Heading into the 2021 season, which officially begins for the NFL when free agency starts on March 17, the Broncos have a lot of work to do. New general manager George Paton is going to have to make some roster changes if he hopes to end Denver’s four-year streak of sub-.500 seasons and five-year playoff drought.
Those potential upgrades will come in two forms – free agents and draft picks. In order to maximize both efforts, the Broncos need to have some cap space to operate; they need to ensure that they aren’t constrained by a lack of room to maneuver.
Currently, Denver is projected to have $18.5 million in cap space in 2021. But a few moves could ballon that number quickly.
Some players who are currently on the roster could be released. Here are the most likely candidates to become salary-cap casualties before March 17, with the cap savings listed if they are released by the team:
Von Miller | OLB
Cap Savings = $18.0 million
Miller is set to count $22.5 million against the cap next year. He has one year left on the six-year, $114.1 million contract he signed in 2021, meaning he’d have a dead cap number of $4.5 million if released. Given his lack of production, injuries and potential legal troubles, it’s hard to imagine him playing in Denver under the final year of his current contract in 2021.
Jurrell Casey | DE
Cap Savings = $11.9 million
After coming to the Broncos last offseason via a trade with the Titans, the former five-time Pro Bowl selection did next to nothing in Denver. He played three games before getting hurt, recording 0.0 sacks and just 14 tackles. With younger players on the roster and hitting free agency, Paton would be wise to go cheaper at this position.
A.J. Bouye | CB
Cap Savings = $11.7 million
Most people think the Broncos will part ways with Bouye after just one season. The cornerback did little in Denver during his first season. After coming over from the Jaguars via a trade, Bouye played in just seven games, where he didn’t record an interception. He does have talent, however. And he’d be expensive to replace, either via free agency or a high draft pick. So don’t be shocked if Paton decides to let Bouye play out the final year of his deal, giving Denver more time to find a suitable replacement.
Kareem Jackson | S
Cap Savings = $10.0 million
Jackson is entering the final season of his three-year, $33-million deal with the club. Releasing him would leave $2.9 million in dead cap, but would free up a big chunk of money. Given that fellow safety Justin Simmons is a free agent, and is coming off of two straight solid seasons, the Broncos might choose to spend big on Jackson’s teammate. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where they’d keep both, as that would tie up nearly $30 million in safeties in 2021.
Bryce Callahan | CB
Cap Savings = $6.8 million
After not playing a single down during his first season in Denver, Callahan restructured his contract prior to the 2020 campaign. He’s entering the final year of that deal, which means the Broncos would have a dead cap of $1.7 million if they released him. Given that he played well when healthy, picking off two passes in 10 games, Paton might roll the dice on one more season. Much like Bouye, the cost to replace him is probably higher than keeping him.
Mike Purcell | DT
Cap Savings = $3.2 million
Purcell is a great story, as the Highlands Ranch product is inked a three-year, $11.5 million deal last season with his hometown team. He still has roughly $3 million in guaranteed money coming his way, but releasing him would carry $0 in dead cap. So if the Broncos are willing to pay someone not to play in order to create cap space, Purcell could be in trouble. It doesn’t help that he wasn’t very productive in 2020, recording 15 tackles and 1.0 sack in six games.
Jeff Driskel | QB
Cap Savings = $2.5 million
Midway through the 2020 season, Driskel lost his backup job to Brett Rypien. That being the case, it seems highly unlikely that the Broncos will want to tie up $3.25 million of cap space in a third-string (at best) quarterback. They’ll eat the $750,00 in dead cap and move on from Driskel, who didn’t perform well in his one start, going 17-of-30 for 176 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 28-10 loss to the Buccaneers.
Nick Vannett | TE
Cap Savings = $2.3 million
Vannett isn’t a bad player, as he proved in 2020 that he can be more than just a blocking tight end. On the season, he caught 14 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown. While that was a pleasant surprise, it’s hardly the production Denver needs from their highest paid tight end. With young players like Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam on the roster, Vannett seems like an expensive luxury.
Duke Dawson | CB
Cap Savings = $1.1 million
Dawson doesn’t make a lot of money, so he could be a cheap alternative if the Broncos decide to move on from Bouye and/or Callahan. But late in the season when Denver was depleted by injuries at the cornerback position, other young players like Essang Bassey and De’Vante Bausby seemed to get the nod before Dawson. As the fifth- or sixth-best cornerback on the roster, the Broncos might decide to spend their money on someone with the potential to move up the depth chart.
DaeSean Hamilton | WR
Cap Savings = $900,000
Hamilton’s situation is very similar to Dawson, although he did have a more productive year. On the season, the second-year wideout caught 23 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. But he figures to be the fifth receiver heading into training camp, behind Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler and Tim Patrick, assuming the Broncos bring back the veteran. If everyone is back, it might be Tyrie Cleveland or another draft choice who gets to nod at the bottom of the depth chart.
Add it all up and it’s roughly $68.4 million in cap space that could be created by releasing these players before the start of the new NFL year, providing George Paton a lot of room to operate.
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