Broncos Mailbag: Why isn’t George Paton spending more of the $28 million in available cap space?

Denver Post Broncos writer Ryan O’Halloran posts his Broncos Mailbag periodically during the season. Submit questions to Ryan here.

Do you think back-to-back defensive-oriented coaching staffs are to blame for Denver’s inability to develop young quarterbacks? Under Gary Kubiak, Trevor Siemian showed promise as someone who could at least keep the team competitive while first-rounder Paxton Lynch developed. The next season, under Vance Joseph, they both regressed and were off the roster a year later as the team went with journeyman Case Keenum. Now, under Vic Fangio, we’ve seen him give up on second-rounder Drew Lock after only 18 very disjointed starts in favor of another journeyman in Teddy Bridgewater. Is this coincidence or trend?

— Steve, Forks, Wash.

Steve, I’ll meet you in the middle and start with the present time. I do think Fangio’s mindset as the defensive play-caller and his confidence in stopping the Giants, Jaguars and Jets in Weeks 1-3 played a part in choosing Bridgewater over Lock. I will never think the term “game manager” is a negative — it’s a quarterback who makes smart decisions while still generating explosive plays and, the big thing, doesn’t commit turnovers. I wasn’t around to see how Kubiak dealt with the quarterbacks in 2017. In 2018, the Broncos declined to draft Josh Allen after signing veteran Case Keenum and when they didn’t like what Keenum did, they started over with Joe Flacco. Lastly, I don’t think Fangio has given up on Lock.

Do you think that if/when the Broncos are sold next offseason, will the new owner (whomever it may be) want a total rebuild?

— Dan Thompson, Longmont

My instant answer would be, “Heck no!” A new owner will want to be competitive right away for as much as they will be paying (multiple billions). A new owner who understands the NFL landscape will allow general manager George Paton to do his job with all of the available resources. Would a new owner, if approved in time for the start of free agency/trade season, urge Paton to trade for quarterback Aaron Rodgers or spend big money on a star player? That’s the right of the owner.

Do you think the Broncos’ ownership situation is preventing the team from spending money in the offseason? Last I checked, Denver has over $28 million in cap space. I know money can be rolled over into next season, but unless they actually spend that money, it doesn’t matter. It just feels like $20 million could have gone a long way into making this team more of a playoff contender. And if they were “saving” that money for Aaron Rodgers, that feels like a pretty huge swing and a miss on their part.

— Taylor Osieczanek, Broomfield

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Broncos had $28,008,202 in cap space (third-most in the NFL). I don’t think the Broncos’ unsettled ownership situation plays into this at all. Yes, it’s good the team has that kind of cap space, but you need to look into the future. The salary cap will resume climbing very soon, especially when the new television deal kicks in (2023). But Paton has to allocate money for outside linebacker Bradley Chubb and receiver Courtland Sutton, two players he wants to keep here long-term.

Two reasons the Broncos currently have so much cap space:

1.  Starters/top contributors playing on their rookie contracts: Chubb, Sutton, running back Javonte Williams, center Lloyd Cushenberry, left guard Dalton Risner, tight end Noah Fant, receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, defensive end Dre’Mont Jones, inside linebacker Josey Jewell and cornerback Pat Surtain II.

2. The veterans who are playing on below-market-rate one-year contracts: Right tackle Bobby Massie, cornerback Kyle Fuller, safety Kareem Jackson and, on their restricted free-agent tenders, receiver Tim Patrick and inside linebacker Alexander Johnson.

What is the difference between being waived and/or being released? Is one better for the player or does it matter at all?

— Mike, Omaha

Good question, Mike, and it’s something that comes up around the time of final cuts.

A player who has less than four accrued NFL seasons (to keep it simple, an accrued season is spending at least six weeks on the 53-man roster) is waived. That player is then put on the “waiver wire” to be claimed by another team to its 53-man roster. The waiver order for the first four weeks is based on last year’s record; after that, it is based on the current record.

A player with more than four or more accrued seasons, like offensive tackle Cam Fleming and defensive lineman Shamar Stephen last week for the Broncos, is released and not subject to waivers. The Broncos cut them with the expressed intent of re-signing them a day later once other roster juggling was completed.

As a Lee’s Summit (Mo.) High alumni, I admit to some bias in favor of Drew Lock. With that said, It seems to me that a lot of people wanted to write him off because he didn’t come out of the gates like Patrick Mahomes. There are a few things I try to remind people of. First, John Elway took time to develop into a quarterback who could throttle down his hyper-speed throws. Second, Lock didn’t have the benefit of the Kansas City coaching staff (no disrespect intended), its offensive line and the mentoring from a quarterback like Alex Smith. Granted, Lock is not Mahomes, but I believe he is much better than people give him credit for and to already be writing him off as a bargaining chip could be a huge mistake if he ends up with a team and coaching staff that really complements his skills. Food for thought?

— Jeffrey Jones, Shawnee

Here we go again. Who has written Lock off? If the Broncos thought he wasn’t worth saving, he wouldn’t be on the roster; they would have traded him for scraps or simply cut him.

Where the Kansas City example is pertinent is the stability of the coaching staff. Mahomes has played for the same play-caller (coach Andy Reid) and operated in the same system his entire career.

Lock had two offenses in his first two years. Combine that with no offseason program and 2020 and he suffered.

As for comparing the impatience for Lock to the patience showed Elway back in the day, yes, Elway did have 14 interceptions compared to seven touchdowns as a rookie in ’83, but he was 12-2 as a starter in ’84 and started the playoff game.

Ryan, you’ve covered three NFL teams. What is your impression of the Broncos coaching staff?

— David Brown, Silverthorne

Right now, the Broncos are 0-0 so they’re a great coaching staff! Seriously, there are a lot of very good and experienced coaches on the staff. Mike Munchak is in the conversation for the NFL’s best offensive line coach. Quarterbacks coach Mike Shula and running backs coach Curtis Modkins bring decades of experience. Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell knows everything about cornerback play. What I like about Fangio’s staff is the mix of older and younger minds. On the young side, receivers coach Zach Azzanni and defensive backs coach Christian Parker have bright presents and futures.

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