Why Trading WR Courtland Sutton Could be Tempting for Broncos GM George Paton

Is there any conceivable way the Broncos would trade Courtland Sutton? Hold the phone.
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If you’re an avid Denver Broncos fan, I can already imagine what you’re thinking. 

'Is this guy crazy? Why would we trade Courtland Sutton?' 

Trust me, I would expect nothing less. But hear me out for a second.

Any good NFL GM should seek to evaluate any and all options entering the offseason that could improve the franchise. When it comes to the Broncos, we've seen several potential Deshaun Watson trade packages floated around including invaluable players like Bradley Chubb — another player no Denver fan wants to see go.

I am in no way suggesting or predicting that the Broncos will trade Sutton, or Chubb for that matter. But it may be irresponsible to not at least have some options ready in the back pocket for either.

That said, here are some considerations for why GM George Paton might make this move.

WR Landscape & Contracts

Let’s first take a look at the key players in the Broncos' wide receiver room and their respective current contracts (rounded):

  • Sutton: $2.18M in 2021, UFA in 2022
  • Jerry Jeudy: $3.45M in 2021, $4.14M in 2022, $4.83M in 2023, 5th yr Option in 2024
  • KJ Hamler: $1.62M in 2021, $1.95M in 2022, $2.27M in 2023, UFA in 2024
  • Tim Patrick: RFA ($4.76M for 1st round tender, $3.38M for second round level) *projected
  • DaeSean Hamilton: $1.09M in 2021, UFA in 2022
  • Tyrie Cleveland: $1M/yr through 2023, UFA in 2024

You’ve got Sutton and Patrick for one more cheap season (relative to their market value) before each is due a much richer contract. In the case of Sutton, he could very well end up demanding upwards of $20M/year if he has a strong season, after missing almost all of 2020 due to injury.

Jeudy, Hamler, and Cleveland are all locked up on their respective rookie deals through at least 2023.

Patrick and Hamilton both have this season (assuming Denver tenders Patrick) before hitting unrestricted free agency next year.

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Can Broncos Afford to Pay Sutton?

The next question you have to ask is whether or not the Broncos will be able to afford the cost of extending Sutton on a long-term deal next offseason.

There are currently eight receivers in the NFL who are being paid an annual average salary of $18M or more. If you consider Sutton to be in the same tier as the top guys in the league, you’re going to likely spend that same number or more.

If the Broncos were to extend him at the market rate, the annual cost for Sutton, Jeudy, and Hamler suddenly totals north of $24M/year (best case). And keep in mind that tight end Noah Fant is not even factored into that $24M.

What Would Sutton Return in a Trade?

If I’m trying to put a value on Sutton in the trade market, my immediate comparison would be when the Las Vegas Raiders traded Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick.

However, coming off a season-ending injury, Sutton’s trade value is likely depressed currently — significantly more than it otherwise would be. With that in mind, let’s just assume Sutton would net a Day 2 pick.

Conversely, if Denver held onto him this year and then let him walk in free agency next offseason, he may very well net a third-round compensatory pick back to the Broncos.

When Would Trading Sutton Make Sense?

For a trade to happen, you need to see one of two things:

  1. Deshaun Watson becomes available for trade, and Houston is only willing to make a deal if Sutton is included.
  2. You're able to get a first-round pick in return.

And to do either, you also have to feel confident that Patrick could fill the void for the 2021 season. If the Broncos keep both Sutton and Patrick heading into the regular season and Patrick plays extremely well, Option 2 above suddenly becomes a lot more viable ahead of the deadline — especially if the prospective trade partner is projected to pick in the top half of Round 1.

No matter what, the chances both Sutton and Patrick being on the team beyond this season are extremely thin, so Paton will have to decide which of the two he’d rather pair up with Jeudy and Hamler through at least 2023.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, it’s very unlikely Denver moves Sutton. Prior to his injury last season, he really started to show glimpses of superstardom — and it’s never an easy decision to move a player like that.

But if Paton starts playing cap-o-nomics, he may ultimately decide that holding onto Sutton long term is cost-prohibitive, especially with other key players — including Justin Simmons, Phillip Lindsay, Melvin Gordon, Shelby Harris, Chubb, and Fant — needing new deals within the next calendar year.

What do you think, Broncos Country? Is there a trade package you would be willing to take to deal Sutton right now? Or is he a player you absolutely hold onto at all costs and extend/franchise tag next offseason?

Follow Trevor on Twitter @TrevorJudge.

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