Denver Broncos: Courtland Sutton an early extension candidate

Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

The Denver Broncos have plenty of players to focus on between now (late February) and the 2021 NFL Draft (late April).

Justin Simmons needs a new deal. The team has to figure out Von Miller’s situation. Will Shelby Harris be re-signed?

One of the position groups the team doesn’t especially have to worry about is the wide receiver position, other than their guys progressing and getting healthy. When it comes to getting healthy, the focus is solely on the team’s best offensive player, Courtland Sutton.

Sutton is making his way back from a knee injury he suffered in Pittsburgh last season against the Steelers. He, unfortunately, had a bad dropped (tipped) pass that was intercepted and he hurt his knee chasing down the defender to make a tackle.

Losing Sutton was a kill shot for the Broncos last season as the offense had to grow without him. In fact, starting quarterback Drew Lock was also hurt in that game, another event that stunted the growth of the offense overall.

Still, Sutton has proven his value to the Denver Broncos. He made the Pro Bowl in his second season after a tremendous rookie campaign and his Pro Bowl bid in 2019 was nothing short of heroic. With Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, and Drew Lock all throwing him passes and virtually no help from anyone else at receiver, Sutton was able to eclipse 1,000 yards.

He earned every single one of them.

Although he missed the majority of his third NFL season, a contract year looms for Sutton in 2021. The Denver Broncos have a variety of options to consider with Sutton.

Option 1: Get an extension done ASAP

The top option, as far as I’m concerned, is to open up contract extension talks over the Summer with Sutton and get something done before the start of the 2021 regular season.

The Broncos have been able to monitor every step of Sutton’s recovery process. They know what he brings to the table and not just on the field but off of it as well. Sutton is a leader on this Denver Broncos team and a great teammate.

It was not John Elway’s style to extend players a year ahead of their first free agency, but who knows if George Paton will share that kind of strategy?

Sutton might be more willing to get a deal done this year instead of after the season because he is coming off of injury. The highest-paid receivers in the NFL right now and the going rate for top-tier guys is going to be at least $16-17 million per season.

The Broncos have a franchise tag option next offseason (option 2, for what it’s worth) but that would be worth somewhere around $17-18 million fully guaranteed.

The franchise tag number is dipping in 2021 because the salary cap is going down (due to COVID-19) but it could go back up in 2022 and that would cause the franchise tag number to rise again.

If Sutton has another great year in 2021, the Broncos could simply table negotiations with him until after he has that great season and threaten the franchise tag if he doesn’t want to play at their price, but this is a guy you undoubtedly want to build around.

One primary reason the Broncos should be motivated to get Courtland Sutton’s deal done before the 2021 season? It has to do with Bradley Chubb’s fifth-year option in 2022.

The fifth-year option on Chubb — if he’s classified as a linebacker — will cost the Denver Broncos just under $14 million on the 2022 salary cap. The team has to decide whether to pick that option up before early May.

Knowing that Chubb is going to count a good amount of money on the books in 2022, getting Sutton an extension soon would mean a lower cap hit for 2022 than a franchise tag worth somewhere around $18 million. Can you really plan on committing $32 million total between just those two players in one offseason?

It wouldn’t be terrible practice for the Broncos under new GM George Paton to start rewarding players like Sutton who do everything right, even given the injury he suffered last season.