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Could the 2021 Broncos chase the playoffs with Matthew Stafford?

How will the roster look if the Broncos trade for Matthew Stafford?

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Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions
Should the Broncos trade for Matthew Stafford?
Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Last week I took a look at what the Broncos could do to build a Super Bowl caliber roster after making a historic trade for Deshaun Watson. More than once I saw some blanch at the cost, to which I asked “what looks like a reasonable offer for an elite 25-year old QB?”

While I wait to find out the answer it looks like other potential options will be on the table. On Friday news broke that the Detroit Lions and Matthew Stafford have agreed to part ways. Having just looked at what the Broncos could do to build around a veteran QB contract it isn’t hard to see how the former first overall pick would fit.

What does the cap look like right now?

That’s a good question. As of today, Over the Cap projects the Broncos to have $14,052,103 in available cap space with a $193,788,121 projected cap due in part to what they rolled over from 2020. It’s important to keep in mind that everyone is still waiting to confirm what the final number is. I also want to emphasize that there are ways to manipulate the salary cap. Look no further than the way the New Orleans Saints built and maintained a Super Bowl caliber roster to keep the window open around Drew Brees. The cap exists, but smart teams find ways to squeeze a ton of talent under it.

What about the QB question?

In this scenario we’re working out a Matthew Stafford trade. As of yet it is a bit murky as to what it will cost to win the trade war for his services. Just like the Deshaun Watson situation, there are numerous teams around the league who will see Stafford as an upgrade over their current QB1.

Without getting too caught up in the weeds, I would expect the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, and Washington to sniff around. The Chicago Bears should also be interested, but as NFC North rivals it’s hard to imagine anything comes to fruition.

It will be fascinating to see how big a factor Stafford’s age and injury history are when there’s so many teams interested in his services. NBC’s Peter King believes the Broncos could secure his services for as little as a 2nd round pick and Drew Lock. KOA’s Benjamin Allbright expects a deal to start around 2 first round picks.

For our purposes today we’re going to try to meet both reporters in the middle: after some bidding it costs the JoRo Broncos a 1st and Drew Lock to acquire the 33-year old Matthew Stafford. He will count $20 million against the cap in 2021.


A.J. Bouye - Cornerback (frees up $13.375 million)

Jeff Driskel - Quarterback (frees up $2.5 million vs. $750,000 dead)

Jurrell Casey - Defensive line (frees up $11,874,750)


Justin Simmons - Safety (4 year contract- $14.8 APY. $4 million cap number in 2021)

It’s important to note that while Simmons’ average per year is $14.8 million, his deal could be structured like Garett Bolles’ in order to create space for 2021. Over the Cap’s Nick Korte wrote about this, and it’s something I expect Paton and the real Broncos to do.


Phillip Lindsay - Running back (2nd round tender: $3.422 million)

Alexander Johnson - Linebacker (2nd round tender: $3.422 million)

Tim Patrick - Receiver (2nd round tender: $3.422 million)

Von Miller - Edge (option $22.125 million)

Without speculating beyond his on-field impact, it’s easy to see why the Broncos are a better team with him. Per Sports Info Solutions, Miller charted 63 individual pass pressures in 2019 while the next closest Bronco had 24. If the goal is to chase titles, that cannot be ignored.

Potential cap cuts

If you look at the math above you’ll realize the Broncos are looking at a pretty tight spot with the cap, so the following section is necessary. These are not players I’m actively looking to move so much as contracts that offer flexibility if the cap is significantly lower than the more optimistic projections or there is a need to create more cap space. Again, this is not a list of players I’d look to cut so much as contracts that could be moved if necessary for cap purposes.

Mike Purcell - (frees up $3.125 million vs. $562,500 dead)

Nick Vannett - (frees up $2.700 million vs. $875,000 dead)

Josey Jewell - (frees up $2,183 million vs. $178,496 dead)

Duke Dawson - (frees up $1,127,028)

Nate Hairston - (frees up $990,000)

Kyle Peko - (frees up $990,000)

Jordan Leggett - (frees up $990,000)

DeShawn Williams - (frees up $850,000)

Andrew Beck - (frees up $850,000)

Derrekk Tuszka - (frees up $780,000)

Jeremy Cox - (frees up $780,000)

Deyon Sizer - (frees up $780,000)

What about the rest of Free Agency?

If we start with the OTC number and proceed with the moves outline above, there won’t be a free agency barring cap cuts.

Trading for Matthew Stafford, picking up Von Miller’s option, extending Justin Simmons and making what amounts to reasonable tenders for Phillip Lindsay, Alexander Johnson, and Tim Patrick leaves the Broncos with a little under 7 million in cap space. This would change a little based on who makes the bottom of the final roster, but it would push the Broncos out of any competition in the market.

Stafford would mean the Broncos mostly roll back what they had in 2020.

What about the 2021 Draft?

As is typically the case, I lean on The Draft Network’s Mock Machine. Any complaints about the available players should be directed to them. My approach to the draft is to weigh out the risk vs. reward as well as long-term need as most draft picks under normal circumstances need time to adjust to the jump from college. Lastly I want to remind you that I’m still in the process of watching players, so my opinions may change on many of them over the months to come.

2.41 Tyson Campbell - Cornerback - Georgia

The Broncos tried to trade for A.J. Bouye last offseason to try to solve their need for a boundary cornerback. Fangio’s confidence in the veteran as well as the relatively low pick cost made the move a worthwhile gamble, even if it ultimately failed. Moving forward there is little doubt boundary corner remains the most urgent need on the Broncos’ defense.

Campbell isn’t a perfect prospect, but he has the tools and ceiling to grow into a dominant cornerback in the Fangio scheme. Unlike Michael Ojemudia, Campbell leaves college with a lengthy resume in man coverage and it will be zone where he needs to make the most growth, specifically in his ability to leverage space and eye discipline. This is a notable concern, but his athletic ability and physicality make him a worthwhile gamble this far down the board. From here it comes down to trusting the coaching staff to polish his rough edges.

3.73. Jevon Holland - Safety - Oregon

I thought about grabbing Holland in the second round only to pass because of concerns about the falloff at corner. With him still on the board this far down, I ran the pick in. He’s a versatile safety prospect who could sit behind Kareem Jackson in the short term and become Justin Simmons’ running mate in 2022.

4.113 Brady Christensen - Tackle - BYU

Ja’Wuan James’ contract means the Broncos would be doing more than harm than good parting ways with him this offseason. They will need to plan on him starting at right tackle in 2021 and it’d be wise to keep an open mind. Perhaps James steps in and delivers on the promise that he could become a Pro Bowl caliber right tackle under Mike Munchak? Regardless, his injury history and the questionable depth beyond the starting line and Netane Muti makes a development swing tackle a need this spring.

Christensen will enter the NFL having played left tackle for the Cougars, but facing questions about his best fit at the next level. There are questions about his athletic limitations that have some in the league eyeing him as a guard or right tackle. The Draft Network’s Drae Harris has some faith that he shows the mental acumen to serve as depth at both tackle spots.

4.130 Shaka Toney - Edge - Penn State

After receiving a call from Andrew Berry, I took the Browns offer me in exchange for my fifth and a seventh round pick. With the extra fourth rounder I found myself torn between three edge rushers to groom behind Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Notre Dame’s Daelin Hayes may be a cleaner projection to the kind of space Fangio will ask him to play in, Weaver’s been a very productive pass rusher who has a refined rush plan and should be able to contribute quickly teeing off on quarterbacks.

In the end I settled on Penn State’s Shaka Toney. While he’s just 6’3” and 240 lbs. he profiles as a similar type of outside threat who can eventually drop off into space like Malik Reed. He has an explosive first step, good body lean, and the kind of lateral mobility you pray for in an outside backer. Coverage will be a work in progress as he hasn’t done it with the Nittany Lions, but he’s a try hard with the motor and work ethic to take a chance on.

6.190 Demetric Felton - Running back - UCLA

Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, and Royce Freeman are all set to play out contracts in 2021. With that in mind, it makes sense to add young legs to the equation and Felton fits the bill as a runner who can also help on passing downs. With Stafford, the Pat Shurmur offense will incorporate more empty personnel sets in 2021 than they did with Drew Lock so a back who can play as a de-facto slot is valuable and Felton did it for the Bruins.

7.235 Ben Petrula - Offensive line - Boston College

Versatility is criminally underrated for backup hogs and Petrula already brings experience at center and right tackle with him into the league. His issues with quickness and lateral mobility may prevent him from ever being more than depth, but the Broncos badly need it in this scenario. He’ll compete to make the final roster and help bolster the practice squad if nothing else.

7.253 Marquez Stevenson - Receiver/Returner - Houston

Tim Patrick is set to play out an RFA tag, DaeSean Hamilton is closing in on the end of his time in orange and blue, and Diontae Spencer’s already gone. I took a swing on Stevenson in hopes that he can push Fred Brown and Kendall Hinton while also offering an alternative to K.J. Hamler returning kicks.

Ready to battle in the AFC West.

Final Thoughts

If a Matthew Stafford trade costs the Broncos’ a first round pick or multiple Day 2 selections it will take away from their pursuit of a long term solution at quarterback. If you believe time behind a competent starter is all Drew Lock needs to become a Stafford-esque QB in his own right I definitely see the appeal.

As for me, I believe the Broncos should remain in talks with Houston on the chance they can acquire a true transformational piece. Failing that it makes more sense to use multiple Day 1 and 2 picks to acquire a rookie prospect if one stands out as a franchise quarterback or trade down in the draft to chase 2022 passers.


Should the Broncos trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford?

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