The Denver Broncos and Russell Okung are coming to a crossroads in a little over a month. What will happen to the starting left tackle?
The Denver Broncos are soon going to come to a crossroads with left tackle Russell Okung, who is due a $1 million roster bonus on the first day of the new league year (March 9th). That $1 million roster bonus would represent the start of an agreement on an essentially brand new contract that Okung himself negotiated last offseason when he originally signed with the Broncos.
Okung signed a one-year contract with the Broncos, worth $5.2 million. That contract has a club option starting in 2017 for four years, $48 million. For Okung, the contract was a huge vote of self-confidence. He essentially accepted no guaranteed money at the time of his signing, and the Broncos were thrilled to get a player of his caliber at a cost they could afford last season.
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The question was at that time — and is now — whether or not the team would want to retain his services after this past season. Okung wasn’t a sieve or anything for the Broncos’ offensive line, but he did not play to the level of someone who will be getting paid in the upper tier of NFL offensive tackles.
The highest paid tackles in the league are making anywhere between $8.9 million (Duane Brown) and $13.6 million (Trent Williams). The middle ground is somewhere in the $10-12 million range, but even that seems far too high for what Okung proved capable of doing this past year.
I won’t pretend to know how to negotiate new contracts with NFL players, but it would seem to make a lot of sense for the Broncos to ask Okung to re-negotiate his deal, perhaps to somewhere in the $8-9 million range per season. If he were to hit the open market, Okung could probably generate some interest from other teams, perhaps even some teams that would pay him what he negotiated last year at $12 million annually.
For the Broncos, however, Okung carries an average cap hit of $12 million per season over the next four years, including a hit of $11.2 million this upcoming season. That simply isn’t happening.
The Broncos are not strapped for cash right now, but they can’t pay elite left tackle money to Okung when he didn’t perform at an elite level this past season. Factor in the change in offensive scheme, and things with the Broncos and Okung seem very uncertain at this point.
Will he accept a pay reduction to stay in Denver? Will the Broncos decline their option and pursue other players?
This year’s free agent left tackles include veteran Andrew Whitworth, Matt Kalil, and Riley Reiff. It’s not exactly a star-studded list. If the Broncos were to commit to paying a left tackle elite money, it would make more sense for them to pursue someone like Joe Thomas of Cleveland in a trade, but that could certainly cost them a lot in terms of draft compensation or player compensation.
Whatever winds up happening, the ideal situation for Denver is to keep Okung around and shave a significant amount off of their 2016 cap number. The issue is whether or not he will oblige…