Nobody gave them a shot. The media, football analysts and pundits counted the Broncos out well before the game took place. Yet Broncos fans remained loyal and steadfast in their belief that after several years of falling short, this would be the year they would once again harness the most prized possession in football — the Lombardi Trophy.
Such blatant disrespect placed a chip on the teams shoulder, who embraced the underdog role and used it as the fuel to burn their fire to earn the franchise a third championship.
The identity of the 2015 Denver Broncos was forged in the infancy of the season. As Head Coach Gary Kubiak said in the post-game celebration, they identified themselves as ‘grinders’ — who throughout the course of the season poured unfathomable amounts of blood, sweat and tears poured into ever single gridiron battle they stormed into.
Truly, there wasn’t a mountain high enough the Broncos couldn’t reach and with their efforts on the field this glorious Sunday, they have cemented themselves in the annals of football history. Moreover, for fans of their beloved franchise, one of the most memorable teams they have ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
But with the 2015 season in the books, John Elway and the Broncos front office will look towards the future. Timeless hours will be put in to developing a plan that will be pinnacle into the hopes of forging the next football dynasty.
A plethora of impact performers such as Von Miller, Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan could hit the open market. Other individuals such as Brandon Marshall, C.J. Anderson and Brandon McManus could find other teams in 2016, but will likely be retained due to their restricted or exclusive right tags that will allow the Broncos to strike at the very least, affordable one-year deals with them.
What will be Elway’s plan of attack?
What will the Broncos due in order to create longevity and hold up to the teams ‘win now and from now on’ philosophy? I offer my opinions on the matter below.
Priority One: Retaining Von Miller
The first order of business to help forge a dynasty is for the Denver Broncos to resign outside linebacker extraordinaire and Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller. According to recent reports, the Broncos are expected to franchise Miller and hope to hash out a long-term deal with their star defensive player.
Unless the two sides reach a long-term deal in the next month, Broncos will use franchise tag on Pro Bowl LB Von Miller, per league sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 7, 2016
Rumors have circulated that Miller is seeking to be the highest paid defensive player in the league, which would merit $19 million dollars annually in a contract and surpass the six-year, $114 million dollar contract Ndamukong Suh received from the Miami Dolphins last off-season. Sources have also indicated that the guaranteed money for any potential deal with Miller will be upwards of $60 million dollars.
The Broncos aren’t going to let their premier player on defense just walk away and will have no problem using the franchise tag on him, which is expected to be around $15 million dollars for the 2016. It is a steep price to pay, but a relative bargain for one of the NFL’s most dynamic defenders. I have little doubt that the Broncos will be able to strike a long-term deal with Von, and that they will likely use the money they will save with Peyton Manning’s (likely) retirement to put towards the ‘Von Miller Trust Fund.’
Priority Two: Retaining and upgrading the trenches
One player who seems destined to chase the money in free agency is defense end Maiik Jackson, who reportedly turned down an offer from the Broncos a month ago and is seeking a contract with a yearly value over $12 million dollars a year.
The Broncos would have to work some cap magic in order to retain him, but teams who are in need of a high-quality pass rusher and player will certainly be able to give Jackson more money than Denver can likely afford. Though the budding-star defensive end told Mile High Report's Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann after the Super Bowl that he hopes to be a Bronco next season.
If the Broncos can keep Jackson, tremendous. If not, they will have to have a contingency plan in place that places a premium on selecting a defensive end early. Denver is fortunate, as this happens to be one of the best years in recent memory with talent all across the board on the defensive front that they have the opportunity to take advantage of.
The Broncos need to draft a defensive end also is due in part to another player on the defensive line who is scheduled to hit free agency. Antonio Smith, who may likely retire after becoming a Super Bowl Champion, is also eligible to hit the open market and given his age, it is best for Denver to search for more youthful prospects at the position.
On the other side of the ball, the franchise certainly needs a lot of work. Former All-Pro and Pro-Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady is open to restructuring his contract, but the team desperately needs to reload the talent on that side of the ball in order to have a more efficient offense in 2016.
Louis Vasquez is scheduled to make over six million dollars next season and he too could be a candidate for restructure or possibly cut in order for the Broncos to afford better players at other positions. Evan Mathis, who signed a one-year deal with the team, played through a majority of the season with injuries and it is unsure at this time whether or not he will be retained.
The ambiguous situation at guard isn’t the only issue for Denver, tackle Ryan Harris is scheduled to be a free agent and center Matthew Paradis will likely receive an exclusive rights offer from the team. Undoubtedly, the front office will expect 2015 second-round selection to assume the right tackle position and hope he is an upgrade over Michael Schofield, who could potentially swing into guard if need be.
Nevertheless, bank on the Broncos pursuing a high-caliber offensive lineman, as well as selecting one early in the draft in order to bolster their front five. They simply cannot afford to ignore doing so, or the struggles fans witnessed this season will be evident again as the team looks to make it back to the promise land in 2016.
Priority Three: Choosing the men in the middle
Inside linebackers Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are scheduled to be free agents, but one of them won’t be hitting the market. Marshall is a RFA and it’s a no-brainer that the Broncos will offer him a high-round tender in order to retain his services. Trevathan is a different story. He will likely hit the open market and should garner plenty of interest, especially from the Chicago Bears, who are in need of an ILB.
Unless the Broncos ask several players (such as Ryan Clady) to restructure their deals, the Broncos might not have enough financial assets in regard to cap space to re-sign the hard-nosed veteran defender who has proven to be one of the top players at the position in the game
If push comes to shove and Trevathan heads to a different team in 2016, look for the Broncos to place an emphasis on drafting his replacement early in the NFL Draft. The team was rumored to be interested in several high profile prospects in last years draft on the inside, but ultimately went another route with their selections as the board did not fall their way in respect to those players.
The ultimate variable: Brock Osweiler
Keeping the historic Denver defense is likely the most integral part of of a dynastic blueprint that will give the Broncos a chance to win back-to-back Super Bowl's, but making a decision on who their quarterback of the future will be most certainly will be an important part of that formula.
Elway's hand-picked quarterback Brock Osweiler is also a free agent. When he took over the reins of the Broncos offense, he showed maturation and performed admirably, setting in motion several comeback victories for the squad that helped put them in position to win the top overall seed in the AFC en route to a Super Bowl victory. He had his fair share of issues, but those can be corrected with more game experience.
It would be a huge roll of the dice for the Broncos to not offer Osweiler a contract extension. Can they go into next season with Trevor Siemian as their only quarterback on their roster? I believe not, however, the variable in the 'Brock equation' comes down to cost.
The going rate for starting quarterbacks will continue to rise over the following years, and it is reasonable to assume that retaining Osweiler will cost the Broncos at least $10 million dollars per year, if not more. Is he worth it? Yes, I believe that having him available to lead to team in 2016 is better than any other alternative we could find in free agency. Denver could opt to draft a quarterback, but expecting first-year player to show demonstrable efficacy in his first year would be tenuous at best.
Let's not forget that, technically, Peyton Manning is still under contract with the Broncos for the 2016 season, although it looks doubtful he is returning to the orange and blue, if he doesn't retire at all.
The mathematics and Denver's cap situation
As of today, the Broncos currently have ~ $11 million dollars on slate to resign all of the aforementioned free agents. Quite simply, that isn't even going to come close to being able to retain all of our players, and indicates that cuts and restructures will have to be made in order to keep some of our prime players.
If Peyton Manning retires, the Broncos will gain $21.5 million dollars in cap space, which will likely be designated towards a long-term extension with Von Miller. The team could also have a tough decision to make with DeMarcus Ware. The 33-year-old outside linebacker is still performing at a high level, but with Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett waiting in the wings, the team might not feel he is worth the $11.6 million salary he is scheduled to earn next season. If the team were to cut Ware, they would save $10 million, but would incur $1.6 million in dead money.
But perhaps Ware decides to ride off into the sunset with Manning and the team doesn't have to get into talks with him in such a manner anyways. It's a possibility that we must factor into this assessment. If those two were to move on or the Broncos move on from them, Denver's cap space increases to a lofty $45 million without any other additional moves.
Then comes the prospect of restructuring Ryan Clady's contract. He is scheduled to make over $10 million next year, but it is a virtual guarantee the Broncos won't bring him back at that price. Clady has stated he is willing to restructure, but I am under the impression Denver will be asking him to take a pay cut. Expect the Broncos to find a way to meet in the middle with Ryan at a base salary of $5 million a year, with the potential of earning more if he meets certain incentives. If they can't, the team would save nearly $9 million dollars by parting ways with him.
Other candidates for restructure or cuts would be Louis Vasquez ($6 million) and Britton Colquitt ($4.5 million). I have a hard time envisioning the team paying those two players that type of coin based on their performances this year, though I must state Colquitt was clutch in the playoffs and definitely in the Super Bowl. Cutting those two would net the Broncos another $9 million dollars to put towards players who might have a greater impact with the Broncos in the long-term.
When it is all said and done, Denver will have a lot of cap space on hand (potentially over $60 million) to make moves with their free agents and those outside of the team. Keep in mind that players like Brandon Marshall, C.J. Anderson, Todd Davis, Matthew Paradis, Brandon McManus and Bennie Fowler are RFA's or ERFA's who would all be able to be retained for less than $10 million dollars. Don't forget to factor in the Denver's draft class, which will likely bring in 10 players and account for a rookie pool of $6 million.
Will the Broncos be able to keep all of their high-profile free agents? It's doubtful, but rest assured that John Elway and capologist Mike Sullivan will be able to crunch numbers well enough to keep a hefty amount of this Super Bowl winning team intact and ready to roar for a two-peat in 2016.
So Broncos Country, what would be your blueprint to help build a potential dynasty for our beloved franchise? Sound off your strategies in the comments section.