The Denver Broncos were busy during the first two days of free agency. After re-signing wide receiver Andre Caldwell to a two-year deal, the team went out and signed three Pro Bowl defenders to contracts totaling nearly $110 million dollars, including $63 million in guarantees.
Such a big spending spree has caused some to suggest that Denver is looking to win now and pay the price of being in salary cap jail just a few seasons ahead. Team executive and general manager John Elway suggests otherwise.
"Everyone keeps talking about, ‘Well, you're doing this to win now.' I say, ‘No, we're doing this to win (from) now on.' That's what we're doing. We're not mortgaging our future," Elway said on The Dave Logan Show on 850 KOA earlier this week (per the team's official website). "We had some cap room this year and we had some cash available and we're able to get in the bidding for these top free agents."
The three big deals consisted of a four-year, $22.5 million contract with safety T.J. Ward, a three-year, $30 million contract with pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, and a six-year, $57 million contract with cornerback Aqib Talib. The contracts have been structured in such a way to spread out over the course of each player's contract, giving Denver cap flexibility a few years down the road.
Instead of just taking Elway's word, however, I wanted to dig a little deeper and reached out to several NFL agents. Though anonymity was requested, each agent had an opinion on Denver's offseason, with mixed reviews.
One agent said he was "shocked" at Denver's willingness to spend big money on the free-agent defenders a year removed from the FaxGate fiasco with defensive end Elvis Dumervil last offseason. "The T.J. Ward signing was a great value given the Donte Whitner deal," he said, citing the four-year, $28 million deal that the safety signed with the Browns. "Ware's (contract) is a shocker."
According to this player representative (who does not represent Dumervil), the Broncos offered Dumervil a three-year, $18 million contract after their original offer fell through due to fax machine complications, causing the team to release the veteran pass-rusher. That's an average of just $6 million a season, $4 million less than what the team will be paying Ware each year.
"It will be interesting to see how these signings affect deals for Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas next offseason," he continued. The Broncos will need to re-sign players including Demaryius and Julius next offseason in addition to outside linebacker Von Miller. Combined, those three players will be paid base salaries of just $7.1 million this fall, an average of just $2.3 million per player.
After watching Elway hand out big deals this offseason, those three stars will be looking for big contracts when they hit the open market. It will cost to bring them back, but Elway remains confident that they will have the cap room to do it.
Another player representative said the franchise was "doggedly pursuing a championship," and praised Elway for putting productive players on the field while staying within cap restraints. Yet another agent said he was not shocked by any of the moves as they are in alignment with the mantra that Elway has established in Dove Valley since Day 1.
"If the Broncos see an opportunity to sign a player the team believes is better than ones they have, they do whatever it takes to sign them," the agent said. Despite Elway's statements, this agent echoed the beliefs that the signings could prove to be harmful to the salary cap down the road. "Their making it clear that they aren't going to hold anything back in attempt to a win now."
It was said that Denver has a short time to develop younger players during their Super Bowl window under quarterback Peyton Manning—a time frame of approximately two years. "Developing a young quarterback [is] crucial," an agent said, referencing Denver's all-in mentality.
The player reps are right. Even if Denver's cap is in good shape two years from now, the Broncos' roster will have undergone a complete makeover by that point. At the very least, Manning will be gone within a few years, and if the Broncos do not plan accordingly, Denver may face a rebuilding season a year removed from a Super Bowl run.
Study hard, Brock Osweiler. In a few years, this potentially salary cap-strapped team may be yours. If Brock is not up to the challenge, Denver will regress considerably. For now, trusting Elway is all fans can do.