Welcome to Kelberman’s Korner, a weekly installment by Mile High Huddle senior columnist and Huddle Up Podcast co-host Zack Kelberman, where he tackles your questions —and, as your #FootballPriest, provides absolution — regarding the Denver Broncos.
The emergence of top Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton and addition of first-round rookie Jerry Jeudy prompted an interesting hypothetical from @KaleSmith8, who asked: 'What if Jeudy balls out and when Courtland is up for a contract, what do you think happens?'
It'd be a good problem for Denver to have — but a problem nonetheless.
For the Broncos to even consider letting Sutton walk in 2022, when he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, Jeudy would have to quickly supersede him as the no-doubt-about-it favorite target of franchise quarterback Drew Lock. "Balls out" is ambiguously subjective; does it mean a 1,000-yard season? Offensive Rookie of the Year honors? Pro Bowl nod?
Jeudy is a tremendous talent, a ready-made play-maker in the mold of Amari Cooper. Like any rookie, however, he's an unproven talent who must earn his skin in the game. He projects as a borderline WR1, as did Ashlie Lelie. As did Kevin White. As did Charles Rogers.
See where I'm going with this?
To be fair, before you X out of this article, Jeudy is a safer prospect than those mega-busts. He should (keyword) have a wholly better career, too. But until his on-paper upside translates to real-life production, wondering whether the Alabama product can make an already-proven star expendable equates to fruitless mental masturbation.
Sutton has enough experience under his belt to warrant preferential treatment. He followed a 42-catch, 704-yard, four-touchdown rookie effort in 2018 with 1,112 yards and six scores on a team-leading 72 grabs in 2019.
He dropped three out of 125 targets and averaged 15.4 yards per reception. Context: Sutton hit these marks despite playing with three different QBs — a walking corpse in Joe Flacco, a JAG in Brandon Allen, and an extremely raw Lock.
Put the 6-foot-4, 216-pound pass-catcher on the Chiefs, Ravens, Packers, or Cowboys, and he's easily a top-five player at his position. Sutton is shrouded in relative obscurity because he's on the Broncos, though national media types began taking notice of his undeniable prowess.
Sutton has single-handily redefined the phrase "50-50 ball." The equation works out closer to 80-20 as the pigskin heads his way. When Sutton isn't snatching a helpless defensive back's soul, he's likely drawing pass interference. That 20 percent is a rarity.
Throw it up, and often times he'll come down with it, (illegal) coverage be damned.
As legendary Broncos QB Jake Plummer noted to me on Twitter, "With a man in his face, that’s called trust, trusting your teammate to make your throw right!"
A tangible bond with a gunslinging field general like Lock is remarkably invaluable. You can't buy it. You can't fake it. You can merely hope it develops organically.
Sutton has this, Jeudy doesn't. Not yet. And perhaps not for a while.
There are so many mouths to feed in Pat Shurmur's offense and only so many scraps to go around. Sutton. Jeudy. K.J. Hamler. Noah Fant. Tim Patrick. DaeSean Hamilton. Melvin Gordon. Hell, Phillip Lindsay will want in on the action, too.
Previous Kelberman's Corner: Predicting Broncos' Season-Opener vs. Titans
Sutton boasts an advantage over the lot in that Lock trusts him indiscriminately. And here's the exciting part: They're just getting started.
From a financial standpoint, Sutton is under contract for peanuts. The former No. 40 overall pick will earn a meager $1.101 million in 2020 and $1.412 million in 2021, his age-25 campaign and walk year. He'll be eligible for an extension next offseason.
Which brings us back to the question at hand: What will happen?
You never know for sure with Broncos GM John Elway, who still hasn't signed safety Justin Simmons to a long-term deal and opted to pay Gordon over rewarding Lindsay, the club's homegrown sensation. Elway, for whatever reason, has shown an aversion to cutting checks to in-house players, deserving as they are. It's one of the great mysteries of his tenure.
But for someone who keeps his cards notoriously close to his chest, Elway did nothing to hide the fact that 2020 and beyond is all about his quarterback. Every single move Elway executed this offseason was with No. 3 in mind. And assuming Lock develops as the team anticipates, this rationale won't change.
Elway will cross the Sutton-Jeudy investment bridge if he comes to it. Barring a Hall-of-Fame showing from the latter in the next two years, common sense indicates the former breaking the mold with a new pact, ensuring Sutton sticks around at market value. Then, in (or before) 2025, when Jeudy is set to reach the open market, same thing.
In the interest of full disclosure, it's impossible to predict the salary cap that far into the future, considering several high-priced veterans (Von Miller, perhaps) will eventually come off the books. The Broncos also may have a new GM calling the shots. Possibly a new meddling owner, on top of that.
But what I can say with absolute certainty is Denver did not piece together a top-five WR corps only to dismantle it in a few years. Sutton's here to stay and Jeudy's here to stay, for as long as Lock's here to stay.
Football 101: No such thing as too many offensive weapons.
Just ask our red-clad AFC West neighbors ...