Mile High Mailbag: Caponomics, Nate Irving and Chiefs


Welcome to the first edition of the Mile High Mailbag, hosted by yours truly. This series will include questions submitted to me by awesome people on Twitter and will cover a broad range of Denver Broncos topics. If you have a question about the Broncos, be sure to tweet it to me. Let’s get started.

Excellent question. This is a topic I touched on a week ago. Ever since the new CBA that was enacted in 2011, NFL rookie contracts are slotted. There is very little room for interpretation that players, and their agents, can negotiate around.

Until today, 1st round pick, Bradley Roby, was the only player from the Broncos draft that was unsigned. Today, the team announced that they have agreed to terms with the former Ohio State Buckeye.

Per, Roby is slotted a 4 year, $6.95M deal, with a 2014 cap number of $1,264,096. OTC estimates that the Broncos had $5,310,416 in cap space, before the Roby signing. Now that he’s signed, that leaves just over $4M available for the team to use how they see fit.

Could a chunk of that money be used on a veteran running back? Absolutely. Players like Ronnie Brown, Felix Jones and Kevin Smith could be signed for the veteran minimum, which is just under $1M at the most.

With so much unproven talent in the Broncos backfield, it would be prudent to bring someone in for insurance purposes. Should the team choose to do it, it’ll be right before training camp begins most likely. Of all the available free agent runners, my choice would be Ronnie Brown.

Keep in mind, the team must also keep a little cap room in case the injury bug strikes, which it always does, and they need to sign a street free agent to step in.

This is a question that Broncos Country have been asking since Nate Irving was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft. He was supposed to be the Mike linebacker of the future.

Unfortunately for Irving, the 2011 rookie class had very little time to acclimate and learn the playbook before the season started, due to the NFL lockout. And as the “quarterback of the defense” Mike linebackers have a steeper learning curve than do other defensive rookies. As a result, Irving couldn’t beat out Joe Mays.

Since his rookie year, Irving has been unable to beat out the likes of Mays, Keith Brooking, Wesley Woodyard and Paris Lenon for the starting Mike job. In fairness to Irving, however, we probably shouldn’t hold 2013 against him. Once the Von Miller suspension hit and Lerentee McCray, Miller’s backup, was put on IR, the team needed Irving at the Sam position. It was a shake up in the linebacker corps that the coaching staff had to handle on the fly and they felt that the team was better off with Irving on the strong side. He played well.

This year is a totally different ball game. The Broncos are giving Irving every opportunity to succeed at Mike. Woodyard and Lenon are gone. Irving won’t face any stiff, experienced competition, unless you consider rookie 5th round pick, Lamin Barrow, and special team stalwart, Steven Johnson, a threat. Barrow could surprise, but I think it’ll be a year, at best, before we see him vie for a starting position on defense, although he could be used as a cover linebacker in the Broncos sub packages.

Like most of you reading this, I’m hopeful that Irving can come through this year as the Mike linebacker this defense needs to be complete. Can he do it? Only time will tell.

This one comes from an awesome fella in enemy territory. Chiefs Kingdom.

I am not worried about the Chiefs in 2014. Why? A couple of reasons, really. First of all, the strength of their team, their defense, doesn’t match up well with the strength of the Broncos, their offense.

There’s no question that the Chiefs front 7 is one of the best in the NFL. After all, it produced 4 Pro Bowlers in 2013. Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Dontari Poe and Derrick Johnson.

Their strength is the pressure that Hali and Houston can create off the edge. Although this can overwhelm most NFL teams, the Broncos were nonplussed by them in 2013. Peyton Maning was sacked a grand total of ZERO times, in TWO meetings with the Chiefs last year. And that was without All-Pro left tackle, Ryan Clady.

To supplement their pass rush, the Chiefs drafted Dee Ford in the 1st round. It’ll be interesting to see how the Chiefs deploy him. But the Chiefs also lost some key contributors from their defense. Tyson Jackson, Quentin Demps and Kendrick Lewis all took their talents elsewhere.

Until the Chiefs offense, led by Alex Smith, can put up more points consistently, they won’t be able to keep up with the high octane Broncos offense. And therein lies the rub.

YES! I’ve expressed my concerns that the Broncos had yet to open contract negotiations with Demaryius Thomas. And I’m happy to hear the news that the Broncos have not only began talking contracts with Bey Bey, but also with Julius Thomas. It’s great to see the team locking up their young offensive studs.

With Bey Bey, I expect his deal to net him close to around $14M per year, with close to $30M guaranteed. Although it’s true that he has benefited in a big way from playing with Peyton Manning, there is no question that he is an elite receiver. And over the last 2 seasons, he’s proven that he can produce at the highest levels consistently. The Broncos will pay him accordingly.

Orange Julius’ situation is a little bit more complicated. After 2 injury-plagued seasons, Thomas was finally able to stay healthy and he exploded on the NFL scene in 2013, even earning a Pro Bowl nod. His role in the Broncos offense helped to elevate it to historic proportions.

From the team’s perspective, it would be easy to negotiate from the “one hit wonder” angle. However, I have no question that the team will lock Thomas up. Somewhere around $6-7M per year and $18M guaranteed.