Enjoy this year’s defense and their personalities and resumes, Broncos fans, because it could be overhauled next March if the team’s playoff drought extends to five consecutive years.
Appreciate Jurrell Casey’s overall effectiveness, Kareem Jackson’s thunderous hits, Shelby Harris’ batted passes and A.J. Bouye’s tight coverage.
Entering the season opener against Tennessee, nine of the Broncos’ 11 projected starters on defense have expiring contracts or have 2021 salary cap numbers that may not be in-line with their production.
The Broncos’ defense has a collective cap number of $98,846,664, highest in the NFL by a whopping $14,340,377, according to overthecap.com, a partial product of using the draft to build the offense (cheaper salaries — league-low $54,627,119 collective cap charge).
Play well and return to the playoffs and general manager John Elway may be compelled to keep the band together. Watch the postseason again and, hooboy, changes should be in the offing.
Before the season starts, a look ahead to some of the decisions Elway and his football cabinet will be mulling after the season:
OLB Von Miller
Age when next season starts: 32
2021 salary cap number: $22,125,000
Savings if released: $18,000,000
Analysis: Miller is likely to miss all of the 2020 season after suffering an ankle injury on Tuesday in practice. The Broncos will face a tough decision because they need to ear-mark big dollars for outside linebacker Bradley Chubb’s second contract (he’s eligible for an extension after the season) and a long-term deal for safety Justin Simmons. With Miller coming off an injury and rehab, Elway may opt to approach Miller about an extension that will lower his cap number.
S Kareem Jackson
Age when next season starts: 33
2021 salary cap number: $12,882,000
Savings if released: $10,000,000
Analysis: Jackson’s three-year, $33 million contract signed in March 2019 was standard fare in this era of free agency — easy to get out of after the second season. But don’t underestimate Jackson’s impact off the field as well as on the field. A cornerback-turned-safety once he left Houston, this year will be key for him to show he still has the range and physicality to play into his mid-30s.
CB A.J. Bouye
Age when next season starts: 30
2021 salary cap number: $13,500,000
Savings if released: $13,500,000
Analysis: The Broncos were proactive, choosing to give up a fourth-round pick to Jacksonville for Bouye instead of waiting for the retooling Jaguars to release him. It could end up being a smart move if he can flourish in a new environment. The Broncos drafted Michael Ojemudia in this year’s third round with an eye toward him playing outside in 2021. Even so, if Bouye is productive, he could earn a contract extension that lowers his ’21 cap number.
DE Jurrell Casey
Age when next season starts: 31
2021 salary cap number: $12,281,000
Savings if released: $12,281,000
Analysis: The Broncos absorbed the final two years of Casey’s contract in exchange for a seventh-round pick, but like Bouye, this is an easy one-year-and-say-so-long arrangement. In the third round of the past two drafts, the Broncos have selected defensive linemen Dre’Mont Jones and McTelvin Agim.
CB Bryce Callahan
Age when next season starts: 29
2021 salary cap number: $8,715,000
Savings if released: $7,382,000
Analysis: Callahan will make his Broncos debut on Monday after missing all of 2019 with a bent screw in his foot that eventually required surgery. Of the five cap-related moves, Callahan is the most likely to move on if a pay cut isn’t on the table. Problem is, there isn’t so much as a developmental nickel back under contract.
Although it’s unlikely the Broncos would release all five players, it would create more than $61 million in salary cap space. Elway is not about to start a from-the-basement-up rebuild. But maybe a few cuts and a few salary haircuts? Possible.
And then there’s the free agents, a mix of viewed-as-building-block players and worker bees.
Simmons is playing under the franchise tag and as long as coach Vic Fangio is around, Simmons will be one of his top players even if it means signing him to a franchise tag next March.
Also heading toward free agency are Harris, inside linebacker Todd Davis and nose tackle Mike Purcell. Inside linebacker Alexander Johnson is a restricted free agent.
If these players want to stay under contract next year or be re-signed, they have 16 games to make their case.