Grading Broncos Free Agency
We are closing in on two weeks since the start of Free Agency and now seems like a great time to grade John Elway’s job during this period. Unless Elway adds Colin Kaepernick before the draft, the Broncos are mostly done with their biggest free agent signings. Sure, there could be something down the road for someone like Arian Foster but that will depend on other factors over Elway’s ability to sell him on playing for Denver. Foster isn’t healthy yet and is likely not an option for Denver until summer. Knowing this, let’s take a look at the key additions and departures during free agency.
Departures: Peyton Manning (retired), Brock Osweiler, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Owen Daniels (released), Louis Vasquez (released), Evan Mathis, David Bruton, Ryan Harris
As was expected, the Broncos had a tough time keeping their unrestricted free agents away from other teams. It happens to every Super Bowl winning team. The key to free agency is deciding which of your free agents you are willing to pay “market value” for and which you are willing to let go of if another team pursues them. Despite the criticism of Elway, along with many GM’s in the league, he knows what he believes is the “true value” of a player and doesn’t tend to waiver much on it. This could also be viewed as a flaw in judgement, but considering the salary cap of the NFL, being decisive can prove valuable when you see how much it can hurt a team that signs the wrong player to a bad contract.
Let’s knock these out quickly. Manning retires, as expected. Brock never had any intention of returning to the Broncos after he was benched in Week 17 vs the Chargers. He mostly used the Broncos to help drive up the value of his contract with the Texans to 4 years, $72 million with $37 million guaranteed. Malik was above Elway’s value of him and received a monster 6 years, $90 million with $42 million guaranteed from Jacksonville. Good for Malik. Danny may have been caught in the wash of Brock and Malik and signed a nice deal with the Bears. Broncos couldn’t afford him at the time because they were focused on Brock. Bruton would have been great to retain, but wanted a shot as a starter and the Broncos couldn’t give him that here in front of TJ Ward and Darian Stewart.
— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) March 14, 2016
Logically, there’s a strong argument for Elway on every departure from the Broncos. There were offers on the table for guys like Malik and Brock but considering their “market value”, Denver was better off looking to free agency or the draft to fill those holes. Nobody says it will be easy, but those contracts would have likely hamstrung the Broncos for years to come.
Additions: OT Donald Stephenson (3 years, $14 million with $10 million guaranteed and $3 million signing bonus), Restructured DeMarcus Ware (1-year, $6.5 million with ability to earn $3.5 million with incentives), QB Mark Sanchez (traded a conditional 2017 seventh round pick to acquire, $4.5 million contract this season), matched Dolphins offer sheet on CJ Anderson (4 years, $18 million with $10 million guaranteed and a $5.25 million signing bonus), OT Russell Okung (1 year contract for $5 million with $0 in guarantees and an option for extensions following this season)
John Elway spoke with the media at the combine in February and said that the offensive line needed to be improved. Though the Broncos had injuries and their depth was tested, they were able to piece things together well enough to win a championship. There was no question about it, though, that this group would be improved through free agency and the draft. Elway absolutely upgraded the offensive tackle position with the additions of Stephenson at RT and Pro Bowler Okung at LT. These additions allow the Broncos to have much flexibility along the offensive line and move Sambrailo and possibly Schofield to guard. Today, it makes the most sense for the offensive line to look like this, starting from left to right: Okung, Garcia, Paradis, Sambrailo, Stephenson. These things are subject to change as we have seen, but those five offer a clearly better group than last season.
Fans continue to scoff at the addition of Mark Sanchez to this team, but he allows the Broncos flexibility at the quarterback position. John Elway continues to adamantly deny Sanchez is the only plan at QB and expects to bring in someone else to compete at the position this year.
The matching of C.J. Anderson’s offer sheet remains puzzling since the Broncos never needed to expose their running to back to suitors if they would have placed a 2nd round tender on him. For what it’s worth, the team happened to save $500,000 in cap room this season by matching the offer sheet vs giving him the higher round tender, however, they are still on the hook for $6 million this season. It is what it is. Anderson will be a Bronco and the team is better for it, no matter how we got here.
Restructuring DeMarcus Ware was a very important move for this team. He was due $10 million this season and the Broncos could ill-afford to pay him that considering he isn’t an every down player anymore. LT Ryan Clady, with the signing of Okung, will be traded or released once Denver exhausts their options. He is due $10 million this season and Denver will want to move that contract away from their salary cap as soon as possible.
Overall, John Elway deserves a solid B for his moves in free agency. This could upgrade to an A if he is able to work out a trade for Colin Kaepernick but, at the moment, avoiding bloated contracts and signing key starters to reasonable contracts should be considered impressive if it translates to success this season. For now, it’s time to focus on draft strategy for the Broncos as their first three picks will be critical in filling roster holes left by impact players.
TOP PHOTO CREDIT: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
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