I’ve spent a ton of time studying the Broncos’ defense since January. Like many of you I was ecstatic when the Broncos found a way to trade for Jurrell Casey and feel cautiously optimistic that A.J. Bouye will step in and be a number one corner for the rebuilt secondary. After watching Alexander Johnson and diving into Bradley Chubb’s first four weeks of the year, I’m confident this Broncos’ defense could be pretty special.
Yet there remains what I can only describe as something like a sense of impending doom hanging over it all. March feels like a lifetime ago now, back before most of us had any real understanding as to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea that the 2021 cap could be impacted seemed like absurdity then. Now it’s all but certain.
A number of possibilities remain plausible to deal with a completely unexpected revenue loss, but no one seems to know what to expect right now. It’s one reason the Broncos could be wise to stay frugal with Justin Simmons’ camp, even if it casts a rather large spotlight on the contract situations of the entire defense.
The following players are set to become unrestricted free agents in 2021:
- Todd Davis
- Justin Simmons
- Mike Purcell
- Shelby Harris
- DeVante Bausby
I did not mention Alexander Johnson, who is also set to become a free agent. If he makes the kind of improvements I expect him to after studying his 2019 tape, there’s little chance Elway does not retain him as a Restricted Free Agent.
If Justin Simmons is as good in his second year with Vic Fangio as he was in his first, the Broncos will apply the franchise tag a second time. It will still be cheaper than what he stands to make in free agency in 2021, barring a total collapse of the Safety market.
The harsh reality with the rest of the impending free agents is COVID makes it a mountain climb to stick around past this year. Todd Davis is a solid player and veteran leader the Broncos already tried to move up for Patrick Queen replace. Shelby Harris now has both Dre’Mont Jones and McTelvin Agim to eat into his snaps by year’s end. Purcell and Bausby are former AAF players, so the league has already given up on them once.
In spring the Broncos aggressively pursued talent like Melvin Gordon, Graham Glasgow, Jurrell Casey, and A.J. Bouye. John Elway was aggressive when he needed to be, with rookie contracts for Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton, and Bradley Chubb providing excess value. The pandemic and NFL teams’ need to cut seating could make them pay dearly for it.
Von Miller, Kareem Jackson, Jurrell Casey, A.J. Bouye, and Bryce Callahan may sweat phone calls from the Duke this season. All have contracts where the Broncos save more by cutting or trading than holding onto them. If it seems hard to believe John Elway would part with his first ever draft pick, remember he once pushed Peyton Manning into a paycut.
Obviously so much uncertainty means anything is possible right now. Forgive me for ringing alarm bells. I just can’t overlook the fact that as many as nine of Broncos’ projected starters could be gone if the cap shrivels up.
This year’s defense could be special.
It could also be short lived.
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