Denver Broncos: Which restricted free agents will be back?

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 22: Nose tackle Mike Purcell #98 of the Denver Broncos defends on the play against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at Empower Field at Mile High on December 22, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Lions 27-17. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 22: Nose tackle Mike Purcell #98 of the Denver Broncos defends on the play against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at Empower Field at Mile High on December 22, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Lions 27-17. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) /

The Denver Broncos have a number of important restricted free agents heading into the 2020 offseason. Which ones will be back?

The Denver Broncos have a number of prominent unrestricted free agents set to hit the open market in a few weeks, including the likes of cornerback Chris Harris Jr., safety Justin Simmons, defensive linemen Shelby Harris and Derek Wolfe, and center Connor McGovern.

Although they don’t get discussed quite as much, the Broncos also have a number of restricted free agents who had prominent roles on the team in 2019 and could have prominent roles going forward in 2020.

These players don’t get talked about nearly as often because the Broncos and every NFL club have the right to match contract offers restricted free agents receive from other clubs, and that’s not the case for unrestricted free agents.

These types of free agents have three or fewer ‘accrued’ seasons in the league — one accrued season equals six games or more — and NFL clubs have the option to tender each restricted free agent a predetermined one-year contract offer with varying levels of compensation based on the value the team places on a player.

There are three tender levels in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) format: First round (one year, roughly $4.15 million), second round (one year, $2.914 million), and original round (one year, roughly $1.9 million).

These contracts count fully against the salary cap, but they are non-guaranteed deals.

Essentially, what this means is that if a player is tendered an offer sheet at a first-round level, it means that if another team wants to sign them as a free agent, the player’s current team has two options.

  1. Match the contract offer sheet given to the player or;
  2. Do not match and receive a first-round pick as compensation

The formula works the same for second-round tenders or original round tenders.

For original round tenders, teams would be compensated should they choose not to match a player’s offer sheet with a draft pick from the round the player was originally drafted in. Fourth-round players would net fourth-round compensation, fifth-round picks would net fifth-round compensation, and so on. Undrafted players signed to original round tenders would have no compensation should their current team choose not to match an offer sheet.

Now that we know what a restricted free agent is, who do the Broncos have with this designation (three accrued seasons or less)? Will the Broncos re-sign them? If so, to what level of tender?

Let’s take a look.

Mike Purcell, defensive tackle

After putting some nice things on tape in the AAF, Purcell found his way back to the NFL as a former undrafted free agent in 2013 of the San Francisco 49ers.

Purcell became the Broncos’ starting nose tackle and was a big-time asset for this team throughout the 2019 season not only as a run stuffer but Purcell was productive as a rusher as well.

The Broncos would be wise to put a second-round tender on him.

Prediction: 2nd-round tender, $2.914 million

Joe Jones, linebacker/special teams

Joe Jones has become a very valuable member of the Broncos’ special teams as well as a huge asset to the Denver community.

His ability to captain the special teams likely nets him an original round tender, unless the Broncos feel like they can bring him back cheaper.

Prediction: Original-round tender, $1.9 million

De’Vante Bausby, cornerback

Another success story for the Broncos from last year’s failed AAF experiment, De’Vante Bausby showed some really nice things in preseason and regular season action before he suffered a scary injury against the Los Angeles Chargers on some friendly fire from Alexander Johnson.

Bausby’s speed, length, and ball skills make him an intriguing option as a possible starter.

Prediction: Original-round tender, $1.9 million

Elijah Wilkinson, offensive line

The Broncos seem to like Elijah Wilkinson as an offensive guard, but he keeps getting forced into tackle duties and he’s struggled badly there.

Still, his experience at both guard and tackle makes him a no-brainer original-round tender.

Prediction: Original-round tender, $1.9 million

Brandon Allen, quarterback

The Broncos brought Brandon Allen in as a backup option at roster cuts when Drew Lock’s thumb injury proved too significant to just wait out.

Although Allen provided a spark last season in his start versus Cleveland, he was not good in his other games and the Broncos will likely be looking elsewhere for quarterback depth. They could also try to non-tender him and bring him back for less than the original-round tender amount.

Prediction: Non-tendered

Tim Patrick, wide receiver

The Broncos have watched Tim Patrick develop into a solid contributor on offense, but only in spurts. He has made some big plays while disappearing for stretches.

Perhaps he could be more effective with more consistent quarterback play, but is it worth $1.9 million to find out? I don’t know if Patrick has proven the Broncos that his salary from last season should be nearly quadrupled.

Prediction: Non-tendered

Joel Heath, defensive line

Joel Heath is an experienced guy for a restricted free agent, just barely missing out on the cut for unrestricted status.

He’s actually started some for Houston and I think the Broncos placed a late waiver claim on him to bring him back.

Prediction: Original-round tender, $1.9 million

If these predictions hold up, the Broncos would be committing roughly $10.542 million in salary cap money on restricted free agents.

Next. Broncos 2020 mock draft with big trades. dark

That feels like a lot of dough to spend on role players, but some of these guys are key depth and as stated earlier, these are non-guaranteed deals the Broncos could get out of at any time with no cap penalty.