Happy first Valentine’s Day in Colorado, George Paton.
Everyone will decide before Feb. 14, 2022, if they love or loathe you.
Tough crowd, George.
On the job for a month Sunday, the general manager can’t be a one-trick Bronco. George has multiple matters on his mind other than, caps lock, THE QUARTERBACK.
For examples, Von Miller and Justin Simmons, Shelby Harris and Jurrell Casey, Ja’Wuan James and Kareem Jackson. For instances, cornerbacks and safeties, linebackers and defensive linemen, offensive linemen and tight ends, and the paradigm running backs.
The Broncos do offer a copious collection of young wide receivers — Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Tim Patrick, DaeSean Hamilton, Tyrie Cleveland and the unforgettable Kendall Hinton.
However, the light isn’t quite as bright elsewhere on the depth chart, which is why Paton’s car is the first before dawn in the Broncos headquarters parking lot at Broncos headquarters and last to leave in darkness.
As if Paul Bunyan rode in on a blue ox from Minnesota, Paton already has taken out his axe — cutting five marginal players, then releasing former Pro Bowl cornerback A.J. Bouye, who was barely here for a year.
The Bye-Bye Bouye call was a no-brainer because he had been a slug in 2020, playing only seven games without an interception and with an injury and a PED suspension. The Broncos will save $11.7 million in salary, but there’s no dead-cap money.
More slashes forthcoming will be deeper, but necessary if the Broncos desire to rank in the top four salary-cap spacers in the NFL.
The cap casualties could include defensive lineman Casey, who came to the Broncos a year ago in a trade for a seventh-round selection, tore his biceps in the third game and missed the rest of the season. The Broncos will get an $11.8 million salary dump and dead-cap benefit if the five-time Pro Bowler is dismissed. Splitting with safety Kareem Jackson would extract $10 million (with zero dead money), and letting go of cornerback Bryce Callahan, who has never started more than 10 games in a season and missed all of 2019, would be an added value of $6.8M.
Tight end Nick Vannett managed just 14 receptions in 15 games, and his presence and $3.55M contract ($875,000 dead cap) won’t be missed, and the departure of Jeff Driskel, another failed Broncos QB in a lengthy list, will give the Broncos another $2.5 mil to spend.
Those six, plus cornerback Duke Dawson ($1.1 million), will provide the Broncos with an additional $34.2 million (to more than $60 million overall) to invest in players. Paton should renegotiate with the two who are scheduled to receive the highest salaries in 2021.
Neither Von Miller (dislocated ankle tendon) nor James (opt out in pandemic) played a down last year. Combined, they are due a humungous $35.225 million this year. If James were released, the dead money would be prohibitive ($19M), $6 million above his salary. The Broncos would be charged $4.225M dead cap if they choose to not accept the option on Von’s services this season. He is primed to make $22.225 million.
James has played three games in two seasons since signing a four-year, $51M contract with $32 million guaranteed.
In the meantime, Paton has to make critical judgments in regard to Simmons and Harris, a pair of the premier players on Vic Fangio’s defense. The 27-year-old safety will command in excess of $80 million, with half guaranteed, over five seasons.
Harris, who became an unrestricted free agent last off-season, signed a prove-it for $3.2 million. He proved it — and will be tendered twice as much annually by some team.
Paton must contemplate his alternatives, with advice from his boss and predecessor John Elway, and input from Fangio, the scouts and all of us among the unwashed masses.
Still, though, George has not chosen an assistant general manager from outside the organization or promoted one from within. The burden belongs to the GM.
He’ll also have to consider nearly 150 free agents, including an unusually elevated number of defensive backs (two from his former team — the Vikings). The legal tampering time for free agents begins in exactly a month.
And THE QUARTERBACK quandary continues.
Be our Valentine, George.