Every offseason, there's at least some caponomic housecleaning to be done. Most of the cuts and renegotiations are quite predictable, based upon a player's cap number and production, but there is the occasional bombshell. Before we look at 2015's likely cuts, let's look back at those from the first four years of John Elway's tenure.
In 2011, Denver's casualties were Daniel Graham, Jamal Williams, Justin Bannan, Correll Buckhalter, Renaldo Hill, and Nate Jones. A year later, Tim Tebow and Andre' Goodman were sent packing. 2013's departures included Elvis Dumervil, D.J. Williams, Willis McGahee, Joe Mays, and Caleb Hanie, while Champ Bailey rode off into the sunset last year.
This offseason, we're not figuring upon any cuts the magnitude of Dumervil's and Bailey's, but the Broncos should be able to clear out some decent cap space. Obviously, if Peyton Manning decides to retire, we're talking about the biggest story of the NFL offseason, and for Denver, that would mean $16.5M in extra cap space. But that doesn't seem likely at this point.
According to OTC, Denver should currently have around $26M in cap space, although that's working off a 2015 salary cap of $140M. We wouldn't be surprised if the number came in a bit higher than that; like the NFLPA, our tendency is not to trust the league's estimates. But for now, for the sake of neatness and less confusion, let's work off of those figures. Here's where we think the Broncos can create some decent cap savings in the coming weeks and months:
Jeff Legwold has floated Clady's name as a possible restructure/salary reduction, but we're just not seeing it. On March 14, five days into the league year, Clady's $8.5M salary becomes fully guaranteed, and he's due a $1.5M roster bonus. Unless Ryan is feeling charitable, there's no reason for him to accept a pay cut. Denver would have to release him outright, and given the shambles that is their offensive line, we can't imagine that happening.
No, the Broncos aren't about to cut their best defensive player. However, he is entering his walk year, and will draw a $9.754M salary thanks to his fifth-year option as a 2011 first-rounder. That salary becomes fully guaranteed on March 10, but you knew that already, because you committed the URL and contents of our offseason calendar to memory.
Although Denver has a lot on its plate with Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Terrance Knighton, Orlando Franklin, and Rahim Moore due to hit free agency, we'd be surprised if the team weren't trying hard to lock Von up with a long-term deal this offseason. Given his age (25), talent, and production, the Broncos likely don't want to be paying him all that cash this year without controlling him beyond 2015. They could, of course, use their franchise tag on him next year, but again, that would put this year's chunk of cash and cap to waste, if you will.
Extending Miller now would likely help lower his 2015 cap number at least somewhat.
Denver's former starting center signed a three-year extension in September of 2013. While he ended 2014 back at right guard, it would be surprising to see him starting anywhere for the Broncos in 2015. Cutting Manny would save $3M against the cap, while leaving just $166,668 in dead money.
However, $1.6M of his 2015 compensation appears to be tied to playing time. So it's possible the team keeps him around at his $1.4M salary as insurance. Our guess, though, is that Manny's time here is over.
We've been whining about Colquitt's bloated salary for a couple of year now, much to the consternation of our Twitter followers and fans of John Fox/kicking at all times. Legitimate camp competition for Britton is long overdue, and given that Denver expects as many as four compensatory picks this year, now's as good a time as any to spend a late (really late) pick on another punter.
Cutting Colquitt would result in a $1.5M dead money hit, but free up $3M in cash and $2.25M in cap space. A rookie would draw a $435K salary, so there's significant savings to be had there.
Clark went from a surprisingly effective starting left tackle in 2013 to a failure at right tackle in 2014, falling so far as to be a gameday inactive late in the season. He's still inexpensive at $1.4M, but that's $1.4M in potential cash and cap savings. Cutting Clark would leave a dead money hit of $225,668.
Frankly, we don't know why Caldwell draws as much derision as he does. He's a solid backup wideout, and a cheap one, at that. But if the Broncos need to save at least a million bucks somewhere, Andre is the last realistic option that we see. He's set to draw a $1.35M salary; the cash and cap savings would be that amount, with $200K in dead money left behind.
If we pencil in a $2M cap savings on a potential Miller extension, the Broncos are looking at an extra $10M in cap space if Ramirez, Colquitt, Clark, and Caldwell are jettisoned. That would leave Denver with $36M in cap space, or more, if the salary cap goes higher than $140M.
Re-signing Demaryius Thomas will likely eat up around a third of that space, but there will be plenty left for Denver to re-sign other players and make some more big acquisitions. They could also convert portions of some chunky salaries (DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Louis Vasquez, Emmanuel Sanders) into signing bonuses, but that would be out of character, and likely unnecessary.
Elway and Mike Sullivan have been highly responsible stewards of Denver's caponomic situation, and we don't foresee that changing anytime soon.