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The Broncos successfully hacked free agency this year

John Elway came away with Pro Bowl caliber players, without having to pay exorbitant prices on the open market.

The major moves have been made in free agency, and Denver has come away from the fray filling some of their biggest needs, at the positions we all expected them to address, just not in the way we thought they would address them.

For the last several weeks we have been talking about potential free agent targets for the Denver Broncos, and the biggest needs have been corner, defensive line, and interior offensive line. We surveyed Byron Jones, trading for Darius Slay, Joe Thuney, DJ Reader, Chris Jones, and the list goes on.

Denver had plenty of cap to spend so we assumed they would be very active. Well, they ended up being active, but just not in the way we expected. Aside from signing Graham Glasgow, who I thought was a very solid pickup, Denver didn’t sign any other players from the open market.

The Broncos instead tendered or re-signed two of their own guys in Mike Purcell and DeVante Bausby, who will likely be key role players on defense, and then surprised a lot of us by trading for two Pro Bowl defenders who we didn’t really have on our radar.

The trade for AJ Bouye last week and Jurrell Casey yesterday were very shrewd moves for John Elway, and I think represent a bit of a hacking of the current free agent market. It’s not that teams haven’t done this before, but I think it was clear that this was Denver’s strategy going in, and I love it.

Here’s why trading for those two players is so brilliant, in my opinion.

Cost controlled, non-guaranteed, below market value contracts.

That’s intentionally a mouthful because Denver gets several advantages for going the trade route instead of free agency from a contract perspective.

The first is that these are Pro Bowl players who are already locked into deals that were signed by their former teams and they still have years left. Jurrell Casey is under contract for three more years, and AJ Bouye’s deal runs through 2021. Neither of these guys are looking for new deals with the trade, unlike a Darius Slay situation or Stefon Diggs where you have to pay to acquire the players, and then give them a raise.

Second, both contracts are non-guaranteed. Denver could walk away from both players after this year with zero dead money. We obviously hope they won’t, but for a team who got raked over the coals last year for signing two guys who didn’t see much of the field due to injuries, Denver has now given themselves adequate protection to move on from the new players if they decline, get hurt, or don’t pan out.

Third, and most importantly, both these deals ended up below free agent market value, and will continue to look like better deals as the cap increases and players get paid even more next year.

Take a look at the corner market for instance. Byron Jones set the market at $16.5M per season, and while I think he’s worth it, that’s still a lot of dough. Then there’s guys like James Bradberry and Trey Waynes, both who received ~$14M per year, plenty of guarantees, and are significantly worse players than Bouye.

For the defensive line, guys like Javon Hargrave and DJ Reader (who I really like) received in the ~$13M range, while Jurrell Casey will have around a $12M cap hit for the next two seasons.

The Broncos were potentially in on a lot of the other guys listed above, until the market got a little too expensive, so rather than overpay, Denver turned to the trade market to get guys who were lower priced, and arguably were better quality than some of the free agent options.

Lastly, another piece of this is that neither Bouye and Casey will count against the compensatory pick formula, so in the comp formula’s eyes, Denver will have potentially three or four free agents (McGovern, Chris Harris, Shelby Harris, and Derek Wolfe) sign with other teams for decent money, and will really only be offset by Graham Glasgow.

Meaning, Denver could potentially have bought themselves a couple of compensatory picks next year, that will essentially cancel out the draft capital they gave up to acquire the players and then some. (Prince Amukamara wouldn’t count against the formula either, by the way.)

So by having a budget or price ceiling in mind, sticking to it, and using their cap dollars wisely, Denver has filled all their major roster holes without overpaying, which is extremely difficult to do when heading into free agency essentially needing three full blown starters.

It’s still not over, and more moves could be made, but already I’m really jazzed about what Denver has done so far, and think the maneuvers Elway has pulled really sets the team up well this year, while also giving flexibility in the future.

You could say these moves help Denver win now, but also from now on (are we still allowed to use that?)

Also, Joe Rowles and I cover this during a deep dive on all the free agency moves, giving our thoughts on each of Denver’s acquisitions and what we’ve seen from them on tape, all on this week’s episode of Cover 2 Broncos. Check it out here, or in the player at the top of the page!


Do you like Denver’s approach to Free Agency so far?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    Heck yes I do
    (1765 votes)
  • 11%
    (345 votes)
  • 22%
    (682 votes)
  • 4%
    (144 votes)
  • 0%
    (12 votes)
  • 0%
    (15 votes)
  • 0%
    I don’t like Denver’s free agency AND I don’t like this poll and I’m gonna tell you about it in the comments.
    (11 votes)
2974 votes total Vote Now