Keith Brooking (57) during the third quarter of the AFC divisional round playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens at Sports Authority Field. The Ravens won 38-35 in double overtime. (Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)

The Denver Broncos' Fiscal Discipline

No one wants to talk about budgets anymore, especially not on a sports website. Most people turn to sports as an escape from talk of balance budgets and tough decisions. Yet, that’s exactly what is going on in the NFL right now. Who goes? Who stays? Who’s available? How much can we afford to spend? Despite the painful way the Broncos’ season concluded it is comforting to know that the team ranked fifth in offense and second in defense. It is also in an excellent salary cap position going into free agency and April’s draft.

Let’s assume for a moment that Ryan Clady and the Broncos don’t actually settle on a contract.  He has already turned down a five-year, $50 million dollar offer and is now recovering from a shoulder surgery that will see him miss most if not all of the pre-season. Still he is arguably the best offensive tackle in the game and he will be protecting the Broncos’ $96 million investment in 2013. The Broncos will simply be forced to place the franchise tag on him. That tag is a costly one, however, coming in at $9.66 million but even after the ink dries the Broncos should be in an enviable salary cap position.

Due to injuries, both Joe Mays and D.J. Williams are now expendable.  It is hard to see them remaining with the Broncos although it is conceivable that new deals at significant discounts can be agreed on. If the team parts ways with Mays and Williams it would free up another $10 million or so in cap room even after signing Clady. That would leave them with over $12 million in cap room.

Keith Brookings was a soldier this season for the Broncos and played valiantly in the middle. He is a free agent and is certainly not the answer at 37. I suspect the Broncos could bring him back for a reasonable contract but only in a supporting role. Nate Irving is waiting in the wings but the Broncos are going to need more than that if they plan to improve the defense they were in 2012. This is a position that needs to be addressed either by free agency or the draft. It may be the most pressing need on this team. A player like Dannell Ellerbe would make a dramatic impact.

Other free agents the Denver defense can ill afford to lose are Tony Carter, Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan. It would be terrific if all of them came back but that’s probably unrealistic. Carter had a very solid season and it’s fair to say no one thought he would improve as much as he did. He should be easy to retain and should come with a reasonable price tag. Bannan and Vickerson may very well turn out to be different stories, particularly Vickerson.  He is coming off a career year. They are both going to want to test the open market and may find suitors.  Perhaps, there is a Trevor Pryce in this year’s draft? Kawann Short was incredible at the Senior Bowl. Richard Seymour might be a terrific free agent addition at DT especially if Vickerson’s price tag rises too much.  Veteran leadership and run stopping ability are always in demand and even though he only played in eight games last year, Seymour still has both.

On offense there is less to be concerned with from both a personnel and financial standpoint if, of course, you simply put Clady into his own category. Dan Koppen was not supposed to start but J.D. Walton’s injury forced him to step up.  He did so quit admirably. He is, however, a free agent now and with Walton coming back and Phillip Blake ready to assert himself, it doesn’t appear the Broncos absolutely have to sign him. It certainly would be nice to keep him around in order to push both Walton and Blake but he may find there is more money to be made elsewhere. He may still be available come training camp too.Brandon Stokley is almost certain to come back for at least one more ride. He more than most understands how good this team is and what it is capable of with Peyton at the helm. However, he made close to $1 million in 2012 and it’s hard to see the Broncos doing that again. Perhaps a slightly smaller contract is in order.

All in all there are definitely issues that need to be addressed but the Broncos appear to have money to spend in addition to an excellent core. The Clady contract will be job one, but questions remain at middle linebacker, defensive tackle, and some have said the cornerback and safety positions could use a little strengthening. I for one think the running back position here in Denver is also worth further examination (Chris Ivory anyone?).  The good news is that John Elway has shown himself to be a capable financial steward. He has shown an uncanny ability to build this team utilizing the draft and by finding players that provide production as well as value. The Broncos should be able to re-sign the players they want while retaining an additional $6-7 million in salary cap to find the players they need.  Who knew fiscal discipline could be so much fun?

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