The Denver Broncos find themselves in a rather enviable position as one of a handful of teams in a manageable salary cap situation. Due to the pandemic and limitations on revenue over the 2020 season, the 2021 salary cap has been set at $182.5 million, receding from the $198 million cap from 2020.
This may not seem like that much of a difference but when many teams constructed their rosters assuming the salary cap would continue to climb and be in the pre-pandemic projected $210-$220M range for this upcoming season, many squads are left scrambling to create cap space and even get under the cap for 2021.
Denver can create further cap space by releasing from Von Miller and/or Kareem Jackson, but such moves just create more roster holes for Paton and the front office to fill this offseason while also raising the dead cap. With needs at cornerback, linebacker, offensive tackle, and interior defensive line — on top of the needs releasing Miller and Jackson would create at edge and safety — Denver needs to maximize every dollar.
The Broncos will be able to make some moves in free agency but frugality is likely the most prudent action for Denver given the team’s current circumstances.
One position where it does not make sense for the Broncos to spend money this offseason, given the current roster construction and resource allocation, is the interior offensive line. With three high-resource investments along the interior in Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry III, and Graham Glasgow, on top of boom-or-bust power blocker Netane Muti, the Broncos are essentially ‘set’ on the interior for 2021.
Offering a vastly different position is Pro Football Focus’ Seth Galina, who recently published his 'Perfect Free Agent Matches' for all 32 NFL teams. Instead of Denver spending its finite cap dollars to upgrade many of the obvious holes on the defense, Galina makes a case that Denver should go out and spend big money on former New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney.
The Broncos had major guard problems last season. And considering that Drew Lock needs everything in front of him to be perfect to look like a competent NFL quarterback, upgrading at that position would be significant. Thuney has yet to miss a game since being drafted. He has graded above 74.0 in each of the past four seasons and has ranked among the 10 highest-graded players at his position in each of the previous three. He would represent a considerable upgrade over both Graham Glasgow and Dalton Risner.
While Thuney might be a considerable upgrade to Glasgow or Risner, is he that much of an improvement to Risner or Glasgow? On top of how much inside zone and more power-centric blocking designs utilized by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, would Denver maximize Thuney’s ability to the extent he would be worth his contract?
Paying a guard big money isn’t ideal and while it beats using early draft capital on the position, it isn’t the most analytically-driven decision for Paton this offseason.
Given how much Cushenberry improved down the stretch, Glasgow will be returning to health after dealing with an ankle injury. The Broncos' O-line getting to play together another year in the same scheme could also see the team reap some serious dividends. It would be absolutely shocking to see Denver spend any sort of free-agent capital at guard or tackle.
Thuney is a great player, but the Broncos would be wise to spend their resources elsewhere in free agency to fill the aforementioned roster holes. All due respect, Galina and PFF missed the mark on this one.
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