In a recent post, Jeff Legwold suggests the Broncos might try to negotiate Ryan Clady's salary down from the $8.5M figure he's currently due (it's not $8M, as Legwold writes - that was his 2014 salary). It's an interesting idea, but is it doable?
Denver used its franchise tag on their left tackle two years ago, eventually signing him to a five-year, $52.5M deal. Unfortunately, a Lisfranc injury cost him most of that season, and nagging injuries in 2014 kept him from returning to his prior elite level. Still, he's never missed a game outside of that 2013 season.
In 2012, prior to his foot injury, Clady graded out at plus-22.2, permitting three sacks, six QB hits, and 15 hurries, according to PFF. He saw a similar number of snaps in 2014, but graded out at minus-5.2, allowing three sacks, 10 QB hits, and 22 hurries. And that's with Peyton Manning getting rid of the ball even faster than he had in 2012, so requiring even less protection in the pocket (or was he getting it out faster due to worse pass protection?).
The 28-year old's $8.5M salary becomes fully guaranteed on March 14 (the fifth day of the league year), and he's also due a $1.5M roster bonus that day. The prorated $600K portion of his $3M signing bonus brings his 2015 cap number to $10.6M, which is second on the Broncos only to Manning's $21.5M figure.
It's a lot of money considering his 2014 level of play, but it's also reasonable to expect him to bounce back in 2015, given his relatively young age. But more importantly, the Broncos don't have much in the way of leverage. To extract a salary reduction out of Clady, they'd have to threaten to cut him prior to March 14, and that's a bluff the Broncos simply cannot afford have called.
That his salary will become fully guaranteed just days into free agency means Clady has the leverage here, because a player of his age and caliber knows he'll be a hot commodity on the open market. It's a different story when a player is due no guarantees and it's June, when offseason budgets around the league have been exhausted.
Cutting Clady is a terrible option no matter the quarterback; it could either influence Manning not to return, or reduce the likelihood that Brock Osweiler has the chance to develop into a quality starter. On a middling team it might make more sense, but if the Broncos are either going for it all again or starting over with Osweiler, they need their left tackle, especially on a line that's likely to be overhauled around him.
If Ryan's play doesn't improve in 2015, then we could see Denver attempting to rework his deal a year or two from now, when he's due salaries of $9.5M and $10M, respectively. At those junctures, Clady won't have any looming guarantees, so in financial terms, the Broncos will have much more leverage. Of course, his play might return to the superior level we saw in 2012 and earlier, and then the Broncos will be trying to sign him to one last contract to see through the transition from Manning to Osweiler or someone else.
But we'll be shocked to see anything happen with Clady this offseason.