Here's How Broncos Could Create Fourth-Most Cap Space in NFL
The Denver Broncos appear to have "bounced off the bottom," as GM John Elway said during his end-of-season presser back on December 30. Thanks to the arrival of head coach Vic Fangio and the revelation that was sensational rookie quarterback Drew Lock, the Broncos won four of the last five games of the 2019 season.
It feels like the worst is behind the Broncos and that this team is headed in the right direction. No longer are the Broncos wandering the QB desert.
One of the reasons Lock was able to step into the lineup in Week 13 and spark immediate results was because of how well the Broncos have drafted in the previous two years. The free agents Elway paid last spring, outside of S Kareem Jackson for three games, had little-to-no impact on the team's 4-1 finish.
One year wiser, Elway will enter the 2020 offseason armed to the teeth with available cash and cap space. As it stands now, according to Over the Cap, the Broncos have $62,040,714 in cap space.
That's a huge number, especially when you consider the hay Elway made back in 2014 with less than half of that cap space. If Elway could wheel and deal and get DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and Emmanuel Sanders to sign with the Broncos, all of whom would go on to earn at least one Pro Bowl nod in the Orange and Blue and contribute to the team's Super Bowl 50 championship, imagine what he could do with $62M.
But wait, there's more. That $62M currently ranks the Broncos with the seventh-most cap space entering the new league year. And with two simple, no-brainer roster moves, Elway could free up another $18.5M, giving the Broncos north of $80M in cap space.
QB Joe Flacco doesn't fit into this team's short-term plans and comes with a $23.65M cap charge for 2020. Barring a trade, the Broncos are expected to release Flacco, which would free up $10.05M in cap space, though it would also come with a $13.6M dead cap charge, thanks to the restructure the team did with Flacco's contract on the doorstep of last season.
Sure, $13.6M is a big number, but the Broncos will happily live with it because they've found their quarterback in Lock. As the No. 42 overall pick in the 2019 draft, Lock will carry a $1.593M cap charge for 2020, set to earn just $813K in base salary.
The other move the Broncos are likely to make, which would free up almost $8.5M in cap space, applies to OG Ronald Leary. This is the last year on Leary's contract, and it comes with a team option. If the Broncos don't pick up the option, he's gone and the team would create exactly $8,437,500 in cap space.
Leary is a solid right guard but he's not worth that money, even when he's perfectly healthy. But Leary has not been healthy since arriving in Denver with a four-year, $36M deal back in 2017. In each of the three seasons he's been a Bronco, Leary has missed at least four games due to injury—five in 2017, 10 in 2018 and four in 2019.
It's time to part ways with Leary, and the Broncos don't necessarily need to spend big money on the free-agent market to replace him or use a premium draft pick. Elijah Wilkinson is waiting in the wings, and while he struggled at right tackle, he's more than capable of performing at right guard.
All in, the Broncos can free up exactly $18,487,500 in cap space by cutting bait with Flacco and Leary.
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What it Means
Adding that $18.437M to the running total, the Broncos would end up with $80,528,214 to spend, which would rank them with the fourth-most cap space in the NFL, behind only Miami ($89.3M), Indianapolis ($86.1M) and Buffalo ($82.1M).
What that means is that Elway is going to be a major player in the free-agent market this year. Agents around the NFL are going to be ranking Denver high as a possible suitor and landing spot for their respective clients.
In no way would having $80.5M in cap space mean Elway would have to spend or allocate every nickel of it, but if the mandate is building around Lock and capitalizing on having a cost-controlled QB for the next three seasons, it couldn't set up any better for the Broncos.
The fly in the ointment here is the exodus of homegrown free agents the Broncos are facing. But even if Elway ends up using half of that cap space to get the likes of S Justin Simmons, DL Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris, as well as CB Chris Harris, Jr. and possibly C Connor McGovern re-signed, the Broncos would still have more available cap space to spend than they did entering the 2014 free agency market.
Throw in a creative cap wizard, and the options could be endless for Denver. Rich Hurtado was hired to replace Mike Sullivan as the Broncos' lead contract negotiator and cap czar.
Suffice to say, Hurtado is going to be busy when March rolls around. The Broncos have already been tied to multiple outside free agents in the rumor mill. The good news is, fans won't have to wait much longer to see how Elway goes about finishing his mini-rebuild.
The NFL's legal tampering window opens up on March 16, with free agency officially kicking off two days later on March 18. As they say in NASCAR; 'Drivers, start your engines'.