Denver Broncos: Should Garett Bolles get an extension?
By Steven Kriz
Should the Denver Broncos extend Garett Bolles ASAP?
It’s no secret that the Denver Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles has been one of the most frustrating players fo fans to watch since being selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft.
Bolles has led the league in holding penalties in two of his three seasons in the NFL and has become an easy scapegoat for the poor offensive line play that has plagued the Broncos since their Super Bowl season back in 2015. “Holding, number 72,” has become the cue to boo in the Mile High City, back when there were fans in the stands, of course.
The good news is that Bolles looked much improved in the second half of 2019, his first season under offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who is known around the league as an offensive line whisperer of sorts.
The progress that Bolles made once Drew Lock took over was taken a step further this past Monday Night as the Broncos battled the Tennessee Titans and Bolles’ name wasn’t talked about once. For an offensive lineman, when you aren’t being discussed on the broadcast, chances are you are doing your job, and Bolles was doing just that playing arguably his best game as a pro.
This version of Garett Bolles is what John Elway envisioned when he picked him at number 20 overall. Despite being a first-round pick, Elway declined to pick up the ever-so-popular fifth-year option for Bolles that would have kept him on the team for an additional year for right around $11 million. This was a bit of a puzzling move that could turn into an unfortunate mistake if Bolles continues to improve, and turns into the exact player that the team needs right before he has the chance to walk his butt right out the door.
Good, or even quality left tackles in the NFL are hard to come by, and very expensive as evidenced by Laremy Tunsil’s new deal. So this begs the question: Should John Elway go ahead and give Bolles an extension sooner rather than later?
The short answer is he should probably wait at least a few more games before engaging in discussions to get a better gauge of where Bolles’ play truly stands. However, if his play continues to look like it did the second half of 2019 and in the first game this season, Elway would be smart to try and get an extension done before the price gets too high. Elway is always on the hunt for a bargain, and soon would be the time to go shopping for one if he thinks Bolles is on the rise.
So what might a contract extension look like that would make sense for both parties?
Gauging Bolles’ contractual value
The tackle market was reset when Laremy Tunsil agreed to a deal that is to pay him $22 million per season. Bolles’ deal won’t look anything like that as he doesn’t exactly have the best rep around the league. However, it’s nowhere near as outrageous to think that if he puts together a decent season, he could find himself in that $13-15 million a year range where players such as Donavan Smith, DJ Humphries, and others currently sit. The open-market is the wild wild west after all with guys looking to cash in and 32 teams desperate to overpay for mediocre talent.
Bolles is a bit unique because even though he is only in his fourth season he is already 28 years old, so he should be looking to cash in as best he can. However, he also has something to lose by waiting if he were to hit a major lull in play over the second half of the year and proving that he isn’t a starting-caliber left tackle, thus tanking his value in free agency. The Broncos will need to be cognizant of this risk as well, so they would need to offer something that offers Garett a nice payday but also offers the team flexibility. So again, what could that look like?
The first key is the length of the deal. The Broncos will want to be in control here and need to protect themselves in the event that his play regresses. A three-year extension makes great sense for both team and Bolles, as it would allow the Broncos to potentially have a LT under contract through the 2023 season, and would allow Garett to cash in again at the age of 31, an age that isn’t too late for LT’s to get a big contract.
Denver does need to make sure that all guaranteed money is paid out by the end of 2021, and that any dead cap hits would be minor if they needed to move on after one more year. The way to do this is through a higher base salary, and a smaller signing bonus in 2021, a smaller salary in 2022, and a higher salary in 2023.
3-years, $35 million. $17 million fully guaranteed at signing with $24 million guaranteed for injury.
$6 million signing bonus paid this season adding $1.5 million to his 2020 cap hit.
2021: $11 million fully guaranteed base salary. Cap hit: $12.5 million
2022: $7 million base salary guaranteed only for injury. Cap hit: $8.5 million
2023: $11 million non-guaranteed base salary. Cap hit: $12.5 million
Why does this make sense?
From Bolles’ perspective, this deal is very similar to what he would have got had Elway picked up the option, but with an added $6 million guaranteed in his signing bonus upfront. When someone wants to drop $6 million in your bank account today, it’s hard to not listen to that. This also guarantees Bolles another year of good money if he were to get hurt during the next year.
Lastly, this would put him in the same AAV range as the likes of Duane Brown, David Bakhtiari, and Tyron Smith — not a bad crowd to be peers with considering he’s made a living for three years of tackling opposing pass-rushers instead of blocking them.
This also makes sense for Denver in the sense that if he ends up continuing to improve, they could be looking at having a top-10, maybe even top-15 tackle under contract for three years at a very reasonable cost. By the time 2023 rolls around, you’d have to imagine this would contract would easily be in the bottom third of the league (excluding the rookie deals).
If he falls back into his old ways, provided he isn’t injured, the Broncos could move on after the 2021 season for only $3 million in dead money an no additional guaranteed money.
This deal carries risk for both parties. Bolles could easily bet on himself, play well, and lock down a $15-17 million a year contract with another team on the ever-unpredictable open market. On the flip side, Bolles could get 20 holds over his final 10 games and Denver winds up paying $11 million to a guy that is riding the bench a year from now. This is again why declining the fifth-year option was a puzzling move, as Elway would have to take a risk at this point in the year, but here we are.
The contract proposed would seem to be the happy medium that would make sense for both sides that offer risk and reward for both parties. Time will tell if Elway is thinking the same way, but the time to make this happen would be sooner rather than later.