Following a season during which he faced the unenviable task of blocking for a player who used the entire 160-foot width of the field as his pocket, Ryan Clady received the ultimate gift in the form of Peyton Manning last March.
By choosing not to accept the reported $28M in guarantees offered him by Denver over the summer, he set himself up for an even bigger prize.
At the least, Clady figures to receive the Broncos' franchise tag, which will provide him with $9.66M in guaranteed salary, which is more than a $6M bump up from his 2012 salary of $3.5M.
If Clady were to be tagged again for the 2014 season, he'd be locked into a 20% raise, or $11.592M - for a two-year total of $21.252M, provided that he's able to avoid injury before being tagged each time.
Come 2015, the Broncos could again tag Clady, but the price would be a 44% raise over his 2014 salary, or an impossible $16.692M figure.1
Also to keep in mind is that Von Miller's rookie deal will run out after 2014, although the team will have the option (after the 2013 season, thanks to the 2011 CBA which was decried by pro-management types but is in reality very good for teams and owners) of triggering a team option to retain him through 2015. Demaryius Thomas is also a free agent after 2014.
Some big bills are about to come due Denver over these next few years; we're talking about three players who would likely command over $40M in guarantees each on the open market. And at the rate Miller is improving, he may be more like a $60M-$70M man (in guarantees) by the time his payday arrives.
It remains to be seen whether the Broncos can afford to keep all three stars around for the long term, but for now, Denver would be wise to lock up at least one of these guys in the next calendar year, to spread out the pain a little.
Our bet is on Clady being that man. Unless, of course, the Broncos plan to let Clady ride out his franchise tags and groom someone to replace him, all the while saving Mr. B's dollars for Miller and Thomas.
If they were to choose the latter course, then they'd have to take a top tackle prospect in April, if there's one even available where they end up picking.
1 - Article originally said Clady would be untaggable beyond two years, but current CBA offers no limit on how many times a player may be tagged. (Updated 2/20/2013)