Tuesday was quite a day for Denver Broncos fans. Just minutes after learning that Aaron Rodgers would stay with the Green Bay Packers, the Broncos finalized a trade in principle with the Seattle Seahawks to acquire nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson.
The Broncos now have a quarterback they can build around, but it begs the question: Are the Broncos still in a position to do that?
From a cap standpoint, certainly.
Over the Cap has updated the Broncos’ financial status and has the Broncos with $26.2 million in cap space. That accounts for Wilson’s $19M base salary and $5M roster bonus, plus the money saved by dealing Shelby Harris, Noah Fant, and Drew Lock as part of the blockbuster trade, and Tuesday’s release of DaeSean Hamilton.
This does come with a caveat: The Broncos have 48 players under contract, meaning they need to add three players to reach 51 and know what their effective cap space will be.
However, that is easily accomplished by tendering three exclusive rights free agents: QB Brett Rypien, DB P.J. Locke, and LB Jonas Griffith. Doing so would bring the Broncos to 51 players under contract and would leave the team with $23.6M in cap space.
The Broncos can still do more to create additional room under the cap. Let’s look at the biggest thing the Broncos can do to gain some cap space.
Restructure the contracts of WRs Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick.
When general manager George Paton extended Sutton and Patrick, he gave himself flexibility when it came to their new deals. He did this by putting roster bonuses for both receivers into their deals for the 2022 season.
Sutton is due a $10.5M roster bonus, but that can be converted into a signing bonus and sperad out over the next four seasons. Doing so lowers his 2022 cap number from $13.2M to $5.325M.
Patrick is due a $6.96M roster bonus, but converting that into a signing bonus, spread out over the next three seasons, and his 2022 cap hit is lowered from $9.25M to $4.6M.
With these simple restructures, the Broncos can get to $36.1M in cap space. Now they have more ability to improve the roster.
You can now see why Paton structured their contracts in this way. If he got the veteran QB, he could do the restructures and give himself more cap room, all without sacrificing too much in the long term.
Let’s take a snapshot of Denver’s new salary cap situation and 2022 offseason outlook in the wake of Tuesday’s tectonic Wilson acquisition.
Other Moves to Gain Cap Space
There are other things the Broncos can do to get more cap space. Here’s a quick list.
• Extend Wilson: Wilson carries a cap charge of $24M, but an extension could lower that number. While the Broncos will need to discuss an extension at some point, it doesn’t have to happen right away. But the option is there to give the Broncos more cap space.
• Cut NT Mike Purcell: I still believe the Broncos will move on from Purcell, because they can retain DeShawn Williams as a restricted free agent at a lower cost.
• Restructure S Justin Simmons (if necessary): I’d only do this as a last resort, because Simmons has a contract that’s best not touched. However, if the Broncos need more space, the option is available.
If the Broncos simply cut Purcell and make no other moves, beyond the restructures for Sutton and Patrick, they can get to $38.9M in cap space. That’s more than enough to tender restricted free agents the Broncos want to keep, plus add additional free agents.
The New Offseason Approach
My offseason approach that assumed the Broncos wouldn’t trade for a QB called for the team to sit out free agency for the most part. But with the trade for Wilson, that calls for being more aggressive in free agency.
Adding another edge rusher is a priority but right tackle takes greater importance. Both may be addressed in free agency — and one might include a reunion with an old friend.
The Broncos could also look at interior defenders, though it’s not a good group of free agents. Tight end is also an option, because there are some solid players who are available.
However, the Broncos still have nine draft picks and the draft class is deep at both interior defender and tight end. Thus, the Broncos could fill those needs through the draft.
There’s a greater chance the Broncos could bring back more of their own unrestricted free agents, particularly if they will take less money now that they have Wilson in the fold. Melvin Gordon continues to hint that he’d like to return and the Broncos reportedly have interest in keeping Josey Jewell.
Regardless of what the Broncos do in free agency, they are still in a good position when it comes to cap flexibility to improve the roster, and still have the draft capital to fill holes as needed.
I would expect Paton to make a couple of cap-related moves I’ve suggested, which will allow him the chance to add free-agent talent, then move forward to the draft.
It’s certainly exciting to know that the Broncos have addressed the most important position on the roster. What’s even more exciting is they can still keep improving the roster.
Follow Bob on Twitter @BobMorrisSports.
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