The NFL’s scouting combine gets underway Wednesday in Indianapolis and all of the Denver Broncos’ football decision-makers will be there.
The draft continues to be the long-term foundation of what John Elway wants to get done with the depth chart. And while the Broncos did land the greatest prize of free agency in Peyton Manning and paid him accordingly with a $96 million deal, Elway has largely been conservative in free agency overall because he wants the heart of the team's roster to be homegrown.
The Broncos have favored, outside of a few contracts, including Manning and guard Louis Vasquez, one- or two-year deals. Many of those, after the initial hysteria passed, were with little or no signing bonus. Look how the team has handled the last two free-agency seasons following Manning's signing.
In 2012, the Broncos signed safety Jim Leonhard, defensive tackle Justin Bannan, linebacker Keith Brooking, center Dan Koppen and wide receiver Brandon Stokley to one-year deals. Of those players only Leonhard got a signing bonus ($65,000). And Brooking, Bannan and Koppen were starters while Leonhard and Stokley were key backups.
This past year, Terrance Knighton got a two-year deal and Wes Welker got a two-year deal. Stewart Bradley and Shaun Phillips signed one-year contracts while Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie signed what is a two-year deal on paper, but turned into a one-year deal five days after the Super Bowl.
Denver figures to take a similar approach this time around. The Broncos won’t know what 2014’s salary cap will be for a bit yet, but they do know they are in pretty good shape for a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance. Many in the league expect the ’14 cap to be at, or near, $126.3 million per team.
When free agency opens in March, the Broncos will have to be under the salary cap with their top 51 contracts. At the moment, those top 51 salary-cap figures for players under contract amounts to $117.8 million. By a rule put in with the current collective bargaining agreement, the Broncos can also roll over any available cap space from this past season into 2014.
That figure is $6.573 million. So, including the rollover, the Broncos actually have just over $11 million worth of cap space to work with.
That puts them in a good spot, compared to many, as noted in this from ESPN’s Kevin Seifert.
And that’s before the Broncos do, or don’t, talk to Champ Bailey about his $10 million cap figure for ’14 -- the second highest on the team -- or Chris Kuper’s $5.915 million cap figure, seventh highest on the team.
The Broncos have also done a quality job limiting the dead money on the cap – cap charges for players no longer on the roster – with Elway and Mike Sullivan overseeing the team’s contracts. The biggest dead-money charge for ’14 at the moment comes from Rodgers-Cromartie. Again, even though it’s consistently been reported as a one-year deal, Rodgers-Cromartie actually signed a two-year deal last March and the second year voided five days after the Broncos' loss to the Seahawks. However, with that contract data circulated among the teams across the league shows a $2.1 million dead-money charge -- the pro-rated portion of his original $4.2 million signing bonus.
Beyond that, the oldest dead-money charge will be $500,000 for Willis McGahee, who was released last June.
All in all, the Broncos head to Indy without any concerns they’ll have to do any major adjustments to participate in free agency. They will eventually need $6 million or $7 million in cap room to deal with their draft class, but they get some time there since the draft isn't until May 8.