The Denver Broncos have shaken things up at the top after firing Vance Joseph and most of his staff bringing in Vic Fangio as the new head coach. These changes could also signal a changing of the guard of sorts on the personnel side of things as well.
When looking for potential salary cap casualties, one must look at cap implications, age and production of the player, and depth of the position. My focus on this post will be looking at players who are in the Top 10 in cap number against the team, but there will obviously be cap casualties all on down the list. These are just where the numbers will matter the most.
Broncos Top 10 Salary Cap
|Player||Cap Number||Dead Money||Cap Savings|
|Player||Cap Number||Dead Money||Cap Savings|
|Chris Harris, Jr.||$8,766,668||$866,668||$7,900,000|
Of those among the Top 10 in cap, I see five players the Broncos may consider parting ways with to open up salary cap space heading into free agency. Case Keenum is not one of them. If he is not the starting quarterback heading into 2019, then he’ll likely be retained as an expensive backup. The cap hit is just too much to stomach in my opinion.
Of these five players, I don’t actually expect all five to be cut. I just feel these are the five players who will receive consideration given their cap number and dead money. I would expect at least 2-3 of these veterans to be leaving the team in March and are players that I view as a high probability of being cut for cap reasons in 2019.
1. Darian Stewart
With two years remaining on his contract and diminishing results on the field, Darian Stewart should receive strong consideration for being cut heading into free agency. The dead money is a bit high at $2.8M this year, but the Broncos would free up $3.6M this year and $6.9M next year in cap space.
The safety position has some young players coming into their own in the NFL. Will Parks has especially been impressive lately. And while Justin Simmons has struggled, he was also asked to do a lot of new things in 2018 and the new coaching staff will likely do a better job of putting him in position to be successful moving forward.
Given the depth of younger players at the position and his salary cap implications, Stewart is in real danger of being one of those cap casualties in 2019.
2. Brandon Marshall
With the sixth-highest cap hit for the Broncos in 2019, inside linebacker Brandon Marshall is in a precarious position of being a cap casualty. His play has diminished a bit and his experience is now becoming expensive to keep around.
The good news for those who want to see him remain in the orange and blue in the foreseeable future is that he has made it known that a contract rework is definitely on the table. He loves being a Bronco and being in Denver.
Frankly, those are the kinds of players you want on a team. The position group is not hugely deep either, so a rework to keep Marshall could make sense. He is likely losing snaps to Josey Jewell anyway, but having a trusted veteran there in the mix is never a bad thing when it comes to depth.
I’m just not sure Elway and the Broncos are all that interested in working out a deal under the new coaching staff.
3. Ronald Leary
Ronald Leary has been a solid player - when he is playing. He played in 11 games in 2017 and just six games in 2018. The health factor is definitely going to come into play when looking at the cost ratio of dead money and cap savings this year.
Leary has the fifth-highest cap hit on the team, but the Broncos could move on from him it gets complicated. Ozark, a member here at MHR, had a good breakdown of what his release in 2019 would mean:
Ron Leary: $5.35M of his 2019 salary is already guaranteed for injury. Per Spotrac, he also has a per game roster bonus of $15.625 for each regular season game he is active (6 “likely” amounting to $93.75K). So if he’s released before June 1, the 2019 cap savings would be ($8.15M 2019 base salary + $.09375M roster bonus + $.1M workout bonus – $5.35M guaranteed for injury salary – $.875M in 2020 prorated signing bonus that would accelerate against the 2019 cap) $2.11875M.
From a business standpoint, that doesn’t make Leary’s contract as an attractive of an option for freeing up cap as it would seem just from a cursory glance at things. The bigger savings would apparently come in 2020, so it may make sense to keep him one more year despite his injury concerns.
4. Derek Wolfe
This one is going to ruffle some feathers, but Derek Wolfe is also making this list of potential cap casualties in 2019. He has the fourth-highest cap number on the team and his play as clearly been more about being a run stopper than a pass rusher.
However, you can breathe a little easier for this year. I personally think the Broncos are going to let Wolfe play out his contract and become a free agent in 2020. They could save $8.5 million in cap with a $2.375 million dead money hit by cutting him this year, but if they move on from the three guys above the dead money accumulation would start to become a bit uncomfortable in my opinion.
That said, we haven’t heard any whiffs of an extension for Wolfe either and I would think that is something we would have gotten an indication of by now. I think the plan is to let Wolfe move on in free agency after this season, but we’ll have to see.
Vic Fangio and the new coaching staff could end up deciding that Wolfe is a vital component of the defense and things could change long-term for Wolfe in Denver.
5. Emmanuel Sanders
Now for the saddest part of this post. I think Emmanuel Sanders is going to be the most attractive cap casualty on this list for Elway and the Broncos to consider. First, he is coming off an Achilles injury that may or may not be healed by Week 1 and he has the third-highest cap number on the team with a nearly $13 million cap hit.
Cutting Sanders would free up an immediate $10.25 million in cap with just $2.687 million in dead money and unlike many of the other players on this list, there will be no cap implications carrying over into 2020 from this move.
In five seasons with Denver, Sanders has accumulated 374 receptions for 4,994 yards and 26 touchdowns to go along with two Pro Bowl selections. Four of those seasons he had less than inspiring quarterback play too. The Broncos offense also suffered incredibly after he went down with that injury in Week 12 as Sanders was a quality security blanket for Case Keenum on third downs.
Yet despite all of that, he will remain the most attractive options on the business side of the equation as the Broncos move into free agency in March.