The Denver Broncos entered the 2016 NFL Draft looking to create competition in their special teams unit. Incumbent veteran punter Britton Colquitt had done an admirable job in his seven seasons with the Broncos (one on the practice squad), helping to earn the franchise's third Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl 50, but he was scheduled to make too much money in 2016.
Colquitt's performance in the 2015 AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots, dropping four punts inside the 20-yard line, helped keep Tom Brady and company in check. The Patriots consistently faced long fields thanks to Colquitt and the Broncos defense was subsequently able to pin back their ears and get after Brady.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1681565-5-reasons-you-should-go-p... In 2013, GM John Elway inexplicably chose to make Colquitt the highest-paid punter in the NFL, signing him to a three-year, $11.7 million contract extension. The Broncos seemingly rued their decision to pay Colquitt out of the gates.
With every offseason came buzz out of Dove Valley that the Broncos were going to ask Colquitt to take a pay-cut. In 2015, Colquitt accepted a restructure that paid him $1.6 million instead of the $3 million he was scheduled to earn.
The Broncos brought in some competition for Colquitt in 2015, signing Karl Schmitz to compete in training camp, but Colquitt easily vanquished him. Plus, the Broncos could live with Colquitt's value for that season. Heading into 2016, Colquitt was in the final year of his contract and scheduled to make $3.25 million.
The Broncos were facing a deal that would make Von Miller the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, and had to set about preparing for life without Peyton Manning, leading into the Draft. 2016 would be the year Colquitt would truly be tested in an open competition. There was no way Denver was going to pay him $3.25 million, while counting for $4 million against the cap.
Enter Riley Dixon.
With the 228th overall pick in the seventh round, Denver selected Dixon out of Syracuse. He was the second punter taken in a draft that saw three selected in total.
Dixon came in to push Colquitt and push him he did. Despite there being any obvious difference in production between the two punters during training camp and preseason action, the margin was so close that Denver chose to part ways with Colquitt.
Dixon came at a cost of $470,002 in 2016. Compared to Colquitt's price, it was a no-brainer for Denver.
The Broncos entered 2016 with Dixon as the undisputed punter. An athletic technician, Dixon did not disappoint as a rookie.
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With Denver's offensive struggles and abject failure on third down, Dixon saw a lot of action. He punted 89 times, averaging 45.7 gross yards per punt. His 41.3 net yards per punt set an NFL record for single-season net punting average for a rookie.
Dixon has guys like Kayvon Webster, Cody Latimer and Dekoda Watson to thank for his special place in NFL history. Dixon punted well, dropping 28 punts inside the 20, but those gunners kept the returns to a minimum.
All in all, the Broncos lost no sleep over their decision to replace Colquitt with Dixon. The rookie's performance inspired confidence in the coaching staff and the front office that the team made the right decision.
Colquitt landed on his feet in Cleveland.
I didn't love the Dixon pick at the time, only because I felt like Denver could have found a sincere threat to Colquitt in the college free agent ranks, without having to invest a draft pick in the position.
But it was a seventh rounder, ultimately, and the decision led to Denver saving more than $2.5 million on the cap and securing a young punter the team can count on long-term. In retrospect, it's difficult to categorize the Riley Dixon pick as anything less than a win for the Broncos.
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Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.