Zach Gotlieb | March 19th, 2020
For Denver Broncos fans, this has been one of the most anticipated offseasons in recent memory. The sense of hope hasn’t been this high since the signing of Peyton Manning in 2012. With the hopeful quarterback of the future in Drew Lock set to endure his first full season as the starter, this was about building the team around him. This requires a plethora of needs that had to be filled.
The Broncos had a ton of cap space going into the offseason, projected at around $42 million (per Spotrac). It’s still early, but John Elway has done a terrific job of filling needs without breaking the bank, making him, and the Broncos, an underrated winner of the early free-agency season.
First and foremost, retaining Justin Simmons via the franchise tag was a super important move. Elway has said that re-signing Simmons was a top priority for him, and he did that. These days the franchise tag is gaining a negative connotation. Still, historically, Elway has always used the tag for what it’s meant to be: a placeholder. Of the four previous times, Elway has used the franchise tag, he has reached a long-term deal with that player during that offseason, most recently with Von Miller. The franchise tag is set to be just over $11 million.
The Broncos have made two trades but haven’t given up very much in compensation or cap space. The first trade was to acquire cornerback A.J. Bouye from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 4th round pick. The pick came via San Francisco from trading Emmanuel Sanders before the trade deadline. His play has declined a bit the last couple of years after a pro bowl season, but he has the potential to be a very solid cornerback after letting go of Chris Harris Jr. He has a hefty cap hit of about $12 million. However, with the release of Ron Leary clearing an extra $8.4 million, the blow to the already free cap space is significantly less.
Releasing Leary is a smart move given age and declining health that has ended his first two seasons with the team on injured reserve.
The other trade was completed yesterday morning as Denver traded a 2020 7th round pick to the Tennessee Titans for 5-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey. Casey, 30, fills a glaring need on the defensive line and is still a terrific pass rusher. His ability to penetrate the offensive line and wreak havoc in the backfield will be important to their interior pass rush and aid in freeing opportunities for Bradley Chubb and Von Miller. His cap hit is a hefty $11.87 million.
That being said, quarterback Joe Flacco is not going to be a Bronco this coming season. The expectation is that he will be traded or released by the end of the week, freeing up $10 million. Also, they could make him a June 1st cut and save approximately $20 million. Long-term relief, but will not open space now.
Their other signings are both former Detroit Lions players, quarterback Jeff Driskel and interior lineman Graham Glasgow. Driskel will serve as nothing more than the backup to Lock. He’s got decent intangibles and can be a spot starter and hold his own. It is not yet known the details of his contract, but it figures to be a low-yield contract.
Glasgow fixes a significant need on the offensive line. With two holes at right guard and center, Glasgow has the ability to play both positions. He’s only 27 and getting into his prime. A good tough interior lineman is going to be critical for the developing offense. As it currently stands, he is slated to be the starting right guard. His contract is a 4-year/ $44 million contract, but we don’t know exactly how it’s set up. Working with his APY of $11 million, that leaves Denver with about $14 million to work with.
With about $9 million needing to go towards their 10 draft picks, there’s still some room for likely one more signing when the second wave rolls around. If Denver cuts Flacco by the end of the week as rumored, $24 million is more flexibility they could use. With a need for at least one more defensive lineman and another secondary piece, they could use one of those here in free agency going into the draft.
The strategy for the front office was to build the defense in free agency and the offense through the draft. So far, they’ve gotten a bit of both. The key and most significant needs on defense have been addressed with the trades for Bouye and Casey. Retaining Justin Simmons and re-signing De’Vante Bausby will help fortify the back end of the defense.
Glasgow was not a sexy signing and got lost among the big splash moves like DeAndre Hopkins getting traded and the big names like Austin Hooper and Byron Jones all signing elsewhere. He filled a need and a big one at that.
So, no, the moves haven’t been the sexy ones. They aren’t entirely splashy either. Those types of moves are ones that may frustrate Broncos fans, but these “sneaky” moves could really be the difference between a playoff spot and another losing season. The most important thing to understand, last year’s free agency was full of good but injury-risk players, and two of the three ended the year on IR. This year is so far full of more durable players. Casey has missed five games in his career, and Glasgow only two games.
Lots of other teams like the Las Vegas Raiders have made many splashy moves and are having a good offseason. Still, the Broncos are also having one of the best offseasons, just some might not know it.
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