There’s a lot to like about Phillip Lindsay. For one thing, his story is fantastic.
He’s a local kid, which gets pointed out during every Broncos broadcast, who starred at Denver South High School and the University of Colorado before joining the Broncos. That certainly makes him easy to root for, as the hometown angle is always a draw.
And he’s also someone who has been overlooked throughout his career, forcing him to prove people wrong at every turn. At just 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, he doesn’t possess the frame of a prototypical running back. As a result, so-called experts never thought he could shine at the prep, college or pro levels. Watching him make people eat crow is always satisfying.
But Lindsay’s ability on the football field is also tremendous.
He plays with a lot of heart. With the Rebels, Buffaloes and Broncos, he’s been an inspirational leader, someone who fires up his teammates with the way he plays, while also revving up the crowd by being the little engine that could on the gridiron. Seeing someone give everything they have is always riveting.
And he’s talented. As a rookie, he became the first undrafted running back in NFL history to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. Last season, he backed up the feat by posting back-to-back campaigns above that threshold. Witnessing people perform at a high level is always worth the price of admission.
So it makes sense that Lindsay has become a fan favorite in Denver. Consequently, it’s easy to understand why people in Broncos Country think the running back deserves a new contract.
Heading into his third year in the league, Lindsay is scheduled to earn $750,000 in 2020. While certainly good money, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $7 million fellow running back Melvin Gordon will haul in this season.
That rings unfair to people. It doesn’t seem right that a player who has toiled for the Broncos, and performed well in the process, is earning roughly 1/10th of a newcomer.
Lindsay is a Pro Bowl player, yet he’s making the same amount of money as Isaac Yiadom, Nico Falah and others clutching to roster spots. That doesn’t seem to add up.
On the surface, the problem seems simple; Lindsay has outperformed his contract and is currently underpaid by NFL standards. But the reality is more complicated.
No matter how it looks or feels, the Broncos shouldn’t tear up his deal and give him a new contract. That would be bad business, both in on and off the field.
Right now, Denver is getting a bargain in Lindsay. And in a salary-cap sport, where financial resources are by definition limited, those types of deals are invaluable.
Paying less than the going rate for a key contributor means the Broncos can spend money in other places. Getting Lindsay on the cheap gives John Elway the opportunity to patch other holes on the roster with the money the team is saving.
If Denver paid the running back and additional $1, $2 or $3 million this season, those are dollars they couldn’t spend on someone else. While that might make everyone feel good, especially Lindsay, it wouldn’t help the Broncos overall cause. In fact, it makes things more difficult, as they’d have to free up money in other ways.
That might mean one less free agent being signed. It could result in a cap casualty that otherwise would’ve been on the roster. Or perhaps it leads to a contract dispute with another player being asked to take a pay cut to make the team’s numbers work.
Either way, that’s bad for the Broncos. Any of those three things make the team weaker, to some degree.
That’s why Elway is smart to play the cold and callous game with Lindsay. It might not be popular. It might seem mean or unfair. But it’s the right way to go.
The Broncos have the running back under contract for 2020. In addition, the ball is in their court for 2021, as Lindsay will only be a restricted free agent next offseason; Denver can decide to match any offers that might come his way.
That means the Broncos will get three seasons of Lindsay at a bargain price, while also retaining the ability to keep him for year four and beyond if they choose. They’re in an advantageous position. Why would they give that up?
Some will argue that paying Lindsay now is wise because it keeps the running back happy. The same logic was used heading into last season when it came to Chris Harris Jr.; people thought the cornerback was underpaid and deserved more money. Elway agreed, gave the veteran a $3 million raise in exchange for nothing in return and then watched as it took less than a month for the pouting to begin.
A good attitude can’t be bought and playing hard doesn’t come with a big paycheck. Guys either give it all the have or they don’t; it has nothing to do with their weekly game check.
Trying to buy Lindsay’s allegiance would be a mistake. For one, that path is usually wrought with regret. But more importantly, the running back isn’t wired that way; he’s always given 100 percent when he’s on the field, regardless of the financial incentive.
Instead, the Broncos should do what they’ve doing; they should let the 2020 season play itself out and see where the chips fall. That gives them the most flexibility.
If Lindsay has another good season, Denver can either ink the running back to a new contract or match whatever offer he gets on the open market. If he struggles or Gordon becomes the franchise’s feature back, the Broncos can let the hometown hero find greener pastures elsewhere, helping them avoid having too much money tied up in a pair of runners.
That might not be a popular approach, but it’s the right one. As a result, the Broncos need to stick to their guns, ignore the masses and leave Lindsay’s contract status alone.
They’ve certainly had to endure their fair share of bad deals, with Bryce Callahan and Ja’Wuan James being at the top of the list. They shouldn’t feel bad when one falls in their favor; a good value or two is how winning rosters are built in the NFL.
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