There are a lot of very well thought discussions on who should stay, who should go, who we need, and who we don't need. In fact it seems to me that there are more good ideas regarding the Broncos roster on MHR than in the entire MSM. Aren't they supposed to be the pros? What does seem to be missing from some of these discussions are the salary cap issues. In the past the Broncos were not always salary cap savy, but all signs point to a new Broncos front office and personnel group that are going to be be very cap saving. Based on that let's look at how cap issues might frame some of these dicussions.
Before I get into it, MattR posted a great introduction to the cap here.
One of the key considerations for every NFL team, heading into the FA period, is the roster cap. Team can only carry 80 players on their roster heading into camp. The Broncos are currently at 72 and have 9 draft picks. So in order to bring in any new FAs, someone is going to be dropped.
By my calculation the Broncos currently sit with about $92mill against the salary cap. Current estimates are that the 2009 salary cap will be around $123mill. That would seem to leave the Broncos with about $30mill to work with in FA, but they probably need to keep about $9-10mill in reserve to sign the draft class.
There are also several current players who may be released to free up roster space. Of course any of the subs or STers are at risk. In addition, Robertson, Manuel, Winborn, K2, Boss, & Engelberger could all be released if cap space is needed. This could free up another $6-8mill.
Bronco Free Agents
Probably the most important Bronco free agent isn't even a free agent. The retirement of Tom Nalen (UFA) and the performance of Casey Weigman are going to push the Broncos to sign Weigman to a starting contract. Expect something in the $4-5mill range.
The remaining FAs fall into 3 categories: Keepers - players we will try to re-sign, Goners - players we no longer want, & Tweeners - players we may keep is the price is right.
McCree and Webster are certainly gone. Webster has already been given permission to talk to other teams. McCree just doesn't earn his pay and there are too many better options at safety this year. If Ramsey were paid more he would also be in this category. Paymah may be here or he may be a tweener depending on how the new coaching staff evaluates his performance.
The only keepers I think we have are Ekuban because he does produce some pass rush and Tatum Bell because he is cheep and may fit well with McD's new offensive schemes.
There are too many here to list then all, but the key ones are: D Jackson, Pittman, and possibly Paymah. Jackson provided valuable depth at WR last year, but his $1.5 mill salary was a bit high for essentially a #4 WR. The team will probalby look at who else is avaialble in the draft and FA and decide how much they really want to pay for a #4. Pittman was productive when he was healthy, but his role would probably be reduced to short yardage. While he cost less than $1mill, he may become a casualty of numbers. The team will only be willing to carry so many RBs. Andre Hall is probably also in the group. He isn't paid much, but I'm not sure how much he adds either.
When all is said and done, I don't expect the Broncos to be especially active in the FA market this year. For one, once you look at all the numbers, they don't have as much cap space to work with as it looks like initially. Also, I think PB has grown tired of FA failures. In addition, this team is at least two, if not three years from a deep playoff run. It just makes more sense to rebuild a solid core through the draft, then use FA to add the final pieces for a deep run when we're ready.
Having said that, I do expect the Broncos to look for a solid DT and help at free safety this year. While it doesn't look like Haynesworth will be available there are a number of other candidates at DT. Who the team looks at at DT may give us some indications of what direction the defense is heading.Do we look at a Gabe Watson NT type or do we go for a more traditional Rocky Bernard type?
There is a particularly promising group of safeties out there as well. Given our weakness at safety the last two years, and a relatively weak draft class at S, I expect us to bring in at least one if not more safeties. Candidates include aged veterans like Brian Dawkins or Lawyer Mallow, or rising stars such as Yerimiah Bell or Sean Jones.
Bly, Bailey, Willimas
While we're talking Cap, a lot of posters have expressed the idea that we should trade or cut these high priced veterans. Looking at cap figures these three players take up $26.6mill (Bailey - $13.2, Bly - $6.8, DJ - $6.6). On the surface it would seem to make sense if we're entering a rebuilding phase and not just reloading.
Cap rules chage this completely. Think about it, how often do you read about NFL players getting traded? Compared to MLB or NBA very rarely. It's because of the cap rules. Most good players get a signing bonus when they sign a contract; these bonuses are often more than 50% of the contract value. In order to accomodate this practive, up front bonuses are spread out over the life of the contract. But, if a player is cut or traded all the bonusses that were paid out but not counted against the cap are then counted against the cap in the year fo the trade. So let's look at these three players.
3/28/2007: Signed a five-year, $33 million contract. The deal contains $18 million in bonuses. $16 million is guaranteed, including a $9 million "signing bonus" in the second year. 2009-2010: $3.25 million, 2011: $4 million, 2012: Free Agent
Bly's cap hit for 2009 is $6.8mill. But if he's traded there's over $9million in bonus that are charged against the cap. It costs more to trade him than to keep him. More likely the Broncos might bring some competition into camp, see who performs, and possible cut or trade Bly next year if he doesn't play up to expcectations.
3/3/2004: Signed a seven-year, $63 million contract. The deal contains $23 million guaranteed, including an $18 million signing bonus. 2009: $6.5 million, 2010: $9.5 million, 2011: Free Agent
Champ is actually the highest paid CB in the league for now. He represent a $13.2 mill hit against the cap and hasn't been collecting interceptions at the rate we've come to expect. The Broncs could try to trade Champ but with Robinson and Asumugha as FAs why would a team trade? On top of that, a trade will still cost a $10mill hit. The team may extend his contract or renegotiate, but a trade doesn't seem likely.
9/6/2008: Signed a six-year, $32 million contract. The deal includes $13 million guaranteed. 2009: $4.1 million, 2010: $3 million, 2011: $4.9 million, 2012: $5 million, 2013: $6 million, 2014: Free Agent
Of all the players on the team, DJ is the least likely to be traded. The team just signed a long term deal last year. While he costs $6.6mill against the cap if we keep him, he would almost $11mill to cut or trade. That's the kind of cap suicide that detroys teams.