Signing Peyton Manning was a great move by the Broncos (USA Today Sports Images)
Over the next few weeks, "Shutdown Corner" will pay homage to "Office Space" (TPS reports) as we take a quick look back at each team's 2012 season and a look at what lies ahead for the 2013 offseason. We wrap up the AFC with the Denver Broncos.
2012 record: 13-3
What went wrong: Aside from Rahim Moore breaking the "deeper than the deepest receiver" rule of prevent defense in the final minute of a divisional playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens , very little went wrong for the 2012 Broncos. Of course, Moore might not have been in that position had the team not lost running back Willis McGahee to a knee injury in November. McGahee was averaging 4.4 yards per carry at the time of his injury and his replacements – Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball – each finished with yards per carry under four on the season.
What went right: Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway was one vote shy of winning the NFL Executive of the Year Award. Elway's success was his ability to land the biggest free agent fish in the pond in quarterback Peyton Manning, who led a resurgent Broncos offense all the way to an AFC West title and the No. 1 seed in the AFC Playoffs.
The Broncos had the NFL's fourth-ranked offense in terms of yardage and were the league's second-ranked scoring offense. After missing the 2011 season following multiple neck surgeries, Manning played 1,110 of the Broncos' 1,143 snaps in 2012, passing for 4,659 yards with 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a passer rating of 105.8, second-best in the league behind Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. Manning was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year and, by remaining healthy, will guarantee himself an additional $40 million of the five-year, $96 million contract he signed on March 21, 2012.
Manning's arrival also expedited the development of wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, a pair of big, physical 2010 draft choices who slogged their way through sophomore seasons while trying to catch passes from Tim Tebow. Thomas and Decker combined for 179 receptions, 2,498 yards and 23 touchdowns and were ranked third (Thomas) and fourth (Decker) in Football Outsiders' receiving DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric.
Playing with an offense that routinely put 30 points was beneficial to the Broncos' defense. The Broncos were second in total yards allowed per game, first in yards allowed per play and were the fourth-ranked scoring defense, allowing 18.1 points per game. The Broncos defense excelled on third downs, thanks largely to a pass rush that tied for the NFL lead with 52 sacks. Edge rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller combined for 29.5 sacks, while rookie defensive lineman Derek Wolfe added six sacks and outside linebacker Wesley Woodyard, a special teams ace who stepped into a starting role for a suspended D.J. Williams, added 5.5 sacks of his own. Woodyard also led the Broncos with 114 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. Woodyard's increased playing-time triggered a $1 million salary escalator in his contract.
Coaching/front office changes: The Broncos lost offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who is now the head coach of the San Diego Chargers. To replace McCoy, the Broncos have promoted quarterbacks coach Adam Gase.
Estimated 2013 cap space: $14.93 million
Possible cap casualties: Outside linebacker D.J. Williams missed over half the year due to multiple suspensions and Wesley Woodyard stepped up to fill the void at weak-side linebacker. Williams has one year remaining and is scheduled to earn $6 million in base salary, which is far too much for a now backup linebacker who'll turn 31-years-old before training camp. The Broncos could really purge their linebacker corps by releasing Joe Mays, a backup middle linebacker who played in less than 30 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Mays is due $4 million in base salary, $500,000 of which is fully guaranteed, but releasing him would save $3.5 million in cash and free up over $3.3 million in cap space.
Releasing Williams and Mays would create over $9 million in cap space for the Broncos this season and additional cap space could be created by restructuring the contracts of quarterback Peyton Manning, defensive end Elvis Dumervil and cornerback Champ Bailey, who take up $44.373 million in cap space in 2013. Manning is due $20 million in base salary in 2013, which will be fully guaranteed, provided he passes a physical in March. Dumervil is due $12 million in base salary and will count $13.623 million againt the Broncos' salary cap. As for Bailey, who turns 35 in June, and is due $10.75 million in cash compensation, including a $9.5 million base salary.
The Broncos have shifted to a "pay as you go approach" to player contracts, avoiding large signing bonuses that could potentially create cap issues in future seasons. The commitment to that approach could be tested this offseason.
Unrestricted free agents
Justin Bannan, DT
Keith Brooking, LB
David Bruton, S
Ryan Clady, OT
Jason Hunter, DE
Dan Koppen, OC
Jim Leonhard, S
Tracy Porter, CB
Brandon Stokley, WR
Kevin Vickerson, DT
Ty Warren, DT
Matt Willis, WR
Restricted free agents
Lance Ball, RB
Chris Clark, OT
Britton Colquitt, P
Chris Gronkowski, FB
RFA tender amounts in 2013 are:
• $1.323 million for right of first refusal and/or original draft round compensation
• $2.023 for right of first refusal and second round draft selection
• $2.879 for right of first refusal and first round draft selection
Franchise Tag candidates: The top free agent on the Broncos is left tackle Ryan Clady, a 2008 first-round pick who has developed into a three-time Pro Bowler and would surely secure a big-money contract elsewhere if he were allowed to hit the free agent market. The Denver Post reports the Broncos intend to franchise Clady, which based on a projected league-wide cap number of $121.1 million, will cost $9.676 million in 2013. That's a bargain for a 26-year-old anchor of an offensive line that allowed just 21 sacks in 2012, ranking second in Football Outsiders' "Adjusted Sack Rate" metric.
Previous installments of the "Offseason TPS Reports" series:
AFC East: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
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