ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — There are no red ropes, no guy at the door checking the list, but the Over-30 Club is a difficult one to get into if you’re a member of the Denver Broncos these days.
The Broncos finished the 2020 season with just four players on either the roster or injured reserve who were at least 30 years old and who had started training camp with the team. One of those players — defensive lineman Jurrell Casey — has already been released as has cornerback A.J. Bouye (who will turn 30 in August).
“Those guys are pros and they’ve been in the league a long time, [I] just thought it was best to release them early so they can go out and get on the market before other players get cut,” said Broncos general manager George Paton. “Those guys are great players and have had great careers. We just wanted to get them out there early.”
Two of the Broncos’ other 30-year-olds — Miller and Jackson — each have option years on their contracts for the 2021 season. At the moment, they also have two of the Broncos’ top four salary cap charges for the 2021 season.
Paton said last week he was “working through” some things with each. That indicates any decision on either player may be based on more than simply deciding to engage the final year in each of their contracts — things like potential pay cuts or incentive bonuses rather than some of the scheduled base salaries.
Jackson, who will turn 33 in April, is the Broncos oldest player. His contract includes an option that guarantees $1.5 million of his $10 million base salary as well as engages the final year of the of the three-year deal he signed in 2019.
Jackson’s $12.88 million salary cap charge, if safety Justin Simmons plays on a franchise player tender expected to be $13.72 million, is the Broncos’ fourth-highest cap figure before free agency opens. The Broncos are currently trying to work out a long-term deal with Simmons.
“I’ve spoken with Kareem and I’ve spoken with his agent Jason Chayut,” Paton said. “We have to work through some things, but we’ve had positive conversations. We would like Kareem back. He’s a good football player and a good leader. We’ll see if we can do that.”
Then there’s Miller, who is the Broncos’ longest-tenured, most-decorated player with $7 million worth of guarantees scheduled to kick in if the Broncos engage his option year, the final year in the six-year, $114.5 million deal he signed in 2016. Miller’s scheduled $22.23 million salary cap charge is the team’s biggest for 2021 at the moment.
The district attorney’s office in the 18th Judicial District announced Friday it would not charge Miller after an investigation earlier this year by the Parker (Colo.) police department. Paton said the day before that announcement the team wanted to wait until the legal process played out before making a decision on Miller’s option.
Like with Jackson, Paton said the team wanted Miller back while also referring to discussions with Miller’s representatives about doing that. If the Broncos were going to simply engage Miller’s option year the only discussion they would need to have with Miller’s representatives would be to just say they were going to pick up the option.
“We want to bring Von back and we’re still working through that,” Paton said. “I don’t want to get into everything, but we want to bring him back.”
Punter Sam Martin, who was signed in free agency a year ago is the fourth 30 year old.
The Broncos, who would have about $40 million in salary cap space before any move with Jackson or Miller if the cap is set at $185 million per team, have the flexibility to be active in free agency even if Simmons is signed to a long-term deal.
That could reel in another 30-something or two from the open market, but it’s clear they have peeled back their roster over the past two years far more than is often publicly discussed. Neither John Elway, before Paton was hired, nor Paton made any gotta-get-younger pronouncement even as the team played with three 21-year-olds on offense last season in Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Netane Muti.
A tidal wave of veteran players are expected to join the open market shortly after the salary cap is formally set and before free agency is slated to open. Coach Vic Fangio said last week he believed the Broncos had made a good list of predictions of who those players will be.
Whether the Broncos keep the over-30 club small remains to be seen, but Fangio did offer a little patience after free agency’s opening swirl may work for the Broncos as well.
“George [Paton] did a good job with [predicting] some possibilities that may be cap casualties,” Fangio said. “… We’ve studied some of them. We are prepared in case they do happen. … That’s kind of the tricky part of it and timing part of it in that if you sign a player too early in free agency within the first week or so, then another week or so after that some players come loose that maybe you would have rather had instead of the ones you signed early. That’s part of the game — the timing of it, prognosticating of it. … We’ve tried to be prepared for that with [predicting] through what George thinks could possibly happen.”