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Broncos have some tough choices ahead this offseason

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The Denver Broncos may have a lot of salary cap space, but that will get eating up quickly. There will be only so much of the pie to go around in 2020.

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Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos are projected to have around $60 million in salary cap space in 2020, but could bump that up to $70 million by cutting Joe Flacco early on and another $8 million if they part ways with the oft-injured Ron Leary. In short, the Broncos should have a fairly large chunk of cap to work with to build their 2020 roster.

However, there are a lot of roster decisions to make with players with potentially one foot out the door in free agency. They have a total of 14 unrestricted free agents this offseason. The biggest names on that list are Justin Simmons, Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris, and Chris Harris Jr. However, they also need to decide what to do with guys like Jeremiah Attaochu, Connor McGovern, and Will Parks.

Justin Simmons

We can already take Simmons off the list as Broncos’ President of Football Operations/GM John Elway has confirmed the team will be resigning him - most likely through a franchise tag early followed by a long-term deal. The average annual salary estimate will come in around $14 million a year, which would put Simmons near the top of the league in pay at the position. Spotrac estimates his market value to be a 5-year deal for $69.6 million.

That deal will eat up a big chunk of the $60-$78 million salary cap and it will be worth every penny to keep Simmons in the orange and blue for the foreseeable future.

Chris Harris Jr.

Next we have one of the greatest players in Broncos history in Chris Harris Jr. This decision is going to be filled with emotion, because it is never easy to see one of the teams all-time greats potentially move on. While there is a chance he returns, it looks slim as of right now. Harris will definitely test free agency in March and then we’ll find out if the Broncos have any interest in matching those offers.

John Elway gave a lengthy response to whether or not the team would top the offer they gave Harris earlier in the season, which left me thinking they would not top the offer and might not even make an offer if the opportunity arose.

“Again, we’re going to go back and evaluate it,” Elway said on Monday. “We’ll have to see what options we have and what’s available. We have to go back and look at the money that we have available. We will go through and make a plan before we get to that. We will budget it out and see what our plan is and put that plan together. I can’t answer that question right now. We’ll do that with all our players. We’re going to look at our budget, see how the pie fits, see how everybody fits in the pie and do the best job of using our money in the best ways that we can but also find the players that we hope can get us back to the playoffs and compete for a World Championship.”

Harris seems like he knows this and is focusing on free agency to see where things land.

“It’s different,” Harris said. “I’ve just been reflecting on my career here. It’s been an awesome ride. I’m just thankful, thankful for all of you. You have been great to me. Hopefully I’ve been able to be great with you all. It’s been a great working relationship with you all. I’m just thankful.”

The only way I see Harris returning to Denver is if he doesn’t get signed during the first phase of free agency. If he remains unsigned into the second phase and his value drops, he may consider coming back to Denver for less money and Elway might, at that point, decide there is enough room in the salary cap to get him back.

Shelby Harris

Here’s an unpopular opinion. Shelby Harris is going to get overpaid and the Broncos shouldn’t even attempt to resign him.

He has been a solid defensive end for the Broncos, but he isn’t the pass rusher people think he is. The back that up, SIS only recorded a total of 16 quarterback pressures from Harris in 2019. Another good point on Harris was made by Brandon Thorn of The Athletic on Thursday.

His most impressive number, however, was his nine batted passes that led all defensive linemen in the NFL. The bulk of them were a result of Harris getting his hands in passing lanes when he wasn’t able to beat the blocker in front of him as a pass rusher. It’s a valuable trait to have as a defensive lineman, but it also hints at a deeper issue with Harris’ game that was obvious on tape: He isn’t a very disruptive pass rusher.

All of this leads me to believe his value might be inflated and Elway would be wise to allow him to go ahead and test free agency. Instead, Elway should focus on bringing back Derek Wolfe.

Derek Wolfe

This might surprise people, but Wolfe is only a year older than Harris and has the chemistry with Von Miller that you just can’t replace. Wolfe will also be a hell of a lot cheaper and he was also a more disrupted pass rusher in 2019 than Harris was.

Wolfe all but confirmed he’ll take another hometown discount to stay in Denver and retire as a Broncos.

“It’s about being fair, that’s what it’s about,” Wolfe said. “I’m not trying to break the bank anywhere. If I have to go somewhere else, I’m not trying to break the bank there either. It’s all about what’s fair. I’m not trying to be top of the market and I’m not trying to be bottom of the market either.”

Those comments have to be music to Elway’s ears as he tries to get a solid team together with what salary cap space he has in 2020. Based on the above comments the comments here below, Wolfe and Elway will find a way to make this work.

“Obviously that plays a huge role in my decision making,” Wolfe said. “I want to retire here, but I also don’t want to seem desperate. It’s one of those things where I’ve said it so many times before, this is a business, and the business has to do what’s best for the business. If what’s best for the business is keeping me here, then I’m ecstatic about that. If what’s best for the business is me leaving, that sucks, but it is what it is. It’s a business.”

Continuity is going to be difficult in 2020, but hopefully the Broncos will maintain just enough to keep the defense trending upwards.

Phillip Lindsay

One thing I didn’t expect to hear about was a contract extension for Phillip Lindsay, but once I did it made sense. The undrafted player has been a workhorse in his first two seasons becoming the first undrafted player to start his career with back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons.

On Monday, Elway confirmed he plans to look at an extension for Lindsay this offseason.

“Yeah, we’ll look at that,” Elway said. “Again, we’ll get back into when we start planning and budgeting for 2020 and where we are money-wise. Obviously, Phillip has done a tremendous job and being the first college free agent to go over 1,000 yards (in two consecutive years to start his career). As Vic said last night, there are 32 dumb dumbs that didn’t draft him and I was one of them. Thank God we talked him into coming here.”

That is welcome news. Running back contracts in today’s NFL tend to not break the bank unless you are in the upper echelon of production. While Lindsay has been really good, he hasn’t produced at the top tier just yet. Extending him now would be both an excellent payday for the undrafted Lindsay and it won’t break the Broncos bank. Seems like a win-win type of situation for both sides.

Lindsay, meanwhile, alluded to his offseason plans. He will be changing his diet and focusing more on the nutrition side of being an NFL player. Those little details tend to pay big dividends during the grueling 16+ game season.

“I’m going to go and get healed up,” Lindsay said. “Then I’m going to start my plan for next year with my dieting and everything and go from there. I’ll probably take some little trips here and there with my girl—probably thinking about going somewhere like New York. Then we get back here, and we get back to work. We’re on our way to have a great season next year. We’re on a great road right now to doing that. Everybody has to be bought in and everybody has to do their part on the offseason so that we can get this going.”

The Rest

Of the remaining unrestricted free agents, I would like to see Elway resign McGovern, Parks, and Attaochu. McGovern and Garett Bolles were the only two offensive line to start every single snap in 2019. McGovern committed zero penalties, while Bolles had 17.

A good roster also has good depth. Both Will Parks and Jeremiah Attaochu fall under the good depth category. If Denver could bring back both of those guys, they would keep some solid depth in place behind the starters.

As for the rest of their 2020 unrestricted free agents, it will probably be best to let them move on. If Elway resigns Simmons, Wolfe, McGovern, Parks, and Attaochu, then I would estimate he would still have a real nice chunk of change left over for some free agent splashes as well.

No matter how you slice it, Elway and the Broncos front office has their work cut out for them this offseason.