Broncos' 12-Point Offseason Checklist In Wake Of 4-8 Start
Once again, there will be some changes. This is normal, because it shows you how a team's priorities will change as the season continues and you have more information about what you need.
Let's look at where things stand for the Broncos after 12 games.
1. Extend S Justin Simmons.
The Broncos' 2016 third-round pick continues to play well and is gaining more comfort and confidence in Vic Fangio's system. It's become clear that Simmons is not just a priority, but the priority to extend.
Chances are you will see more movement on this front once the season ends — and that's not unusual for teams. Bear in mind that Simmons' agent will want to get the best possible deal for his client, so he's not going to accept the first offer that comes along.
But hopefully, we will see things move quicker in that direction after the season ends. It's clear the Broncos have a player in the prime of his career who can be part of this defense for the long term.
2. Prioritize FA D-Linemen in This Order: Harris, Wolfe, Gotsis
The Broncos have three defensive linemen who are set to hit free agency. At this point, the focus needs to be on prioritizing which one to be more serious about negotiations for an extension.
Shelby Harris offers the best option in terms of his age and talent, so he should come first. However, the Broncos don't want to overpay here. If Harris is looking to reset the market, then Derek Wolfe is the better option — he may be older and, while he won't take the same money he got in his previous deal, he's not in a position to reset the market.
It's probably best to let Adam Gotsis hit the open market, but he could be brought back on the Broncos' terms if he finds no other offers to his liking. He's also an option in case both Harris and Wolfe are seeking deals that are more than what they are really worth.
I'll talk more later this week about the contracts each is likely to get.
3. Extend C Connor McGovern at the right price.
This one hasn't changed. McGovern is playing well, but not at a level that demands a high-priced contract.
That should allow the Broncos to get McGovern extended on a value deal. If he's extended, it's for the best to keep him at center, so the Broncos maintain some continuity
If McGovern seeks too much money, though, then the Broncos will need to look elsewhere — at the very least, find a veteran on a one-year deal who can compete for the job with a younger player.
4. Either Extend CB Chris Harris, Jr. or Pursue Another CB in FA
I've put these two together because it comes down to this: The Broncos need to evaluate the overall play of Harris, Jr. and decide whether or not he's worth getting that third contract.
If they decide they should, then get it done. If not, then they need to be aggressive in going after a cornerback in free agency, given the amount of talent there will likely be at the position.
There are arguments to be made for keeping Harris, Jr. or letting him depart, but no matter what you believe, if the Broncos don't keep him, they need to find another cornerback. And the free-agent market at that position is too good to sit out.
5. Extend Pending RFAs on One-Year Deals
The right-of-first-refusal tender for restricted free agents is likely to exceed $2M and, on top of that, teams can always sign such players to offer sheets and give up no draft pick compensation.
But none of the four pending RFAs — Brandon Allen, Mike Purcell, Joe Jones and Elijah Wilkinson — are worth the second-round tender, which is going to exceed $3M.
Therefore, the best option is to extend each player on a one-year deal that's worthy of his position and talents at this time. The Broncos can always extend any of them after 2020 if one or more prove they're worth it.
Note: Over the Cap currently lists CB De'Vante Bausby as an RFA. I've seen different designations for him as either RFA or exclusive rights free agent, but if he is the former, then I'd give him a one-year deal, too.
6. Let All Other FAs Hit Open Market
There aren't any other free agents who the Broncos should prioritize for an extension. They could look at another one-year deal for LS Casey Kreiter, or they could give RB Theo Riddick another chance, but they don't need to hurry up to get those deals done.
But there are going to be some players that Broncos fans will have to say goodbye to and accept that they will move on. The most notable may be S Will Parks, who may want a chance to start.
And that could mean saying goodbye to one of DL Shelby Harris or Derek Wolfe, depending on how negotiations go. Chances are the Broncos will keep one or the other but not both.
I'm sure there will be at least a couple of players that depart, who Broncos fans will really want to keep. But the thing about free agency is sometimes you have to say goodbye to players you like, because you can't keep everyone.
7. Tender All ERFAs
Nothing has changed here. Tendering an exclusive rights free agent is an easy decision, because you get to keep a player on a cheap one-year deal that isn't guaranteed and can move on at any time.
When players like WR Tim Patrick, WR Diontae Spencer and CB Davontae Harris show they can contribute to some degree, and at a low price, there's no reason not to keep them around.
8. Decline Team Option for OG Ronald Leary
This hasn't changed, either. The Broncos should be fine with getting Wilkinson signed to a one-year deal and moving him to guard. That should allow the Broncos to part ways with Leary.
Declining the team option frees $8.5M in cap space with just an $875,000 dead money charge.
9. Cut QB Joe Flacco
The only way I see Flacco sticking around is if he agrees to a pay cut — in the NFL, that's converting base salary into incentives based on playing time or statistical marks. But given that Flacco is due a $20.25M base salary, there's no chance he'll renegotiate.
So it's best to cut Flacco and save $10.05M in cap space, even if it means $13.6M in dead money.
Big dead-money hits aren't ideal, but they don't take away from the cash a team has to spend. Remember: Signing bonuses are considered 'cash spent' in the years they are given.
10. Exercise Patience in FA
The Broncos don't have every piece in place, but they do have enough talent on the roster that they don't need to trip over themselves to sign free agents.
GM John Elway's best free-agent moves have come when he's been patient and looked for value. When he's tried to swing for the fences, he's had some success — as was evidenced with DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders and T.J. Ward — but his misses have been big-time misses, most notably at right tackle.
Elway's best bet is to take care of his own players first whenever possible. For a position in which he doesn't retain one of his own, he needs to consider how deep the talent is at the position before making a move.
And when the talent level isn't there, it's best for Elway to stay out of the chase. Remember that Ja'Wuan James toped a group of free-agent offensive tackles that wasn't deep in talent. The end result: Elway overpaid in more ways than one. He can't let that happen again.
And that means this: Broncos fans need to be patient about free agency, too. Don't beg Elway to just 'do something' in free agency, or you're more likely to get signings that don't come anywhere near your expectations.
11. Decline Fifth-Year Option for LT Garett Bolles
Nothing has changed here, and given the inconsistent play from Bolles this year, I don't think this one will ever change.
I will add a caveat here: Don't expect the Broncos to fix the problem in free agency. I'll talk more about offensive tackles and free agency later, but it's not going to be a good year to get a tackle in free agency, unless you are looking at a bridge to a player you draft.
Also, there is some value in keeping Bolles around until the draft has passed, so you know where you stand at the left tackle position. Bolles has been a disappointment, but better to keep a player with starting experience around for depth than to let him go too quickly and find your depth is still an issue.
12. Keep Everyone Else Around Until After Draft at Least
Previously, I thought about cutting TE Jeff Heuerman, but he has done enough to stick around for a while, given that his cap hit won't be high and his salary won't become fully guaranteed unless he's on the 53-man roster in Week 1 of the 2020 season.
The same thing applies to LB Todd Davis — and in his case, moving on from him would be foolish. He's formed a good duo with Alexander Johnson.
There's also no need to move on from Brandon McManus, because the Broncos won't be desperate for cap space — but it will be a good idea to sign a kicker after the draft to compete with McManus for the job.
And, yes, the Broncos need a punter to compete with Colby Wadman, but that's not a position at which to go 'all in' through free agency. Look for an inexpensive option (preferably after the draft) and let the competition begin.
It's hard for me to envision any of these things changing after the season is over, unless the Broncos get somebody extended. But we'll revisit the list, one more time, after the season ends and get an idea about the best offseason game plan the Broncos should follow.