The 2021 offseason is officially underway with GM George Paton and the Denver Broncos already making moves. While the only real notable move so far for the Broncos has been placing the franchise tag on star safety Justin Simmons for the second year in a row, the rest of the moves Paton has made to date have been far more procedural than needle-moving.
Sure, moving on from cornerback A..J Bouye and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey created ample cash space for Denver’s 2021 salary cap, but those moves were no-brainers considering how much money the Broncos could save versus the return on the field the team got from both veterans last year.
With the salary cap dwindling to a projected to be $182.5 million, it was a matter of dollars and cents for Denver to move on from the bloated 2021 cap hits of those two veterans, their six Pro Bowl nods combined notwithstanding.
On Tuesday, the Broncos made their next obvious procedural moves by placing the exclusive rights free-agent tender on three players.
"Per sources, Broncos have notified their three exclusive rights free agents — Diontae Spencer, Calvin Anderson, Trey Marshall — they will be tendered. Three good young players. Spencer one of NFL's top returners. Anderson, Marshall should get more playing time in 2021," 9NEWS' Mike Klis tweeted on Tuesday.
While, indeed, all three saw minimal time on the field in 2020, each brings value to the roster given their relative youth, added competition, and depth leading up to the regular season, respectively. Their exceedingly cheap ERFA tenders also help bolster that value.
What exactly is the ERFA tender? Here's a breakdown according to Over The Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald.
The tender carries no guarantees and is for the minimum salary that the CBA allows a player to play for… Because the salaries are so cheap, for most teams it makes no impact on a team’s salary cap position if they already had 51 players under contract.
On top of counting so little against the cap with no guaranteed money, the ERFA tender means that each player has two choices: sign the tender and return to Denver in 2021 or retire from the game of football. Talk about having no real options but at least it's an NFL job and the opportunity to compete in training camp.
Diontae Spencer | WR/PR/KR
While this was a procedural move for the Broncos, bringing back Spencer, Anderson, and Marshall makes sense. Spencer, while relegated more to a pure returner and special teams role, is a dynamic speed player that could theoretically step in for KJ Hamler if the 2020 second-round pick were to find himself dealing with injuries again next season.
Spencer could be a gadget and speed-jolt the Broncos may desperately need to create explosive plays. If not, he will be competing for returner duties.
Sure, the rate of returnable kicks and punts is dwindling in today’s league, but forcing teams to kick into conservative situations due to the threat of a formidable returner, provides unseen value each and every game.
Trey Marshall | S
He may never crack Denver's starting safety rotation (barring injury), but he's been a solid player and special teams contributor for the Broncos. Given the uncertainty of Kareem Jackson’s future in Denver this year with the $10 million the team could save by moving on, Marshall raises the floor of the safety room.
The Broncos are also lacking safety depth with Will Parks on the free-agent market after he found his way back in Denver to close out last season. Even if Paton keeps Jackson and re-signs Parks, Marshall is a good player to have.
Calvin Anderson | OT
After a surprising performance against the Carolina Panthers in Week 14 last year, where started at left tackle for the almost-never injured Garett Bolles, Anderson is the one ERFA with the clearest path to providing real value in 2021 and perhaps even starting.
Given how long it has been since Ja'Wuan James played meaningful football and the lack of depth at the tackle position with the imminent departures of Elijah Wilkinson and Demar Dotson, Anderson could easily find himself logging starter snaps next season if Denver does not address the tackle position with semi-premium resources.
There are some questions about Anderson’s ability to be a true swing tackle given, to date, he appears far more comfortable on the left side than the right. Left tackle is likely locked down with the All-Pro Bolles returning on a lucrative long-term extension, but if Anderson can become more comfortable with his technique on the right side, and James once again finds himself injured and not on the field, Denver could turn to the young ERFA to salvage the position.
Anderson is spending much of the offseason working with Bolles, who made a remarkable turnaround in 2020, so hopefully, some of that shine rubs off on the ERFA heading into next season.
Even if none of the tendered ERFAs make the final roster, or an impact on the 2021 roster, the Broncos brought back quality depth that will have to compete for a job this year. The ERFA-tendered Broncos will have a leg up given their familiarity with the scheme, staff, and organization, but with no guarantees, they will have to compete to stay in Denver.
Iron sharpens iron and if Denver can continue to raise the talent level on the bottom of the depth chart, there will be trickle-up rewards for the rest of the team.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickKendellMHH.
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