The Denver Broncos don’t have a ton of cap space, but with what they do have, they should try to get Ndamukong Suh in free agency.
The Denver Broncos have been aggressive in free agency, swinging a trade for quarterback Joe Flacco and bringing in right tackle Ja’Wuan James, cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan, and re-signing tight end Jeff Heuerman, defensive lineman Zach Kerr, and quarterback Kevin Hogan.
With all of that movement, how could the Broncos possibly afford to bring in a veteran player like Ndamukong Suh?
First, let’s take a look at the fit.
The Broncos’ defensive front under Vic Fangio is going to be a lot different this year than it was a season ago.
For the past couple of years, the Broncos have been working with a variety of looks on the defensive front with a lot of 4-2-5.
Fangio’s defense is not what you think of when you think of a traditional 3-4 alignment with two defensive ends always lined up in front of a tackle and a nose tackle straight over the center.
Fangio’s defenses, not only in Chicago but dating back to his days with the 49ers and likely prior to that, have used a combination of that traditional look with a 3-4 ‘under’ style of defense which is much more reliant on a three-technique defensive tackle.
What exactly is that?
A three-technique (3T) is a defensive tackle who is typically your best pass rushing interior lineman. The Broncos have a couple of guys who are ideal in this role in Shelby Harris and even DeMarcus Walker, whose value could get a significant boost with the arrival of Fangio.
Looking at Fangio’s scheme and player usage from this past year in Chicago, however, it’s clear he doesn’t require a traditional, ‘over the center’ nose tackle.
Eddie Goldman, who is listed by many sites as the Bears’ nose tackle, played under 200 of his nearly 600 snaps last season at nose tackle, either over the center or shaded over one of the center’s shoulders.
Goldman played the majority of his snaps as a left defensive tackle, shaded over or lined up over the guard.
All of this to say, the Broncos’ defensive line personnel at this point in time looks pretty solid for year one of Fangio’s installation, but there are major question marks for the future as Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis, and Shelby Harris are all playing on expiring contracts.
That fact should push interior defensive line way up Denver’s draft board this year, regardless of what the team says about not drafting for need.
There may not be a need right now, but there will be, because you can never keep everybody, no matter how bad you want to.
Derek Wolfe should retire a Bronco, and I hope he does, but again — you never know.
Adam Gotsis should be a high priority for the team to re-sign, but that will come down to pure dollars and cents, especially if Gotsis has another good year.
How about a little insurance?
That’s where Ndamukong Suh comes into play.
Suh played all over the Rams’ defensive front under Wade Phillips this past season. Scheme fit or positional fit is not a question — this is a veteran player who can play any role asked of him and play at a high level.
The major question here would be price.
Could the Broncos realistically afford Suh?
Well, the answer to that question is yes but how they get there is another story entirely.
Suh bet on himself this past year with the Rams and won. He was phenomenal at the age of 31. He’s 32 now and undoubtedly looking at mostly short-term contracts wherever he plays, but the Denver Broncos could offer him at least a two-year deal and the chance to play in a defensive scheme that has historically been great for just about every player who played in it.
What’s the current market value for players of Suh’s age/caliber? The average is around $10 million per season, so the Broncos would have to get really creative here to fit Suh on the 2019 salary cap while also giving him the money and guarantees he deserves.
The model to work off of is the Philadelphia Eagles’ recent deal with Malik Jackson, who signed a three-year contract worth $30 million, but Howie Roseman has done such a masterful job of working the cap.
Even with a three-year, $30 million pact, Jackson will only count $2.8 million against the Eagles’ 2019 cap.
How in the world is that possible?
Well, the Eagles first spread out a $9 million signing bonus over five years. There are two void years in this contract with Jackson that will count $1.8 million against their cap in the two years beyond the length of this contract.
The Eagles guaranteed Jackson $17 million at signing but found creative ways to spread that around over the next five years so they can fit Jackson among their other roster moves.
Is that something the Broncos want to get into the habit of doing? Maybe.
Should they do it for Ndamukong Suh?
Getting Suh at this point in his career is not like getting him when the Miami Dolphins did, but it would unquestionably be a good time for Denver to pursue him. Whether or not Suh would be amenable to this type of deal is up in the air at this point, but the Broncos are clearly chasing another championship with Joe Flacco coming in and players clearly want to be playing for Vic Fangio.
Schematically, Suh could be a fit. Contract-wise, it would be a bit complicated and would require some give-and-take on both sides, but it’s possible to get Suh at a fair market value in average annual salary while also limiting the cap hit to under $2 million if that’s what the Broncos wanted.
It’s also important to remember that the Broncos at least inquired about the price Jackson was going to require as a free agent, and opted either not to make him an offer or Jackson told them he preferred other fits.
The longer Suh sits on the free agent market, the more I hope the Broncos try hard to be the team that gets a deal done for him.
It sets them up to have at least Suh and whatever rookie is brought in this year (maybe Ed Oliver, Dexter Lawrence, or someone else) beyond 2019 along with hopefully DeMarcus Walker and at least one of Wolfe/Gotsis.
If the Broncos are in win-now mode, this is a win-now move.