The NFL free agency period officially opens up next Tuesday, March 10th, affording the Denver Broncos yet another opportunity to improve their roster with veteran talent. Today, it was announced that the 2015 salary cap will be raised $10M to a whopping $143.28M.
The Broncos were able to carry over $5.8M of unused salary cap space from 2014 to this season’s, bringing their actual 2015 salary cap to $150,066,024. With the team officially applying the franchise tag to Demaryius Thomas today, and Peyton Manning's $4M pay cut, it leaves the Broncos approximately $19.5M in available cap space.
The team will need to budget a lot of that space for their upcoming draft class. When you shave between $6-7M off of that $19.5M in available cap space, it leaves between $12-13M, without any additional cap space a restructured Manning contract would provide.
The Broncos could net even more cap maneuverability by cutting some dead weight in the personnel department before June 1st. Let’s take a look at a few players who are prime cap casualty candidates. All numbers via OverTheCap.com
2015 cap hit: $3.75M
Dead money: $1.5M
Cap savings if cut by June 1st: $2.25M
You know something just isn’t right when the player with the tenth highest cap hit on the team is a punter. There’s something drastically wrong with that picture, and you can believe that if Elway has the hubris to ask Manning to restructure, or even take a pay-cut, he won’t even blink in asking Colquitt to take a significant pay-cut, or be released.
Back in August of 2013, Elway shocked the world by extending Colquitt with a 3-year, $11.677M contract. At the time, you could argue that Colquitt deserved a pay raise, but his new deal went beyond the pale.
In 2014, Colquitt ranked No. 27 in the NFL in net yards per punt, with a paltry 37.6. He only managed 25 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, ranking him No. 17, although it should be noted that he only punted 69 times, which was tied for 14th fewest in the league.
As a team, if your punter is a weapon in the battle for field position, justifying a top salary at the position makes sense. Colquitt is not that guy, however. As the highest paid punter in the NFL, he is grossly overpaid. Expect Elway to remedy his folly from 2013 before June 1st.
Manuel Ramirez, OL
2015 cap hit: $3.166M
Dead money: $166,168
Cap savings if cut by June 1st: $3M
Manny Ramirez experienced a career renaissance as Peyton Manning’s center in 2013. He played very well, even finishing as Pro Football Focus’ No. 5 center, but that campaign will sadly be remembered by Ramirez snapping the ball over Manning’s head on the first play of Super Bowl XLVIII, leading to a safety.
Ramirez started off the 2014 season as the first team center, but when the Broncos offensive line struggled in the early part of the season, the coaching staff shuffled them, moving Ramirez from center to right guard. At times, he performed like the best player in the unit, but more often than not, he was exploited by opposing defensive lines. “Inconsistent” is the best way to describe Ramirez’s 2014 season.
With a new offensive philosophy at Dove Valley--one that doesn’t particularly suite Ramirez—and his relatively high cap hit, ManRam is on the bubble and could be cut before June 1st. How the draft falls for the Broncos will probably be the deciding factor, but freeing up $3M by parting ways with Ramirez, or even asking him to take a pay-cut to stay, makes too much sense.
Chris Clark, OT
2015 cap hit: $1.625M
Dead money: $225,668
Cap savings if cut by June 1st: $1.4M
Clark came to the Broncos in 2010 via the waiver wire, after he was waived by the Minnesota Vikings. Clark served as a depth guy, and a swing tackle, until that fateful day in Week 2 of the 2013 season, when Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the season with a lisfranc injury.
Elway wasted no time in inking Clark to a two-year contract extension. Clark played out 2013 on his restricted tender salary of $1.323M, and earned every penny of it, protecting Manning’s blindside in the Broncos Super Bowl run.
But with Clady back in the saddle in 2014, the team moved Clark to right tackle, after the controversial decision to move Orlando Franklin to left guard, and Clark struggled. He was eventually benched for Paul Cornick, who was himself eventually benched, with the Broncos ultimately deciding to move their All-Pro right guard Louis Vasquez to RT for the balance of the season.
Moving Franklin to left guard was a bad call. He was one of the NFL’s top right tackles, despite the struggles he had vs. the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Clark regressed at RT and finished the season on the bench. The only time he saw the field was in jumbo packages.
My opinion is that Clark is good enough to keep around as a swing tackle, even with the move to a zone blocking scheme. However, depending on how the Broncos approach free agency and the draft, they might find some players who they believe can serve as the swing tackle more proficiently and for less money, than Clark.
Andre Caldwell, WR
2015 cap hit: $1.55M
Dead money: $200,000
Cap savings if cut by June 1st: $1.35M
For a short time, it looked as if Caldwell would be a real contributor as the Broncos No. 4 receiver. He participated in Peyton Manning’s 7-touchdown record performance on the opening night of the 2013 season, and even stepped in at slot receiver when Wes Welker was forced to miss some time later in the season, and performed well.
But Caldwell took a huge step backward in 2014 and became a straight up liability on the field. John Fox and Adam Gase left most of Broncos Country apoplectic by playing him over rookie second round pick, Cody Latimer. The team tried to find other uses for Caldwell, like returning kicks, but he failed to provide a spark there, as well.
If the Broncos draft more than one receiver, it spells certain doom for Bubba. Welker is unlikely to be re-signed by the team, but Elway stated at the NFL Scouting Combine that Latimer will be given more opportunities in 2015. Gary Kubiak doesn’t run a lot of 3-WR sets, but when the Broncos do go with 11-personnel in 2015, we’ll likely see Latimer and Demaryius Thomas on the outside, with Emmanuel Sanders inside in the slot.
The Broncos can do better than Andre Caldwell as the No. 4 receiver and the draft will offer plenty of opportunities to find cheaper talent, with higher ceilings, in the middle-to-late rounds. I will be shocked if Caldwell is still on the roster after June 1st.