Contract discussions between the Denver Broncos and two of its foundational studs could intensify following next week's 2021 NFL Draft.
Speaking Thursday, Broncos general manager George Paton reaffirmed his intention to explore the deal of outside linebacker Bradley Chubb as well as that of walk-year wide receiver Courtland Sutton.
“They’re two of our core guys, and we want them here a long time," Paton said during his inaugural Broncos pre-draft press conference. "We’re not going to address that until after the draft. We’re strictly focused on the draft, but those are two of our guys.”
Of the pair, Chubb requires immediate attention as the deadline to exercise the fifth-year option in his rookie pact — May 3 — arrives just two days after the Draft concludes. If picked up, Chubb will earn $12.716 million in 2022 and become an unrestricted free agent the next offseason. He's scheduled to count $8,847,215 against the 2021 salary cap.
Neither Thursday nor in March did Paton specify which course of action he'll take with Chubb, 24, who returned from an ACL tear to post 7.5 sacks in 2020, earning his first career Pro Bowl berth.
"We’ll have those discussions after the draft," Paton said on March 4. "Bradley is a kid that we obviously want to be here long term.”
Considering the Broncos previously exercised aging star linebacker Von Miller's $22.225 million option, and barring a long-term agreement preceding the decision, it would be a stunner if Paton declined Chubb's.
Sutton's fate isn't as cut-and-dry since the former Pro Bowl pass-catcher missed nearly all of last season, a catastrophic dent in his meteoric NFL rise. This, of course, after Denver used first- and second-round picks on WRs Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler.
Turning 26 in October, Sutton is set to earn $2.183 million in the final year of his rookie contract — peanuts for a player of his caliber. The Broncos can choose to extend him early or take a wait-and-see approach, potentially letting the chips fall where they may in the months to come.
Although Paton hasn't directly commented on Sutton's future, he has proven loyal to the organization's homegrown talent, locking down defensive end Shelby Harris and safety Justin Simmons with extensions that met or exceeded market value.
Harris believes this shift in culture, a significant departure from the John Elway era, will prove fortuitous for his deserving teammates.
“I was just talking about it with Court (WR Courtland Sutton) in the locker room. This is big for him, big for [OLB Bradley] Chubb and all the young guys. It shows that if you go out there and ball, the Broncos will take care of you," he said on March 19. "That’s the culture change that we’re talking about. This is family. Justin is the highest paid safety, and that’s what he deserves. You go out there and play, and they will give you what you deserve. That’s the right message you want to send to your players.”
Follow Zack on Twitter @KelbermanNFL
Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!