It's one of the biggest questions that's hung over the Broncos' 2012 and 2013 offseasons. Actually, make that two.
How much money does Ryan Clady want, and is Denver willing to pay it?
Last summer, we were told the left tackle was seeking a deal to trump that of Cleveland's Joe Thomas, who got $44M in guarantees as part of a seven-year extension. That deal was agreed upon while Thomas was still under contract for one year with the Browns, and amounted to an eight-year deal worth $80.5M in total.
Denver's response was a reported five-year offer worth $50M, including $28M in guarantees, which would have replaced the $3.5M he ultimately drew last season.
It was a lowball offer both relative to Thomas's deal, and to the likelihood that Denver would use its franchise tag on Clady in 2013 (guaranteeing him $9.66M) and possibly again in 2014 (with a 20% raise to $11.592M).
Point being, Clady knew he'd be in line to potentially earn more than $21M over 2013 and 2014 without accepting that five-year/$50M offer, and he'd again be a free agent come 2015, heading into his age 29 season.
In theory, the Broncos could actually tag Clady beyond 2014, but that would get into ridiculous territory, as they'd then have to give him a 44% raise, or a $16.692M guaranteed salary for 2015. (The current CBA actually has no limit on how many times a player may be tagged, but there's a good chance this is challenged in the coming years.)
Ryan offered a bit more insight to his state of mind when he appeared on ESPN Denver with CJ and Kreckman yesterday.
Although the hosts tried to induce (as is their job) an indication that Clady is disgruntled or plans to hold out, the three-time Pro Bowler remained his usual measured self, and refused to serve up any sports tabloid fodder.
The Boise State alum admits he's not enamored with the idea of getting tagged, and says he won't sign the tender for several months, but ultimately concedes he'll do so, if the two sides are unable to agree to a long-term deal. The deadline for such an agreement is July 15, while Clady has until after the Broncos' Week 10 game to sign the tender (if the team were to rescind the tag, Clady would immediately become an unrestricted, untaggable free agent).
Nothing new or headline-grabbing there.
However, Clady did let slip that he's not seeking a contract that would make him the NFL's highest paid offensive tackle:
No, that’s not the deal I’m after. Just something comparable to Joe Thomas and Jason Peters. I feel like I’m in that category as far as tackles, so something along those lines.
We already know the lofty framework of Thomas's deal, which averages just over $10M for eight seasons, with $44M in guarantees.
Adding Peters's contract is where things get far more interesting.
To wit: Peters signed a six-year deal with the Eagles in 2009, with only $25M in guarantees, and a total value of $60.6M.
This provides a large window for the Broncos to operate within, provided that Clady is representing his side of the negotiation accurately.
Complicating matters is Clady's surgically-repaired rotator cuff, the rehab for which the former first-rounder says will likely keep him out of action throughout training camp.
On the flip side, it's important to note that the contracts for Thomas and Peters came when those players were still under contract at modest figures, meaning quite similar to where Clady was a year ago. Their only leverage at the time of their deals was the possibility they'd hold out.
Clady now holds a much bigger bargaining chip, as his worst case (realistic) scenario is to play under the franchise tender at $9.66M with either unrestricted free agency or another tag (and 20% raise) coming after 2013.
Last summer, we guesstimated that the end point for a Broncos/Clady negotiation would be in the neighborhood of five years and $60M, with $40M in guarantees.
If Clady is seeking to be paid like Thomas and Peters are, then he's expecting an average annual value of around $10M, and the guaranteed portion could range anywhere between $25M and $44M, but we'd expect something in the higher end of that range.
At this point, and given Ryan's comments, we'll tweak that with an additional year: six years, $60M, and $40M guaranteed, or perhaps seven years at $70M, also with $40M guaranteed, with the guaranteed figure comprising a smallish signing bonus (say, $5M-$6M), and the first three years' salaries.
We're still not sure the Broncos shouldn't use their non-exclusive tag and invite another team to pony up their next two first-round picks, but if the team is indeed set upon locking up their man, then those are the figures we expect they'll have to come up with.