The 2020 offseason will bring plenty of change for the Denver Broncos. Here are five players who may have played their final games in the Mile High City.
The Denver Broncos are close to making big roster changes for the 2020 season.
Free agency is drawing near, and the Broncos will come back from the 2020 Scouting Combine with decision to be made on a number of in-house free agents.
John Elway stated in his combine press conference that the Broncos will reach out to the agents of their own free agent players and that ultimately, the decision to return to Denver will be up to the player.
Translation: If the players want to accept what Elway is willing to offer, they will be welcome back with open arms.
Translation: If the players want to accept what Elway is willing to offer, they will be welcome back with open arms.
Unfortunately, there are two sides to every business decision in the NFL. There is always the team trying to do what's best for the team, then there is the player trying to do what's best for the player.
Neither side is in the wrong, although sometimes, it's foolish for teams not to pay market value for their own players and risk long-term dissension versus just paying a player what he is worth.
Taking the personal aspect out of it, football is a supply-and-demand business. Although the sentimental value of some of these players is significant for the fan base, the team is going to consider every alternative. There could very well be players from other teams that might fit better in the current system and culture than the guys who have already been around.
Sometimes, moving on is the best thing for both parties.
We're going to take a look at five guys who might be finished playing in Denver, some we've discussed at length before and others whose likelihood of staying on the team may have diminished recently due to rumored free agency demand.
Players like Joe Flacco and Ron Leary are obvious cap casualties, so they won't be included on this list. As a matter of fact, Elway announced that Ron Leary's contract option will be declined, so we know for sure he's not going to be back in 2020.
Which players might make sense to bring back for football reasons but could leave for greener pastures (more money) or better opportunity at playing time? What other players might be on the roster bubble as far as being cap casualties?
Here are five players who might have played their last snaps in Orange and Blue.
Will Parks, defensive back
This one would really sting.
Not only has Will Parks been one of the Broncos' best draft picks of the last five years, he's also been one of the team's biggest and brightest personalities and a leader on and off the field.
After playing a career-high 60 percent of defensive snaps in 2017, Parks' usage has gone down ever so slightly in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, although he did 'start' a career-high seven games this past year under Vic Fangio.
Parks emerged as the primary nickel defensive back for the Broncos late last season and flourished in that role for Vic Fangio's defense, proving his versatility as a nickel/dime defensive back in today's NFL with the ability to match up on receivers and tight ends.
Given that Parks has a number of ties to coaches who are now elsewhere in the NFL, he could have a substantial market in free agency and a number of offers for a more expanded role than what the Broncos might offer him.
Losing Parks would hurt, even though the Broncos are likely to spend some money in free agency on the defensive backfield.
He would be a nice player to have back, but what role would he play in Denver in 2020? Would they re-sign him to be their top nickel corner? Would he simply be a third safety behind Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson?
Can the Broncos offer Parks the money he deserves and the increased role he undoubtedly covets?
All of these questions lead me to believe Parks could be playing for another team in 2020.
Just 25, Parks' best playing days could be ahead of him. The Broncos would be wise to invest in him, but he may be looking for a more immediate chance to show that his best days are ahead.
Chris Harris Jr., cornerback
This should come as no shock to anyone at all, but it feels more likely than not that Chris Harris Jr. will not be a Denver Bronco anymore come March.
That's a tough pill to swallow.
Harris spent his first nine seasons as a pro in Denver, and he's been absolutely outstanding. As a matter of fact, there are only a couple of players in the entire league that deserve to be even mentioned with Harris over that time period as the best at the cornerback position.
Harris is going to be 31 this season, and the Broncos reportedly already offered him an extension in the middle of last season for three years, $36 million.
An average salary of $12 million per season would have put Harris at 13th in the NFL among cornerbacks, but he's seeking more. He's been open about the fact that he wants to be paid like one of the best corners in the NFL, and he seems confident he's going to get north of $14 million per season on a new contract.
The Broncos were offering Harris a pretty fair deal considering he's now on the other side of 30 and struggled at times last season, but they were also only offering an additional guarantee of the 2020 season beyond what he was being paid in 2019.
Harris has not counted the Broncos out of the mix for his services in 2020 and beyond yet, and rightfully so. It isn't mandatory for him to finish his career in Denver, but he's expressed a number of times that he would like to do that.
Prior to becoming a free agent the first time around, Harris opted to sign an in-season extension with the Broncos in 2014. He's never experienced unrestricted free agency and having all 31 teams besides the Broncos come after him.
He's excited for that opportunity, and rightly so.
If the market sets Harris' value too far above what the Broncos are comfortable paying when they could possibly get another player of similar caliber who is younger at a similar price, it could mean the departure of the last piece of the No Fly Zone.
Shelby Harris, defensive line
The Broncos saw Shelby Harris' potential when it seemed he'd been written off by far too many other teams.
Harris, a seventh-round pick of the Oakland Raiders once upon a time, was an outcast of not only the team that drafted him but also of the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets before he landed on his feet in Denver.
After a tremendous offseason in 2017, Harris found himself contributing significantly as a rotational player for the Broncos and he blossomed into a possible eight-figure contract player this past season under Vic Fangio.
Harris set a career-high with six sacks and 10 passes batted down, proving himself a disruptive all-around defensive end after things didn't work out with him playing nose tackle.
To this point, perhaps no player has put the writing on the wall that his time in Denver is likely over quite like Shelby Harris. Although he's expressed, like every player pretty much does, his desire to return to Denver, he's also hired a new agent and has talked about how the Broncos missed an opportunity to re-sign him for a lot less than he's looking for now.
Now represented by Drew Rosenhaus, it just feels like the Broncos and Harris are headed for a split.
He's going to be 29 this season, so he understandably wants the most money he can possibly get. This could be his only shot at a big contract, and he's coming off of a career year. It's time to secure the bag.
From the Broncos' perspective, some of Harris' production came in bunches and it wasn't until more than a month into the season that he found his fit in the defense. Even then, he was a part-time player to maximize his abilities.
Having Harris back at what he might have commanded a year ago would have been nice, but what he's asking for now, likely north of $10 million per season?
That is probably going to lead to a mutual parting of ways.
Colby Wadman, punter
Although it's not often discussed as a primary roster concern, the Broncos' punting game has been awful over the last five years.
Colby Wadman has not been consistently terrible, but he hasn't even proven himself to be consistently average while with the Broncos.
The Broncos had a solid young punter in Riley Dixon, but his consistency was an issue as well, so the team decided to trade him in 2018 when the opportunity to sign former Raiders punter Marquette King came about.
King has been adamant that the Broncos' staff tried to change his approach to striking the ball, and ultimately he was injured and released with an injury settlement when Colby Wadman came onto the team.
For what it's worth, King doesn't feel like Wadman is the problem...
Something's got to give, because punting or kicking in the Mile High air should be a player's dream, right?
Last year, Wadman ranked 25th in the league in yards per punt (44.4) and 30th in punting net with 37.2 percent of his kicks landing inside the 20.
The Broncos brought in Trevor Daniel on a reserve/futures deal to compete with Wadman, who to his credit is still a young player finding his way in the league. The Broncos have a disturbing recent history of letting punters go who have gone on to have much better success at their next stops, including Brett Kern who is one of the best punters in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans right now, the aforementioned Riley Dixon who is doing well for the Giants, and Britton Colquitt, who ranked 11th in net average last season with the Vikings.
Hopefully the Broncos figure this spot out, because despite some of Wadman's best moments with the team over the past two seasons, his shanked kicks have often been game-changing plays in the worst way.
Connor McGovern, interior offensive line
Losing Connor McGovern would be a bummer for the Broncos.
If his price tag is reasonable enough, this is a player the Broncos should try to keep. Let's take a look really quick at the state of the team's 2016 draft class:
1. Paxton Lynch: Gone
2. Adam Gotsis: Likely gone in 2020
3. Justin Simmons: Will be back in 2020
4. Devontae Booker: Likely gone in 2020
6a. Andy Janovich: Signed contract extension
6b. Will Parks: Could be gone in 2020
7. Riley Dixon: Traded in 2018
There is no written rule that says you have to keep every draft choice that works out for you in a given class, but it would be a shame for the Broncos to see both of their top two picks in the 2016 draft not work out and then let go of the players in this class that actually did turn into something.
Although McGovern doesn't appear to be a top-tier center or right guard, he has substantial starting experience at both spots and he did fairly well at both spots.
Re-signing McGovern would give the Broncos at least two full-time starters to keep from their 2016 draft class, an underrated group for the life of their rookie deals aside from Lynch, all told.
With Simmons expected to receive either the franchise tag or a long-term deal (or both), I think the Broncos would be wise to hold onto McGovern, but that doesn't negate the possibility that he could price himself out of Denver's range.
With such a strong interior line class coming up from the college ranks in 2020 and 12 draft selections to work with, the Broncos may feel like a rookie could step in and replace McGovern's production.
If McGovern is seeking top-10 center money, the Broncos probably aren't the team to give it to him. Not that they can't afford it, but just because the Broncos have cap space doesn't mean they should just give whatever their players are demanding.
The price has to be right, and there could be a strong demand for McGovern around the league.
With that said, here's hoping the Broncos can retain him to play one of their two available interior spots in 2020. McGovern's positional versatility is valuable, and it would be nice to see a draft pick rewarded for solid play with a reasonable extension.