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Broncos are drastically under-spending at three need positions

The Denver Broncos are embarking on yet another offseason hellbent on upgrading the roster. But where to begin?

The Broncos most certainly have plenty of roster holes. Since 2014, the priority has been pretty clear, in terms of where Denver has invested the majority of it’s salary cap dollars.


Understandably so, after the Von Miller-led defense carried a diminished Peyton Manning and a mostly impotent Broncos’ offense to a World Championship. GM John Elway has since sought to duplicate that model, but it has failed to pay anything close to a dividend.

Thus, the Broncos might be in the process of re-ordering their priorities, but if the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, it’s probably a safe guess to assume that a majority of the cap dollars Elway has to spend in 2019 will be going into defensive free agents, especially with the hiring of a defensive mastermind head coach in Vic Fangio.

But perhaps the Broncos won’t go down the same road they’ve traveled in the recent past. Perhaps Elway is ready to turn over a new leaf and explore other means in which to improve the roster, and get this team back into a semblance of competitive form.

If we break down the amount of cap dollars the Broncos have invested by position, a few revelations emerge — and also one false-positive. For example, the Broncos currently rank No. 1 in the NFL in cap dollars invested in the quarterback position, with Case Keenum and Joe Flacco accounting for $40,070,000 combined in 2019.

That number is temporary, as the Broncos hope to trade Keenum sometime between now and the early days of the new league year, and thus free up $18 million on the cap. Barring a trade, the Broncos can free up $11M in cap dollars, and reduce that $40M number down to $29M by cutting him.

The team will still have to pay Keenum the $7M he’s guaranteed in 2019 if he’s cut, but there is off-setting language in his contract, which means that depending on where Keenum signs next, the value of that contract could off-set, and thus reduce that $7M number. That accounts for the false-positive.

Perusing the positional breakdown of how the Broncos have invested their cap dollars (via Spotrac), there are four positions in which the team is near the bottom of the league, but one of them isn’t exactly a need. Recognizing, and then analyzing these three other semi-neglected position groups could give us a hint as to where the Broncos might end up spending their available cap dollars in 2019, which projects to be in the low $30M’s (post-Keenum resolution and pre other roster cuts). Let’s take a look. 

Offensive line | $17.1M invested

NFL rank: 30

This shouldn’t come as a shock to fans, and what makes this number all the more stark is the fact that Denver has four unrestricted free-agent O-linemen heading into 2019. Matt Paradis, Jared Veldheer, Billy Turner and Max Garcia are all poised to hit the market.

The Broncos will bring at least one of them back, and it sounds like the most likely candidate for a return is Turner, whom the team has already begun communicating with on a new contract. Paradis has also had discussions, but the two sides seem far apart.

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The Broncos have to secure a starting right tackle, and Turner, while valuable, doesn’t project as a the ‘set and forget’ commodity at the position the team really needs. That means Denver could choose to also re-sign Veldheer, or it could turn to an outside free agent.

The name to monitor is Ja’Wuan James, formerly of the Miami Dolphins. There are also a few other intriguing options, but none of them project as the type of sure thing the Broncos would probably prioritize.

Running back | $2.7M invested

NFL rank: 27

The Broncos don’t really need to spend any money here, as Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker emerged as an extremely explosive and versatile trio in 2018. The Broncos will benefit in having at least two cost-controlled, bona-fide play-makers at the position for the next three years.

Booker is entering a contract year, so I wouldn’t expect the Broncos to invest any of their valued cap dollars on the running back position in 2019. That position, even with Lindsay on the mend from a wrist surgery, is pretty well locked down for the foreseeable future.

Tight end | $1.9M invested

NFL rank: 27

Here we get to an interesting position, and one that the Broncos clearly need an upgrade. It’s not that Denver doesn’t have some intriguing options on-roster, but both Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli remain unknown quantities heading into 2019. The team can’t count on either of them. 

Jeff Heuerman is poised to hit unrestricted free agency, and due to the team’s massive need at the position, and the fact that he was a 2015 third-round pick, I wouldn’t be surprised if Denver finds a way to re-sign him on the relative cheap. But would that be an upgrade?

A couple of outside options include Jared Cook, Tyler Eifert, Demetrius Harris and Dion Sims, the last of whom played with Vic Fangio in Chicago. This is a position in which free agency is unlikely to offer a quick fix, which means the Broncos will probably turn to a deep 2019 draft class for long-term upgrades.

Wide receiver | $18M invested

NFL rank: 18

Similarly to the running back position, the Broncos are playing it cheap at wide receiver. With the exception of Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos are fortunate to have the majority of their wideout talent on cost-controlled rookie contracts.

And that’s okay, depending on what the future holds for Sanders. If the Broncos end up trading him, it will create a massive need for a veteran at the position. 2018 second-rounder Courtland Sutton was impressive at times last season, but clearly proved he wasn’t ready for the limelight post-Demaryius Thomas trade.

The Broncos could look at the free agent market to upgrade and bolster the unit, even if Sanders remains, because the soon-to-be 32-year-old veteran is recovering from a torn Achilles. Golden Tate comes to mind as the one outside veteran worth spending some cap dollars on, but that would only be in the event of Sanders no longer being a Bronco.

Bottom line

While running back is handled, the Broncos need to focus some cap dollars on both the offensive line and the tight end position, while simply keeping an eye on the receivers. That is, if the team reasonably expects to be able to field a competent and dynamic offense around Joe Flacco.

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