clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

John Elway pays for production, not potential

John Elway is Missouri (the "Show Me" state) when it comes to contract extensions. Don’t expect to see him gambling on “potential,” which is just another way of saying you haven’t done it yet.

Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

I came across an article today that got me thinking (a dangerous endeavor, I know, especially after a three-day weekend). It was a section in Tuesday's MMQB about players around the league who are under pressure to prove themselves in 2016.

After starting with several paragraphs on Olivier Vernon (darn him and his market-changing contract!), the article went on to list three former Broncos as their top players under pressure to prove themselves: Brock Osweiler, Malik Jackson, Ryan Clady.

Let that sink in for a second. Out of the seven players under pressure to prove themselves around the league in 2016, nearly half were on the Broncos roster last year.

I don’t know why this struck me because we’ve talked about all three of those guys a lot this offseason. Then, today on The Afternoon Drive, in the midst of talking about Von Miller’s contract situation (because offseason), one of the guys started saying how John Elway mis-played the Danny Trevathan, Osweiler and Jackson contracts and could have had them all cheaper if he signed them earlier, etc.

When you combine these two thoughts you begin to see a clear picture of Elway’s philosophy on extensions. I completely disagree with the Afternoon Drive guys. The reason Elway didn’t re-sign Jackson and Osweiler is exactly the reason why they are on the first list. They are being paid for future potential that no one knows if they can deliver on.

Elway’s history with extensions shows that he clearly values proven production over potential. And that proven production is often at least two years with indications that you can continue at that level, if not improve upon it.

Look at some of the recent extensions Elway has signed:

  • Brandon Marshall (Two years leading the team in tackles. Young and relatively healthy.)
  • Derek Wolfe (Very productive his rookie year, improved in 2014 after injury in 2013, beasted out for 12 games in 2015. Young and now healthy.)
  • Demaryius Thomas (one of the most productive WRs in NFL history for the last three seasons. Young and healthy.)
  • Chris Harris (Played at high level for almost 3 years before receiving an extension. Young and healthy.)
  • Ryan Clady (Multiple Pro-Bowls and an All-Pro nod at the time of his extension. At the time was young and relatively healthy.)
  • (TBD) Von Miller (I see no reason to assume that Von won’t be signed to an extension. We can debate this in all the other threads, but for this one, let’s assume what we all hope for happens ;). Von has been top 5 at his position every full season he’s played. The production is clearly there.)

Those are all the major extensions Elway has negotiated of his own accord (I leave out C.J. Anderson because those were extenuating circumstances), and they all have in common the fact that the player was productive for at least two years before the extension and their salaries matched their production.

I put the last phrase on there because technically Malik Jackson fits the criteria, but just not at the salary he eventually signed. He was paid like a top 5 defensive lineman, and he has not consistently performed at that level (hence being on the high pressure list).

Of course, there is a downside to every strategy. Elway is likely never going to extend someone a year before his big year and get him on the cheap while he breaks out the next year. And every year when a player walks because he priced himself out of our budget, fans and analysts will say "we could have had him cheaper if we had signed him a year early." But that would mean paying for potential and hoping the player lived up to it, which is a very good way to get your team in cap hell, fast.

So we will likely continue to pay market rates or little below (if we are lucky with hometown discounts) because Elway wants the player to prove it as long as possible before handing out the deal. He is even building in fail safes in case the "proven" player’s production drops off. He has been building in team options in the final years of players’ contracts so we can potentially void them and still get a comp pick as opposed to cutting the player outright.

So, when looking into the future, we can use this philosophy/formula to semi-predict who is the most likely to be re-signed and when. This is why I am very optimistic about Emmanuel Sanders getting a deal done soon and why Darian Stewart is likely gone next year (or at least won’t be extended this year).

What do you think Broncos Country - do you agree with Elway’s extension philosophy?