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How could a 2021 cap crunch hurt the Broncos?

COVID-19 could force some tough decisions on critical veterans.

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos
A lack of fans in the stands could force some tough decisions.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

There’s no escaping the impact that COVID-19 has wreaked on everyone’s lives, and the NFL is not immune to it.

ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported on Monday that the league could suffer a $3 billion loss of revenue without fans in the stands during the 2020 season.

That’s a big number. For most, it’s so large that it’s hard to truly measure what impact that could have. DNVR’s Andrew Mason is not most people.

While that kind of cap hit wouldn’t hurt the Broncos as much as teams like the Eagles, Steelers, or Falcons, it’d still push them over the cap before free agency and the rookie pool is considered. While it’s completely possible the NFL would find a way to ease the transition, it’s no guarantee.

Which got me wondering to what John Elway and the Broncos would do if this turned into what amounts to a nightmare scenario for at least half the league. So I decided to check out how the Broncos could create cap space in 2021. Keep in mind that some of these are more realistic than others, it’s simply a thought experiment that’s worth having with so many unknowns ahead. All numbers come from Over the Cap.

Let Justin Simmons walk

Adam Schefter was kind enough to remind me that the Broncos haven’t extended Justin Simmons yet. As I wrote in GIF Horse, chances are his next contract resets the market for safety contracts. At that price, the Broncos could consider him replaceable in Fangio’s scheme. They could simply let him play out 2020 on the franchise tender and watch him walk in 2021 free agency.

Bryce Callahan

After a lost 2020 the pressure is on the former Bear to live up to his new renegotiated contract. If Elway and the Broncos let him go, it’d free up $7,382,353 at the cost of $1,333,334.

Jurrell Casey

If it seems crazy to let a All Pro defensive tackle walk, consider the Tennessee Titans did so to pay a running back. Dumping Casey would free up $12,281,000 next year and cost nothing against the cap.

A.J. Bouyé

Like Casey, Bouyé is playing on a contract Elway acquired in a trade. This means moving him again would add no dead money to the cap. It’d free up $13,500,000.

Duke Dawson

The former Patriot was acquired in a trade and so cutting or trading him at any point over the remainder of his rookie contract carries no dead cap hit. If the Broncos did so in 2021 it’d free up a little over a million dollars in cap room.

DaeSean Hamilton, Royce Freeman, Josey Jewell, Isaac Yiadom

All four of these members of the 2018 NFL draft class are entering critical year threes with rookie contracts that aren’t anywhere near prohibitive to move on from in 2021. Each would free up a shade under a million dollars, and Freeman’s dead cap hit would be the worst at $250,000.

Nick Vannett

The decision to draft Albert Okwuegbunam after the move to sign Vannett to a $5.7 million contract could lead to a short stay for the veteran. With a cap crunch looming trimming a blocking tight end off the roster as Albert O finds his stride in year two could make sense since it also frees up $2,700,000 and only costs $875,000 against the cap.

Jeff Driskel

Like Vannett, Driskel was the kind of ho-hum depth move fans tend to forget about between free agency and training camp. The former Bengal and Lion signed for two years and $5 million. If the Broncos find Brett Rypien or a 2021 draftee worth cutting ties with the veteran for, it’d free up $2,500,00 at the cost of $750,000.

Melvin Gordon

When the Broncos initially signed Gordon to a two-year, $16 million contract, it was inconceivable that they’d eat $2 million to let him go a year later. This year has been wild.

Kareem Jackson

Perhaps Michael Ojemudia or Tre Marshall play well enough to move on from the 33-year old Jackson. Doing so would free up $10 million and cost $2,882,353 against the 2021 cap.

Von Miller

To some it’s been unfathomable that John Elway would even consider this; to others it’s only made too much sense for five years now. When I wrote about Von contracting COVID-19 in February, it reminded me that the 10th-year pass rusher is now north of 30 and reaching an age where many speed rushers begin to hit a decline. The Broncos could deem another sub-10 sack year as evidence it’s time to find a trade partner for the future Hall of Famer. Doing so would cost just $4,125,000 against next year’s cap and open up $18 million.

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