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With Bolles locked up, there’s no reason to ignore Justin Simmons

I spoke with Over the Cap’s Nick Korte to pick his brain on 2021, Justin Simmons, and Elway’s negotiations.

Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos
Bolles should be a Bronco for a long time to come.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Hours before the Denver Broncos played against the New Orleans Saints without a quarterback, they signed Garett Bolles to a $68 million extension. Caught between a declined fifth year option and the franchise tag, Elway chose door number three.

On the surface, the deal locked the 2017 first-round pick to the Broncos for the next four seasons with $38 million guaranteed. He will average $17 million per year, and Broncos Country loved it.

If you told me before this season that we’d celebrate Bolles signing a long-term extension that makes him one of the five best paid tackles in football, I don’t think I would have believed you. And yet, here we are.

As always, the devil is in the details, and now that the terms to Bolles’ extension have become public, Elway looks brilliant. When Over the Cap’s Nick Korte broke down the deal, he came to the following conclusion:

In my opinion, Bolles signed a very team friendly contract. Compared to what I had described as a potentially team friendly contract, the metrics here fall even below that. There was potentially the specter of two consecutive franchise tag usages that would have pushed Bolles’s earnings over two years down even further, likely to about $31 million.

After letting Korte’s analysis sink in and percolate for a day, I had to pick his brain.

1st and 10

It seems pretty incredible that the Broncos were able to both protect themselves by essentially making the contract moveable after two years AND keep Bolles’ cap hit so low in 2021. You mentioned this happened because $9 million in new money is spread over both 2020 and 2021. That means the one downside to this deal is that there’s less money to kick from this year into next, right?

Is that why the Broncos could have something like just $11 million in cap space next year?

Korte: Agreeing to this deal in 2020 does mean that the Broncos take on an additional $4 million in prorated signing bonus money now. (It would have been $5 million in 2021 had it been agreed to then.) However, my rough estimation of $11 million in 2021 cap space accounts for the offseason roster increasing to fill the Top 51 players that are counted against the cap, as well as anticipated restricted free agent tenders for Alexander Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, and Tim Patrick. With Justin Simmons the only major pending unrestricted free agent remaining, the Broncos should be in much better shape to handle a plummeted cap than most other teams.

2nd and 2

If he maintains his current level of play and had wanted to test free agency, do you believe Garett Bolles could have topped the David Bakhtiari, Laremy Tunsil, and Ronnie Stanley deals in what looks like a market that will be impacted by the Covid-19 cap?

Korte: I think there would have been a good chance that he could have at least signed a contract that was competitive with the top tier. Left tackle is one of the most important positions in the NFL, and top left tackles rarely hit the market. I also believe that the top players with expiring contracts will get paid regardless of a decrease in revenue from the 2020 season—the midlevel veteran will likely be the ones to feel the squeeze.

The short term risk for Bolles in 2021 would have been having to play on a franchise tag that would be lower than normal due to a lower salary cap. That’s a reasonable concern, but it’s one that also applied to Bakhtiari and Stanley, who signed more lucrative contracts.

3rd and inches

You mention that Bakhtiari’s deal is an “old school approach by the Packers, who insist on avoiding salary guarantees beyond the signing bonus.” Could you elaborate on that vs. how most teams create deals now?

Korte: In the earlier days of the salary cap era, teams overwhelmingly contained guaranteed money inside signing bonuses that in cap dollars are prorated over the length of the contract. In more recent years, teams have discovered the guarantee of base salaries as an alternative, in order to avoid proration and thus potential dead money acceleration. Some teams, like the Bucs and Raiders, operate more strictly on keeping guarantees only in base salaries and rarely, if ever, offering signing bonuses. Others, like the Packers and Steelers, are stricter on the other end in keeping the guarantees in signing bonuses, and then often make up for it by restructuring unguaranteed base salaries into guaranteed signing bonuses should they deem the player is worth keeping at that salary.

The Broncos use both techniques, not relying heavily on one or the other. In my opinion, I see that as a prudent way to operate, as every contract negotiation has unique circumstances that may justify different approaches. But it’s a ultimately a preference of each team’s front office as to how they want to accomplish that goal.

4th and inches:

I’ve run into this all year, but the Broncos will enter 2021 in such a weird situation as far as their team needs. If they decide to, they could create a little over $35 million vs. $2,882,353 in dead cap by moving Jurrell Casey, A.J. Bouye, and Kareem Jackson. Which means they could theoretically sign, re-sign, or pursue just about any player they want.

All this to say: what looks likeliest for these three and Justin Simmons?

Korte: I’ll wait until the end of the season to offer a firm opinion on what to do with the contracts of Casey, Bouye, and Jackson, though you are correct that those contracts could be terminated or renegotiated. There’s still some questions left to answer, such as:

Can Michael Ojemudia effectively replace Bouye as an outside CB alongside Bryce Callahan with Essang Bassey in the slot, while still maintaining good depth?

Can Dre’Mont Jones and/or McTelvin Agim emerge as young starting alternatives to Casey? Could Shelby Harris and/or DeMarcus Walker be re-signed for less?

Is Trey Marshall a viable replacement for Jackson? If not, who would be?

As for Justin Simmons, extending Bolles now means that they can tender him on the franchise tag again. They should only do that, however, if they’re serious about paying Simmons fairly on a long-term deal.

Hopefully, the two sides are currently in preliminary negotiations right now, and once Simmons is eligible to sign a long-term deal after the season, it can get done quickly, as in my opinion it should be an easy extension to get done if they want it to get done.

The Broncos have no reason to lowball Justin Simmons. None.
The Broncos have no reason to lowball Justin Simmons. None.