money and save $11M against the 2019 cap. Trading him would be only $3M of dead money.

      https://overthecap.com/player/case-keenum/1651/

    • G Mik

      Agree 100% with all of these and HeMan is gone regardless of how well he plays. They will try to retain DT but that might be difficult unless he really wants to stay (certainly possible). I don’t expect Keenum to out and out stink though that entirely possible as well – as you said. If he isn’t solid, doesn’t need to be spectacular, I believe they move on and clear as much of that space as possible one way or another.

      Wolfe stays if he plays like Wolfe and I see no reason he doesn’t barring further injury. Let’s hope he is repaired – hard to sift through reality vs how he claims he feels – “…most healthy I’ve ever been!”

  • OnionKnight

    I wonder if we wouldn’t move DT into the slot if Sutton shows out ala Fitzgerald. It would immediately solve the #3 spot and he’s a very good route runner who does his best damage with the ball in his hands. He’s never played to his size but he’s got the build to handle the hits and the speed to beat lb’rs

    • gobroncos

      DT was never known for his route running. It was one of his knocks coming out of college. I’ve always thought he could be on par with Antonio Brown if he was a better route runner. DT has always relied on his size and athleticism to beat CBs.