Are the Denver Broncos Having a Fire Sale?

Who will be left for Tim Tebow to pass to next week in Miami? Not to worry, he and Eric Decker are joined at the hip, as seen here. (Photo by Bart Young/Getty Images)

The Broncos have placed Brandon Lloyd on the trading block and have made it known that Eddie Royal could be had for the right price. And once again, the fans are outraged. First it was, "Get rid of Josh McDaniels." Then it was, "Start Tim Tebow." Perhaps the fans who believe they are entitled to make the Front Office decisions in Dove Valley are looking at the big picture through a Fantasy Football perspective, because to fans it is a game. But to the NFL, the teams and the players, it's also a business. 

Mike Shanahan's termination is what brought me to Mile High Report, but the thing that made me spread out my bedroll and camp out here was the discussion to rationalize what the thought processes are behind the scenes. You know, figuring things out instead of reacting like the house is on fire. Usually there is a rational explanation for each decision made. Just because we don't understand it, doesn't mean it's wrong or even that we shouldn't throw a fit about it. I've learned that there are some things you  have no control over and it is an exercise in futility worrying about those things. With that in mind, let's take a look at a few things that should be noted with this development. 

Note: This article was written last night. The current status of Brandon Lloyd was unknown at the time.

The first question would probably be, could the Denver Broncos be attempting to tank this season and make a play for coveted Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck? You could say they want to stockpile draft picks for ammo, in case they have a shot for him, but they don't have that big a sample size for a complete evaluation of Tim Tebow yet. They can't just throw away a draft pick like that without seeing what he can do as a starter. If the Broncos end up with a top five draft pick, it would mean an end to the Tebow experiment and a quarterback will be selected.

So what gives? Are they trying to get rid of weapons to set up their newly appointed starting quarterback for failure? I don't think that is what's happening. Why does it seem like the Broncos are having a Fire Sale? 

One good business practice is to look toward the future. Planning ahead has never been a bad thing. especially in the business world. In this circumstance, there are a few facts that should be listed.

  • Both Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal have contracts that terminate at the end of this season.
  • Brandon Lloyd just turned 30 in July.
  • Neither player are attached to John Elway, John Fox or Brian Xanders (EFX). Meaning they did not draft either player.
  • Both players will be looking for a larger compensation package (More money).
  • The Broncos, like it or not (and whether they admit it or not) are in a rebuilding mode. We all know this.
  • The Broncos, under John Fox, are moving toward a run hard, strong defense type program. 

Neither Royal or Lloyd particularly fit that conservative style that EFX is trying to instill in Denver. Just take a look at Brandon Lloyd's numbers.

Season Team Games Starts Rec Yards Avg./Catch TD's Avg./Gm Fum
2003 San Francisco 16 1 14 212 15.1 2 13.3 0
2004 San Francisco 13 13 43 565 13.1 6 43.5 0
2005 San Francisco 16 15 48 733 15.3 5 45.8 1
2006 Washington 15 12 23 365 15.9 0 24.3 1
2007 Washington 8 1 2 14 7 0 1.8 0
2008 Chicago 11 5 26 364 14 2 33.1 0
2009 Denver 2 1 8 117 14.6 0 58.5 0
2010 Denver 16 11 77 1448 18.8 11 90.5 0
2011 Denver 4 4 19 283 14.9 0 70.8 1
Totals   101 63 260 4101 15.8 26 40.6 3

The median numbers say a typical year for Lloyd would be 12 games, 8 starts, 31 catches for 497 yards and 3 touchdowns. Yes, he had a career year last year, led the NFL with 1448 yards and went to his first Pro Bowl. But look at his next best year. That came 6 years ago when Brandon was 24. Lloyd signed a 1-year deal with the Broncos on June 15, 2009. After riding pine for nearly the entire season, he re-signed for another year at $1.395 million on March 15, 2010. 

So do you think the Broncos should re-sign him to a 3 or 4 year contract? It would take at least 3 years to get a deal done. Otherwise Brandon walks in Free Agency. Remember, if you're the GM, you are betting that Lloyd has 3 years like 2010. The reality is, the chances of him returning to the median are better than not. The age factor makes the risk double, or even treble. Out of 133 possible games, Lloyd played in 101 and only started 63. So you get an aging veteran who's only been available for 2/3 of the year for the next 3 seasons. Additionally, there is an alleged attitude problem with Lloyd. The guys responsible for helping him achieve those Pro Bowl numbers a year ago, are gone and soon to follow. Josh McDaniels resides in St. Louis now and Kyle Orton threw away his job. It's easy to see why Lloyd favored the guy who passed him the ball. More on this later. Let's move on to Royal.

Eddie Royal was drafted in 2008. He signed a four-year, $3.955 million contract with $2.4 million guaranteed, including a $1.55 million signing bonus. His numbers break down like this. 2009: $385,000, 2010: $470,000, 2011: $555,000, 2012: Free Agent.

The Broncos have gotten fair value for Royal. He has been a decent dual threat weapon for them. It was presumed that his numbers would only increase after his 91 catch, 980 yard, 5 TD rookie campaign. But the departures of Mike Shanahan, Jay Cutler and probably most notably, Brandon Marshall, all had a negative effect on Royal's contributions. In comes Josh McDaniels, who failed to utilize much of Eddie's talents. The gun-slinging Jay Cutler would relocate to Chicago, leaving Kyle Orton as an insubstantial replacement. Brandon Marshall punted his way to Miami, leaving Royal double-covered with press coverage. All this contributed to the decline of Eddie's perceived ceiling. Here are Royal's numbers as a Wideout.

Season Team Games Starts Rec Yards Avg./Catch TD's Avg./Gm Fum
2008 Denver 15 15 91 980 10.8 5 65.3 2
2009 Denver 14 12 37 345 9.3 0 24.6 1
2010 Denver 16 10 59 627 10.6 3 39.2 4
2011 Denver 2 2 4 51 12.8 0 25.5 0
Totals   47 39 191 2003 10.5 8 42.6 7

Again, using the median, we get 14 games, 12 starts, 59 catches for 616 yards and 2.5 touchdowns per year. Eddie is 25, and takes good care of himself. He has dealt with pulled groin and Hamstrings at times, but really hasn't missed too many games. He is young enough that he would play out a second contract. Still, the point is, Royal puts up 2nd to 3rd Wide Receiver numbers. Now lest you think it remiss that I say a #2 or #3 Receiver, here are Eddie's league rankings in two of his 3+ seasons.

  • 2008: 7th in Receptions, 23rd in yards and 29th in TD's.
  • 2010: 44th in Receptions, 60th in yards and T-73rd in TD's.

 How much is that worth? Before you answer that, I have one more chart to look at. Eddie has value as a return man. In fact, that is the primary reason he was drafted on the first place. The Broncos got an unexpected bonus out of his rookie season. Here are the return numbers.

Season Punt Ret Yards Avg TDs Kick Ret. Yards Avg TDs
2008 14 140 10 0 23 600 26.1 0
2009 30 335 11.2 1 26 621 23.9 1
2010 25 298 11.9 0 5 107 21.4 0
Totals 69 773 11.2 1 54 1328 24.6 1
  • 2008: 35th in KR yards, 17th in KR avg., 27th in PR yards and 32nd in PR average.
  • 2009: 26th in KR yards, 46th in KR avg., 8th in PR yards and 8th in PR average. 
  • 2010: 69th in KR yards, 17th in KR avg., 13th in PR yards and 6th in PR average for players with at least 20 PR's.
On October 19, 2009 against the San Diego Chargers, Royal became the first Bronco and the 11th player to date in NFL history, to return a kickoff (93 yards) and a punt (71 yards) for touchdowns in the same game. 

Eddie wasn't the cat's pajamas as a return man, but he was steady and reliable. The Broncos Special Teams Units weren't worth much and Royal definitely wasn't the weak link. So let's figure out what a #2 to 3 Wide Receiver with Returner ability is worth.

I pulled three guys whose game translates a close parallel to Royal and found their contract numbers.

Danny Amendola of the St. Louis Rams. His 2011 salary is $480,000 and he is a Restricted Free Agent in 2012. 

Ted Ginn of the San Francisco 49ers 2011 salary is  $1 million. In 2012, he is a Free Agent. In addition to his $1 million base salary, Ginn is eligible for $1.2 million in incentives based on punt return average, receptions, and playing time.
 
Davone Bess of the Miami Dolphins signed a four-year, $9.350 million contract on October 17, 2010 . The deal included a $3 million signing bonus. His 2011 salary is $1,013,333. In 2012: $2,233,333,  2013: $2,633,334 and in 2014 he will hit Free Agency.

It looks like the market will bear at least a $1 million per year contract conservatively and Royal should be looking for numbers similar to Davone Bess. if not more. Again, as the GM, are you willing to fork out $10 Million for Eddie Royal in the next 4 years? He has already been adequately replaced as a returner by Quan Cosby and as for the Wide Receivers.

Eric Decker, who makes a better slot receiver at a cost of $405,000 this year, $490,000 in 2012 and $575,000 in 2013. Matthew Willis will make $480,000 this year and be a Restricted Free Agent at the end of the season. Demaryius Thomas should return next week and of course, the aforementioned Quan Cosby. There is also Eron Riley, Mark Dell and Jamel Hamler waiting in the wings, so it isn't like the Front Office is gutting the team.

Eddie Royal also is, and he is generating as much, if not more, interest around the league than Lloyd, league sources tell ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Denver began shopping the receivers after each requested a trade, team sources told Schefter. Both are in the final year of their contracts and both are seeking new deals.

Here's another theory: Trading Lloyd to the Rams not only reunites him with McD (who got a career year out of him), but it could help them win a few games and take them out of the Luck Sweepstakes. Better yet, with Sam Bradford going down and the alleged trade request rumor from Kyle Orton, why not send a package deal to the Rams. They will have high draft picks. Due to the familiarity with these two players, it could be that St. Louis will play ball.

Now if they can trade Eddie to the Dolphins, maybe that takes care of them. Or the Panthers. They need WR's to build around Cam. And that is closer to home for Royal (Va.Tech boy).
 
The current lineup for the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes (The Dolphins play Monday night).

Colts (0-6)
Rams (0-5)
Dolphins (0-4)
Denver Broncos (1-4)
Jaguars (1-5)
Panthers (1-5)

What it really looks like is a plan to at least get more EFX guys (read draft picks) for next season. I would say that they are trying to make a quicker turnaround and go with the young players, build a nucleus on their terms and either get a QB or add more talent around the current QB. To me, that makes more sense. It is a good idea to put yourself in the best possible position to keep from rebuilding each year. So if EFX wants to hedge their bets, can you blame them? They are showing us that they want to win just as bad as the fans. 

This is also why John Bena keeps stressing not to fall in love with players. A Fantasy Football fetish is one thing, but the NFL is turning into a mercenary league. Don't get attached to the name on the back. The name on the front is where it's at.

Go Broncos!
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