The Price of Going Back-to-Back

John Elway spoiled Broncos’ fans during free agency his first few years on the job. There were always huge, splashy signings to look forward to and he had a knack for signing the biggest names available on the market, like a kid playing Madden with the salary cap off. That changed last year when the most notable players who came to town were Owen Daniels and Darian Stewart. Don’t get me wrong, those were two solid players, but it was a far cry from the days of reeling in Peyton Manning, Wes Welker, DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib. That’s what happens when you draft and develop great players and then have to resign them.

Like last year, a lot of those players will be leaving us. Here’s my look at what our free agents should do, even though we all know what they will do.

Malik Jackson

To the casual fan, the contract situation surrounding Malik Jackson may seem no different than when Kevin Vickerson and Terrance Knighton came to the table. Here we have a defensive lineman who’s asking for more than the Broncos are willing to pay, or in this case CAN pay. So John Elway should simply let Malik walk and he’ll be easy to replace, just like those other guys, right? Not so fast. Malik had a career year playing in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, and the interior pressure and overall disruptive nature that he brought to the front seven was key to the team’s success. Unlike Vickerson and Pot Roast, Elway is making a strong effort to keep Malik, so where do we stand?

What Malik Jackson should do: Realize that playing with Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Derek Wolfe is by far the best situation he will ever have in his career, and that’s surely worth sacrificing a few million dollars that he could get on the open market. But players rarely ever see it that way.

What Malik Jackson will do: This isn’t rocket science. Malik is the most coveted free agent available, which means a bidding war for his services will ensue. He’ll either go hang out with Julius Thomas in Jacksonville, reunite with Jack Del Rio in Oakland or get back to playing Foxball in Chicago. Then he can watch from his couch next February when the Broncos go back-to-back.

Brock Osweiler 

Osweiler is by far the most puzzling of all the Broncos free agents. He only has seven career starts. His play was uneven last season, varying from clutch and impressive to stagnant and mediocre. He has never won a playoff game or been named to the Pro Bowl, and yet Brock has done enough to earn a lucrative contract extension this offseason, whether it comes from the Broncos or another quarterback needy team. Such is the nature of the NFL, where GM’s will pony up the big bucks for even the slightest chance to land a franchise quarterback.

But whether Brock is just a flash in the pan or the next big thing, we won’t know for sure until after he gets paid. Without further adieu…

What Brock Osweiler should do: Resign with the Broncos for salaries of $1 million, $2 million and $3 million over the next few seasons. This would allow John Elway to retain all of the pieces of his dominating defense and ensure that the Broncos would be clear favorites to once again be Super Bowl champs. And come on, it’s not like the offense had to do much for the team to win it all last year. Brock would be rich and the quarterback of a multi-time Super Bowl winning team. What’s better than that?

What Brock Osweiler will do: Well, making $15 million or more and being a one-time champion is better than that, at least in the eyes of the players. Brock knows that going to any other team would be a step down, but he’s not going to stick around without getting a hefty raise in return.  If the Broncos make an offer in that range, I still believe that Brock will stay even if another team offers Sam Bradford or Kirk Cousins type money (especially if that team is Cleveland). And with no better options to turn to, I think Elway will give Brock a contract that makes both sides happy.

Now if only every job in the world paid $15 million after just seven weeks of work…

Danny Trevathan 

Trevathan finds himself in the same situation that Eric Decker and Orlando Franklin did the past two offseasons. The Broncos would like to have him back but they know they can’t afford to match what other suitors will offer once free agency starts. They probably won’t even try to resign him and will depend on Todd Davis, Cory Nelson or Zaire Anderson to play alongside Brandon Marshall next season.

What Danny Trevathan should do: Accept a big contract with the Raiders and sabotage the team from within, either by playing vanilla zone defense all season or quitting on Del Rio in big games. He could do the same to the Bears and John Fox, but they play in the NFC so it wouldn’t help the Broncos as much.

What Danny Trevathan will do: Take a big contract with the Raiders or Bears and continue playing extremely solid football, because Trevathan is a good player. But is it too much to ask to help your old team out just a little bit? It’s not our fault there’s a salary cap.

Brandon Marshall

Wait a second, didn’t I just say that a linebacker other than Danny Trevathan would be playing alongside Brandon Marshall next season? How can that be a sure thing if he’s a free agent? Luckily, Marshall is a restricted free agent and the Broncos already slapped him with a second-round tender, meaning that not only can they match any offer that Marshall receives from another team, but they would also receive a second-round pick from that team if he didn’t come back here. Draft picks are like gold these days, so that’s a lot of capital to give up for one linebacker.

What Brandon Marshall should do: Work his ass off to become the first inside linebacker that earned some serious money from John Elway. Sure, no duh you might say, but D.J. Williams, Wesley Woodyard, Nate Irving and now Danny Trevathan were all allowed to go and seek a larger payday elsewhere. Marshall would be breaking the grain if Elway made a long-term commitment to him.

What Brandon Marshall will do: I’m sure Marshall wouldn’t mind at all if another team came along and drove up his price tag. In the end, I don’t think he wants to be anywhere else. Unless the Seahawks or some other team go crazy and blow him away with an offer, I see him returning to fortify the middle of our defense.

C.J. Anderson

I could dedicate an entire column to what’s happening with C.J. Anderson. Yesterday, the Broncos gave him the lowest tender possible, meaning that he’s making the least amount of money he can as a restricted free agent. Although the Broncos can match any offer he gets from another team, they will not receive any compensation in return if C.J. signs with someone else. Talk about not getting a ringing endorsement from your team. These situations are hard to objectively judge as fans because guys like C.J. make us sentimental. When we think of C.J., we remember all of the great touchdown runs he’s made and the desire he brings to the field on Sundays. We don’t always see the business side of things, and that’s what John Elway has to look at.

The tender that Elway gave C.J. is a result of two factors: 1) That the value that teams place on running backs continues to shrink and 2) C.J. has rushed for just 1,607 yards and 13 touchdowns over the past two seasons. As I and anyone else who drafted him high in fantasy football last year can attest, he was having a miserable season early on until he turned things around in the last few games. I can’t argue with the decision that Elway made, especially given the limited cap space he has to work with and Gary Kubiak’s track record for turning unheralded running backs into stars, but C.J. wasn’t happy about it.

What C.J. Anderson should do: As with Brandon Marshall, it’s not really up to him. Maybe a team comes around and signs him away or at least forces the Broncos to raise their offer, but he should stay. We love him here and I really believe that Elway and Kubiak do too, despite what that tender suggests.

What C.J. Anderson will do: Sign with whoever gives him the best offer, because he wants to play for a team that believes in him and nothing says “we think you’re awesome” louder than a few million dollars. Just don’t go to New England, C.J. Don’t do us like that.

David Bruton

This one hurts. David Bruton is an excellent member of the team, on and off the field. He’s been our special teams ace for years, just played his best season defensively and is a hero in the community. There’s no reason the Broncos should pay him like a starter if he’s going to be the third safety off the bench. There’s also nothing wrong with Bruton seeking a raise or a starting position, because he’s earned both.

What David Bruton should do: Petition the NFL to allow teams to play 12 guys on defense and raise the salary cap, so that we can start him and pay him what he wants. This would also force the Seahawks to change the name of their fans, which would be a win for all of us.

What David Bruton will do: Follow Trevathan and possibly Malik Jackson to Oakland or Chicago. He will be sad when he realizes that starting for Fox or Del Rio means that you’re only allowed to try and make a play AFTER you watch the receiver catch the ball, but he’ll also be rich. We’ll miss you, Brut.

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