5 Key Broncos Not-Named Pat Surtain II Entering a Contract Year

If Patrick Surtain II's imminent extension wasn't enough, the Denver Broncos have five other key contract-year players.
Dec 3, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Jonathon Cooper (0) and linebacker Baron Browning (56) attempt to tackle Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) during the third quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 3, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Jonathon Cooper (0) and linebacker Baron Browning (56) attempt to tackle Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) during the third quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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After releasing quarterback Russell Wilson to the tune of an $85 million dead-cap hit, the Denver Broncos are in a tight spot financially. Even after releasing veteran safety Justin Simmons, trading Jerry Jeudy, foregoing the re-signing of veteran leaders like Josey Jewell and Lloyd Cushenberry III, and restructuring the contracts of several high-paid players, the Broncos have just $7.5 million in available salary-cap space.

The Broncos have no choice but to go young — to rebuild. And that's just what Sean Payton is doing. The Broncos drafted who they hope will be the foundation to that rebuild in the first-round quarterback Bo Nix.

The Nix arrival gives the Broncos a five-year window in which they'll have a cost-controlled quarterback. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Broncos have several young players coming up on an extension amid these financially-wracked times.

Heck, even veteran wideout Courtland Sutton wants a raise. But he's under contract through 2025.

Which players do the Broncos have to start budgeting for a future extension? Let's examine the top candidates.

Patrick Surtain II | CB

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Romeo Doubs (87) pulls in a touchdown past Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II (2).
Oct 22, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Romeo Doubs (87) pulls in a touchdown past Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II (2) and linebacker Alex Singleton (49) in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Surtain was a 2021 first-rounder and he's poised to get paid. The Broncos can keep him under control, actually, for another two years, and still retain the prerogative to franchise-tag him after that, but odds are, he'll get an extension a lot sooner than that.

A Surtain extension could come as soon as the 2025 offseason. If he builds on his three-year resume with a return to All-Pro form in 2024, he's in line for an extension that could re-set the cornerback market.

Quinn Meinerz | OG

Denver Broncos running back Samaje Perine (25) scores a touchdown against Cleveland Browns thanks to Quinn Meinerz (77).
Nov 26, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos running back Samaje Perine (25) scores a touchdown against Cleveland Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6) and linebacker Sione Takitaki (44) after being pushed into the end zone by guard Quinn Meinerz (77) in the first quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports / Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

A third-round pick in 2021, Meinerz finally earned a full-time starting job last year and absolutely knocked it out of the park. As one of Pro Football Focus' highest-graded offensive linemen in the NFL, he turned in an All-Pro-caliber campaign, and while he did receive some votes from the Associated Press, he was ultimately snubbed from any all-star accolades.

Entering a contract year, the Broncos will have to make a decision on Meinerz. If he shows out early this fall, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Broncos extend him in-season to avoid him hitting the open market in the spring. Suffice it to say, if he sustains this momentum, he's in line for a fat payday.

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Javonte Williams | RB

Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams (33) leaps over Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (26).
Dec 10, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams (33) leaps as Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (26) attempts to make a tackle during the second half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Yannick Peterhans-USA TODAY Sports / Yannick Peterhans-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL churns through running backs like a teenager does Pop Tarts. The attrition rate is high for any pro running back, but the good ones — the truly special players — manage to garner a big second contract and sometimes a third.

Is Williams one of those special guys? It looked like it early on, as his 900-yard rookie season as the second fiddle to ex-Bronco Melvin Gordon was impressive. Then disaster struck in Year 2 when he suffered a multi-ligament knee injury that interrupted all momentum and threatened to end his career.

Williams bounced back freakishly fast, making himself available for the entire 2023 season, but he was quite clearly not the same player. The Broncos are hoping that another full year out from that grievous knee injury works wonders for his confidence and explosiveness, but just in case, the team hedged by adding some talent this offseason via the draft.

If Williams does return to form, and maximizes what is a contract year, I would expect Sean Payton to try to find a way to re-sign him and keep him around. Payton has traditionally liked to keep around at least one stud running back, even if it costs him, but 'Pookie' has to show that he's worth it this fall.

Garett Bolles | LT

Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at Empower Field.
Nov 1, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports / Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

A 2017 first-round pick, Bolles has almost played out his second contract. Entering a contract year, he's now 32 years old, but the amount of wear and tear on his tires, so to speak, belies his age.

Bolles hardly played football before joining the Utah Utes in 2016. He played one year at Utah before the Broncos drafted him, and outside of 2022, he's managed to stay healthy. Bolles is more like a 29-year-old left tackle entering a contract year, especially when you factor in his ridiculous athleticism, which he showed off at the 2017 NFL Combine much to the Broncos' delight.

Reliable left tackles are hard to come by in the NFL, and while Bolles had his growing pains and stretches of inconsistency, he's become an excellent starter. What complicates the Bolles situation is Meinerz's pending free agency post-2024. Just remember, a good left tackle is a lot harder to find and more important than a good right guard.

Baron Browning & Jonathon Cooper | OLB

Denver Broncos linebacker Jonathon Cooper (0) and linebacker Baron Browning (56) attempt to tackle Houston Texans quarterback
Dec 3, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Jonathon Cooper (0) and linebacker Baron Browning (56) attempt to tackle Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) during the third quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I'm including these two together, not only because they hail from the same 2021 draft class, but also because they play the same position. Browning was a third-rounder and Cooper a seventh, and both have outkicked their coverage.

The specimen to watch here is Browning. After converting from inside to outside linebacker in Year 2, he has flashed freakish pass-rushing ability. But he hasn't been able to stay healthy for a full season.

Cooper has. And along the way, he's steadily grown and improved as a player, going from a roster bubble guy to a core starter beloved by Payton and the coaches. Cooper is just solid, similar to Shaq Barrett back in 2016. The Broncos had no idea Barrett would go on to become an NFL sack champion in Tampa, and, frankly, nothing he showed in Denver would have predicted it.

Barrett was a great try-hard guy and he had a few unique traits and tools. But he worked hard and kept developing and then... BOOM. Pro Bowler. It wouldn't shock me to see Cooper share a similar fate, but the Broncos aren't likely to bet on it unless Browning gets hurt again or fails to launch in 2024.

Browning has first dibs at the Broncos' checkbook when it comes to retaining pass rushers beyond 2024. But just in case neither edge rusher justifies a second contract this fall, the Broncos drafted Nik Bonitto in 2022 (Round 2) and Jonah Elliss in 2024 (Round 3). They're the hedges.

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Chad Jensen

CHAD JENSEN

Chad Jensen is the Founder of Mile High Huddle and creator of the wildly popular Mile High Huddle Podcast. Chad has been on the Denver Broncos beat since 2012 and is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.