Following the news of Demaryius Thomas agreeing to a new five-year, $70M deal with the Denver Broncos, Vice President of Football Operations John Elway spoke via conference call yesterday about the mega-contract’s ramifications on the future salary cap.
The Broncos have many homegrown guys playing in a contract year, including Von Miller, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Brock Osweiler, Derek Wolfe, C.J. Anderson and more. That list of names represents the Broncos core team players—guys drafted or acquired as rookies by the team, and developed into productive players.
Elway and the front office are cognizant of this situation. He took some time yesterday to explain how the Broncos go about planning for the future, with the help of salary cap wizard Michael Sullivan.
“We are always planning for the future,” Elway said. “Everyone talks about us winning now, and my point is that we want to win from now on. When we go through our budget meetings year in and year out, that is what we look at. We have a three-year plan and a four-year plan, and we try to look into the future to see where we are in order to budget everybody to keep all of our great football players.”
The Broncos have taken some heat lately, especially during the uncertainty of the Thomas negotiations, for not valuing their team-drafted and team-developed players. Over the last three seasons, Elway seemed content to let guys like Eric Decker, Zane Beadles, Knowshon Moreno, Rahim Moore, Julius Thomas and Orlando Franklin walk via free agency, with almost none of them even receiving an offer from the Broncos.
It’s hard to fault the team’s reticence to retain some of their core players, when the market is offering them contracts too rich for the Broncos blood. But to not even make a single qualifying offer makes you wonder about how Elway and company value their homegrown players.
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“That is what we want to do—draft well, keep our own and fill in with free agency where we can. D.T. was the first step,” Elway said. “We will have a plan for Von next year as well as with other players. We have several other really good football players coming into their last year. We’ll monitor as many as we can. It’s impossible to hold on to everybody in the salary cap era, but we’re going to do the very best we can to keep them all.”
Elway isn't going to let Miller walk away. There's a plan in place and it likely involves the franchise tag, which will allow them to negotiate with Miller on a long-term contract without interference from the open market.
Thomas, Virgil Green and injured Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady represent the guys the team has valued enough to figure out a way to keep them around. The team obviously factors their value to the team in a way very different than most of the other players they’ve allowed to walk. Elway touched on how they formulate those evaluations yesterday.
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“We prepare for all of those [scenarios],” he said. “We look at what the value is to the Broncos, what we can afford, how that fits into the structure and how that fits into our football team. All of those things are going into consideration when we determine what we’re going to pay somebody.
”We’re well aware of the people that we have coming up. We have a lot of good football players coming up. But with Demaryius—he’s obviously a big part of that and he’s the first part of trying to keep this football team together.”
What we can glean from Elway’s words is that cap constraints vs. individual value are the determining factors in deciding which players they’ve actively chosen to keep in Denver. And it makes sense. As much as they’d like to keep them all, in the salary cap era, it’s impossible.
When you consider the Broncos remarkable success over the last four seasons, and how much it has raised their national profile inside and outside of the NFL, it only makes the process of trying to re-sign free agents that much more difficult.
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Guys seen as role players by the Broncos—valuable guys, but role players nonetheless—are seen as tier-one free agents by other front offices around the league. The Broncos aren’t able to compete with max contract offers on the open market, especially for role players, so the logic must be—why bother even making an offer?
That approach rubs people wrong. But the NFL is a business and the Broncos aren’t managing their football team with Monopoly money. They have to make wise decisions and according to Elway, they have a plan in place to account for many of the guys set to hit the open market in 2016.