GM For A Day: Denver Broncos 2017 Free Agency

MHH Analyst Erick Trickel assumes the role of GM for a day, bringing you a two-part series on the Broncos offseason. In Part I he takes a look at free agency and what he would do as Denver's GM. The second part deals with the draft.

The Denver Broncos are poised to have a good amount of cap space in 2017, and with it they can do a lot. GM John Elway and the Broncos financial guys are one of the best front office groups to make signings work under the salary cap. They also have a lot of cash, which is handy when working the cap room.

This piece will be written from the after-the-fact perspective. I will share my thoughts on how I, as the Broncos General Manager, would shape the free agency agenda, based on my own analysis and real information gleaned from sources close to the team. 

Writer’s Note: There was a lot of help behind the scenes on this, so big thanks to them and all of my sources who passed along information.

Cuts, Restructures & Re-Signings

Looking at the Broncos roster, you cannot deny the need to work on the offensive line. Russell Okung is in an option year, and played poorly this past season. The option was declined, and Okung allowed to walk.

Donald Stephenson has also been let go and perhaps surprisingly, former 2015 second round pick Ty Sambrailo. The scheme change hurts Sambrailo more than any other offensive lineman in Denver.

He is a pure zone scheme guy. Add that to poor health and play and Sambrailo became expendable. Those were the only cuts made to the offensive line. There were a couple of restructures to be made. Demaryius Thomas was first up. Restructuring brings his cap number down from just over $12 million to a hair under $7 million.

Aqib Talib's situation is similar, seeing his cap number drop from $12 million to $5.2 million. These moves bring Denver to around $58 million in cap space.

The following players are all ERFA’s (exclusive rights free agents) and all saw themselves tendered. C Matt Paradis, OLB Shaquil Barrett, WR Bennie Fowler, C James Ferentz, WR Jordan Taylor, RB Kapri Bibbs and LS Casey Kreiter.

Kicker Brandon McManus was the only restricted free agent to receiver a tender, which was an original round tender. ILB Todd Davis and C/G Sam Brenner are also restricted, but the lowest tender was still too much. The Broncos still brought Davis back at a near minimum deal, while Brenner retired due to concussion concerns.

Of the unrestricted free agents, I considered bringing back OLB DeMarcus Ware, CB Kayvon Webster, OLB Dekoda Watson and DE Vance Walker.

NT Sylvester Williams, DL Billy Winn, WR Jordan Norwood and LS Thomas Gafford were all shown the door.

Ware was allowed to walk, as he wanted more than I was willing to pay with Shane Ray iin waiting. Watson was retained on a near minimum deal, while Walker was brought back on a two-year, $4 million deal, exactly the deal he signed the first time with Denver.

It was difficult to figure out Webster's value, as the No. 4 cornerback and ace special teams player. Ultimately, he left for a starting opportunity elsewhere.

All these moves brought the cap space to $47,290,500 for free agency and the draft.

Free Agency Market

Obviously, the offensive line is a big issue, and while it isn’t a great group of free agent offensive linemen, there are some solid guys out there. Riley ReiffRicky Wagner and T.J. Lang were acquired.

This gives Denver a left tackle in Reiff, a right tackle in Wagner and a guard in Lang. With the switch to a power scheme, Max Garcia will be in a more natural fit. It is on the coaches to get him up to speed. Connor McGovern is also waiting in reserve. This gives Denver a legit starting five, if they all pan out.

Next up was the defensive line, which Denver needed to address. Picking up a defensive end and a nose tackle was a priority. With nearly $33 million left in cap space, I had options.

Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams were the top-two targets, but one source heavily implied that Williams will be retained by Baltimore. This shifted focus to Dontari Poe, whom John Elway fell in love with and would’ve selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, had he not gone 11th overall to Kansas City.

The Chiefs will try to retain him, but it will be hard to keep Poe and Eric Berry and another source told me that Berry is their top choice. This allowed Poe to walk.

In this scenario, both Poe and Campbell were brought in, leaving Denver with $22 million in cap space. With about $5 million needed for draft picks, there was really only $17 million left for free agency. There were two areas that Denver still needed to improve — inside linebacker and quarterback. Due to the cap situation in Dallas, Tony Romo was released on a post June first designation. This changed Dallas' dead money from $19.6 million — with only $5.1 million saved if traded or cut — to $10.7 million dead, with $14 million saved.

This is why every source I've been able to glean information from on this topic has said that Romo will be cut. One source told me “When Romo is cut, look for Elway to get him and expect that contract to be a few years with low guaranteed money.”

Common sense. It wasn't a long-term deal, due to Paxton Lynch and his development and didn’t have a lot of guaranteed money because of the injury history to his back.

One scenario broached was a similar contract that Denver had with Peyton Manning — a series of one year deals that would take effect a few days into the new league year. The previously sighted source went on to mention a three-year deal worth a total of $30 million dollars, or $10 million per year for Romo.

On top of that, years two and three would become 25 percent guaranteed on the fifth day of the new league year. Each year would be a base of $5 million, with the other $5 million made through bonuses.

It's a perfect scenario for the Broncos, especially with their new offensive line. The deal left $7 million in cap space, ear-marked for either a top level inside linebacker, or a couple of cheaper players.

For inside linebacker, there was one top talent in Dont'a Hightower, who isn’t the ideal type of player for the Broncos system. However, there were a few guys below him who do fit that prototype and would come a lot cheaper.

Gerald Hodges is a young guy, only 26 years old, and fits the mold of a Denver linebacker. With little cap room left, adding guys who can come in and compete is the idea, and Hodges fits that. However, the remaining cap room was saved, and no inside linebacker brought in.

Leftover Roster Holes Heading Into The Draft

I won’t be using the rest of the cap due to a few reasons. You always want to save some cap room for injuries in June, July and August, so that you have prerogative to pick someone up if needed. You also want to save room for some cheap veteran help in August, much like Denver did with Evan Mathis in 2015. The final reason I saved the rest of the available space is for some wiggle room with previous signings.

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All the players I signed are names that sources have told me Denver has interest in. There were more names of interest that were not “signed”. All contracts were based on info that has been sent my way of the estimated market value and estimated self value of the players. These were used to determine “fair” contracts for the players for this scenario.

After this free agency period, the remaining Broncos needs were deemed as backup offensive tackles, a potential starting guard to compete with Garcia and McGovern and a backup center on the offensive line, a reserve quarterback and rush linebacker, a true third receiver and a returner to compete with Kaliff Raymond.

Other needs include a potential starting tight end and inside linebacker next to Brandon Marshall, a backup nose tackle and a running back to compete with Kapri Bibbs and Devontae Booker. Finally, there is a need for a corner to add competition with Lorenzo Doss and Taurean Nixon, and a defensive end for added competition with Vance Walker, Adam Gotsis and Jared Crick.

Considering my general managing for a day, if Denver can come out of free agency with at least two veteran starters on the offensive line, a veteran on the defensive line and an inside linebacker, they are well-positioned to go into the draft without glaring needs.

That was my goal for this scenario and why this goes along with an upcoming mock draft in Part II. Stay tuned. 

Erick Trickel is a Draft Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ErickTrickel.

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