ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Another factor in the next move for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos is that the Broncos currently are over the salary cap with just six days to correct that before free agency opens Wednesday.
When the new league year opens at 4 p.m. ET March 9, teams must be able to fit their top 51 salary cap figures under the $155.27 million salary cap. And after they placed the exclusive-rights franchise tag on linebacker Von Miller, which is expected to bring a salary cap charge of between $14 million and $15 million, the Broncos are about $2 million over the cap.
The charge for an exclusive-rights tag is determined using salary figures at the player’s position for 2016, so the Broncos won’t know the exact charge for Miller’s tag for a few weeks. But by league rules, the Broncos have to fit their top 51 salary cap charges under the cap by the start of new league year, and their current position includes just over $3 million worth of cap room they can roll over from 2015. So it's clear they have work to do beyond Manning's status.
The current total includes Manning’s $21.5 million salary cap charge for the 2016 season. Manning’s cap charge is the team’s highest for the coming season.
Manning’s base salary of $19 million is guaranteed at the end of the NFL’s business day Tuesday, so if he announces his retirement or the Broncos release him before then, the team would gain that $19 million worth of salary cap room. There would be a $2.5 million “dead money’’ cap charge in either scenario.
The Broncos also could ask players with higher cap figures to re-do deals, as in potential pay cuts -- the Broncos asked Manning and punter Britton Colquitt to take cuts last year. Tackle Ryan Clady, who has the team's fifth-highest cap charge for 2016 at $10.1 million, and linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who has the team's fourth-highest cap figure at $11.6 million, figure to be approached about potentially reworking their contracts.
Clady, who has two years left on a five-year, $52.5 million deal he signed as the team’s franchise player in 2013, already has said publicly he would be willing to make an adjustment to stay with the team. Ware is set to enter the final year of a three-year, $30 million deal he signed with the Broncos in 2014.
At the scouting combine last week, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said he expected to meet with both Clady and Ware before free agency opened.
“I’ll talk to all those guys,’’ Elway said. “I’m going to talk to DeMarcus. The time that we haven’t had up until this point, I’ll be able to spend time with them. Ryan will be one of those guys that we’ll sit down and talk to. We have a lot of different plans and a lot of different situations.’’
Other veteran players with higher cap figures who are potential targets for reductions are guard Louis Vasquez ($6.75 million against the cap in ’16) and Colquitt ($4 million against the cap).
Vasquez is in the last year of a four-year deal and would carry a $1.25 million “dead money’’ charge if the Broncos decided to release him if their search for cap room came to that.
Colquitt took a $1.4 million pay cut to remain with the team this past season. If the Broncos were to release him, he would carry a $750,000 “dead money’’ charge for the coming season.
“Dead money’’ refers to any salary cap charges that remain, usually a pro-rated accounting of the original signing bonus, if a player with one or more years remaining on his contract is released by a team. Depending on when the player is released, the “dead money’’ charge is all in the coming season or split between two seasons.
At the moment, the Broncos have just $923,300 worth of “dead money’’ charges for the 2016 season, one of the lowest totals in the league. The New Orleans Saints, for example, have just over $25 million worth of “dead money’’ charges for 2016.