Football Outsiders
Innovative Statistics, Intelligent Analysis

ESPN: Denver and Carolina Used Free Agency Well

Denver and Carolina will meet in Super Bowl 50, but it was really a five-year path for both teams to get to this point. The top two defenses in DVOA this year, each built their strongest unit with high draft picks and a few free-agent deals. In fact, Denver had 45.9 percent of its offensive and defensive snaps from free agents this season, the highest percentage for any Super Bowl team since 2006. The Panthers surprisingly come in second at 37.8 percent, but their moves were not as flashy as John Elway's big-name signings. We recap some of the team's best decisions to build these Super Bowl rosters.

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11 comments, Last at 04 Feb 2016, 9:07pm

1 Re: ESPN: Denver and Carolina Used Free Agency Well

The 2006 Chicago team is interesting because the defense was almost entirely drafted players. I believe the only starter who wasn't a draft pick was Ogunleye; he was brought in with a trade.

While the offense was almost all free agents, where I think Kreutz, Berrian, and Grossman were the only drafted starters. I think Angelo's primary undoing was that post 2006, the offensive line free agent market dried up and he wasn't prepared to build it through the draft.

4 Re: ESPN: Denver and Carolina Used Free Agency Well

The fact that Denver managed to build a championship defense while tied to what is for this year at least a $17 million anchor at QB is that much more impressive.

(Manning took a $4 million pay cut for 2015, so his base salary is $15 million, but he can make it back via $2 million incentive bonuses for reaching and winning the Super Bowl. One down...)

6 Re: ESPN: Denver and Carolina Used Free Agency Well

I think we'll see a substantial turnover in Denver. They have 4 of PFF's top 20 UFAs.

Surely they'll re-sign Von Miller, but even with a modest homer discount, that will be massive. His cap hit now: $9.8m. After: Probably north of Cameron Jordan's $17m. Suh's at $26.5m! Miller sure helped himself on Sunday; that was one of the best playoff performances by a defensive player in recent history.

Osweiller, too, though on a smaller scale. His hit is $1.1m now, and even "not what the Cardinals went through after Warner left" is probably worth $5m or more these days.

Look up the full list of FAs on SpotTrac. (I posted the link in my last version but the stupid spam filter nixed it.) It's a list of guys who mostly outplayed their current contracts.

Malik Jackson is probably gone. Maybe they prioritize Trevathan, but he'll be pricey. (The other) Brandon Marshall has seriously outplayed his $585,000 cap hit. Probably fair to pencil in David Bruton for a raise as well vs. his current figure of $1.7m.

If he weren't 34, Evan Mathis ($2.9m now) would be in for a pretty big raise, and even with his age, somebody will pay him more than that. And can you imagine that line without him? Ye gods.

Easy savings: Manning, obviously. (In all due respect, but...) Add $2.5m of savings for the ghost of Vernon Davis. And I think that's the list.

I agree, though, that this will be interesting to watch. The Osweiller contract in particular...

8 Re: ESPN: Denver and Carolina Used Free Agency Well

I could see the Broncos moving on from Talib, also they really have to be having second thoughts about the D.Thomas contract right about now.

Ware should be able to be extended to save cap space in 2016.

I'd say there is a good chance Clady is gone too. Can't pay someone that much money and never have him on the field.

9 Re: ESPN: Denver and Carolina Used Free Agency Well

Talib might be worth cutting versus paying his ridiculously back-loaded contract, starting next year. His 2015 number is $7m, and I think management can't be too sad to have paid that for his performance this year. But next year it's $10m, and then $12m. That's worth reworking at least. Even at a $3m cap hit in 2016, if he doesn't agree to restructure, he might be gone, thus freeing up $7m.

Demaryius Thomas under-performed this year, for sure. He's not getting open the same this year, AND he's dropping balls at an epic rate. He's still a quality starter and shows flashes of brilliance, but he's being paid like a superstar. The way his contract is structured, though, I almost can't imagine him being cut before 2018. It's a bigger dead cap hit for '16 ($21.8m) than it is just to pay him his already-guaranteed salary. In '17, the difference in cap hit to pay him ($12m) vs cutting him ($6.6m hit) wouldn't be enough to lure even a decent starter to town. All of which is to say: Damn I hope the outlier is his performance this year and not the badass start to his career. (I think the Osweiller era will see a revival for DT as long as Brock Lobster can improve his accuracy and DT can catch the effing ball. That other guy under center can't really make as much use of a receiver who stretches the field. But we'll see.)

Wouldn't be too surprised to see them cut Clady, but I'm more hoping they can restructure his contract accordingly. He's probably done being the amazing blindside ninja he once was (he made so many Pro Bowlers just disappear; it was unreal), but we're not in a position to just cut bait with guys on O line right now. It's a team-friendly contract by this point in any case. Just $1.2m of dead cap hit left.

You might be right about Ware! I hadn't thought of that. This is the last year of a $10m/year deal, and I don't think he'll be due for another big payday at 34 in 2017. He might accept a renegotiation that spreads that hit out over time, is more performance-based than fixed, and lets him stay on a good team until retirement. If I'm him, I take that deal (vs. the vagaries of the market) any day. Hopefully he doesn't have Elvis Dumervil's agent...