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Nearly half of the Broncos salary cap is sidelined

You don’t win many contests with one hand tied behind your back. The Denver Broncos have a lot of injuries.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos are looking ahead to the Jets on Thursday Night football. It’s week 4, and the course of the season is beginning to take shape for teams around the NFL. Unfortunately for Broncos Country, that course is looking a lot like approaching the quarter-mark of a class V rapids in a wooden rowboat. It’s not pretty.

Just how bad is it, though? Let’s put some numbers to the damage in the wake of losing Jurell Casey and Elijah Wilkinson to IR after the Buccaneers game.

Injured Reserve

Mike Klis threw up a good summary of all the players & cap space piling up in Denver’s injured reserve list. It’s a total of $53.4 million of cap space- or 26.9% of the salary cap.

This post is about the numbers, but you can’t just count the losses in cap space. Losing a 1st ballot Hall of Famer & the team’s defensive leader in Von Miller goes way beyond the money. Similarly, while Courtland Sutton’s cap hit is a measly $1.1M his value is many times greater than that. And Jurell Casey’s torn bicep is going to mean issues on the defensive line all season.

With IR being a 3 week minimum this season, we’ll be seeing a good number of these players back. But there’s no denying the team is in a pretty dark spot right now. Our best wide receiver, best linebacker, best defensive lineman, and best cornerback are all on IR- and only one of them is coming back this year.

Dead Money

With all the current bad news, it can be easy to forget the old bad news. That’s pretty much exactly what dead cap money is, and it’s unusually high for the Broncos this year after the team decided to roll a big chunk of Joe Flacco’s cap hit over from 2019 to 2020.

The team’s dead money hit is:

  • Joe Flacco: $13.6M
  • Todd Davis: $1.5M
  • Andy Janovich: $1.0M
  • Ron Leary: $875K
  • Jeff Heuerman: $500K
  • Zach Kerr: $300K
  • Isaac Yiadom: $224K
  • Total: $18.6M

That’s pretty rough as a whole, though outside of the Flacco rollover the individual hits are really reasonable. Even so, the $18.6M hole in the Broncos’ 2020 salary cap constitutes another 9.38% of the team’s cap space. Combined, we’re at a dollar value of $72.0M and a salary cap percentage of 36.3%

Cap Space

Say what, now? We’re counting open cap space in this?

Yes, we are- after all, that unused cap isn’t being manifested in a player in a jersey out on the field. Therefore, it’s not helping the team... right now.

The Broncos have $22.0M of cap space remaining, or about 11.1% of their salary cap. Elway usually maintains a buffer pool of $7-$10M for in-season signings to replace injured players... in a normal year, that’s enough. This year, the team would need four or five times that much to reassemble a competitive squad. Which begs the question of how much they’ll choose to spend.

Denver Broncos Training Camp Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

But the biggest chunk of that $22M is likely already spoken for. When he opted out, Ja’Wuan James’s $13M 2020 cap hit tolled- it moved to 2021. That opened up $13M in cap space that the Broncos have chosen not to spend. It appears that the team intends to hold onto that money in order to use it to pay salary in 2021. That’s a bump of $13M in cap space in a season which will see the cap contract to around $175M due to current events’ impact on the league.

That brings us to some rather staggering totals.

  • Injured Reserve Cap: $53.4M (26.9%) +
  • Dead Money Cap: $18.6M (9.4%) +
  • Unused Cap: $22.0M (11.1%) =
  • Total Sidelined Cap: $94.0M (47.4%)

With a total salary cap of $198.2M this year, the Broncos are just $5.1M of injured players away from having half of the value of their cap space unavailable on the field of play. If that isn’t an NFL record, it’s probably pretty close.

As a vaguely-related aside: Including Ja’Wuan James, the Broncos are currently missing four of the five highest paid players on the roster. Of that group, only Kareem Jackson will take the field Thursday night.

Past the Doom & Gloom

That all pretty much sucks. But we ought to remember that not all of the news is bad and not all of the bad news is permanent. Fangio mentioned this morning that Drew Lock is progressing and has a chance to play next weekend in New England. And AJ Bouye should return in the coming weeks as well. That should help bolster both sides of the ball.


What kind of performance do you think is realistic for a team this badly beaten up?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Winning Season (9 or more wins)
    (31 votes)
  • 6%
    Competitive Season (7 or 8 wins)
    (69 votes)
  • 24%
    Disappointing Season (5 or 6 wins)
    (270 votes)
  • 66%
    Disastrous Season (4 or fewer wins)
    (725 votes)
1095 votes total Vote Now