Earlier this off-season, Malik Jackson infamously claimed that the Denver Broncos could have easily re-signed himself and Danny Trevathan if they had approached them the previous season with a deal.
While I vehemently disagree with Malik's take, a more sound argument could be made for catching some of next year's free agent crop early before their prices rise even higher. The problem with this year's free agent class was that at this time last year, all of them had major question marks.
2016 Free Agents
Malik Jackson was a career rotational player (albeit a very good one) and had never played more than 50% of the defensive snaps in a year. He was also transitioning to a new scheme. Now, most people projected he would shine in a full time role, but no one knew for sure how he would handle a full load and additional run support responsibilities. He needed at least a year to prove himself before warranting a long-term deal, and he got it.
Mel Kiper's three-round mock of the Broncos
Check out our 2016 Broncos draft central for our entire 2016 NFL Draft coverage to date.
Danny Trevathan had a brand new knee cap and had missed most of the previous season. I remember a lot of question marks surrounding the health of our ILB core at the beginning of last year. No GM in their right mind would have handed out an early contract to Trevathan at that point.
Then we have Brent (Brock? Brad?) Osweiler. Not an NFL start to his name.
2017 Free Agents
Contrast that with next year's class of free agents: Brandon Marshall, Emmanuel Sanders, and Darian Stewart. I know we have others for 2017, but these are the 3 most important in my book so I just focused on them. Each of these three had an outstanding season and are in the prime of their careers with almost zero question marks. Last year's class was the Riddler compared to these guys (get it!? because the Riddler has a lot of question marks on his costume).
Now, before we start, let's take a quick peek at our cap situation and set some parameters.
According to Over The Cap, Denver has around $8.2 million in cap space currently. That does not factor in Ronnie Hillman's new deal which is around $2 million. That puts us at just enough to sign our draft class which OTC projects at around $6.4 million. That leaves us essentially at our limit from a cap perspective. For this exercise, I am going to cut Colquitt as he is the 4th highest paid punter in the league at a $4 million cap hit, which is wayyy too much for any punter, let alone a league average (or below) punter. This move nets us $3.25 in cap space. So, I will set a $3 million cap limit for any new contract extension.
Since we only have a $3 million limit we can realistically only extend one of the 3 key free agents I have identified above. Over the next few days, I will be making a case for keeping each player, as well as potential contract parameters. Today we will look at...
The Case: There were some question marks about health heading into the 2015 season, but Marshall put those fears to rest playing 83% of the defensive snaps with screws in his foot. Marshall followed up a breakout 2014 season with a stellar 2015 year that saw him finish the season ranked as one of the top inside linebackers by Pro Football Focus. In addition, Marshall is just one of those guys that you want on your team based on his work ethic and attitude. The guy showed up at off-season workouts without a contract. That is very rare and commendable.
Why #Broncos Marshall is leader He signed waiver to participate bc "I wanted to show commitment I have to improving myself and this defense"— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) April 18, 2016
I have always liked Marshall and was even more sold on him after reading his tribute to Peyton Manning. The fact that he worked his way up from the practice squad and cut his teeth against Peyton Manning every day to become the player he is today is pretty cool. Let's lock this kid up long-term!
The Contract: To get a starting place for a contract, we needn't look further than Brandon's former partner in crime, Danny Trevathan. Both guys have comparable experience in the league, are at similar points in their careers and put up comparable production. Below is Danny's contract he signed in March.
Now, I am not a cap wizard so I will rely on others to correct me or offer better solutions, but the interesting thing to me about this contract is the 2017 cap hit. The Bears have also structured this deal to where the majority of the dead money is gone after the first 2 years, which is also when his price per year begins to rise. So the team could theoretically get out from the contract after the first 2 years with minimal damage.
Currently, Brandon would make $2.5m on his RFA tender; which is only $1m off from Trevathan's lowest year of his contract. Depending on how Elway wanted to structure the deal, we could up Marshall's cap number by $2-3m (remember we have a budget of $3m) with a final cap hit of $5ish million this year with an extension, and then have the higher hits come later. Actually, at $6.1m APY, his later years of the deal wouldn't raise that much anyway.
The argument against this move would be that Elway typically hasn't valued the ILB position in the past in terms of money allocated or draft picks spent. However, there was rumors that Elway tried to trade up for ILB, C.J. Mosley in the 2014 draft. Plus, the cupboard is pretty bare behind Marshall in terms of proven talent at the position and we are already thrusting a newbie into the ILB role this year.
Marshall is a guy I want on my team. If I'm Elway, I get this done ASAP before he goes off for another great year.
Look for the second installment tomorrow as I make a case for Emmanuel Sanders.