Broncos tendered C.J. Anderson low, elected to pay him high

Anderson surprised Broncos matched offer sheet (1:51)

Running back C.J. Anderson joins NFL Live to explain that he was a little shocked that the Broncos matched the Dolphins' offer sheet to keep him in Denver, how he felt disrespected by Denver initially and his expectations going into next season. (1:51)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos liked the deal the Miami Dolphins negotiated with running back C.J. Anderson so much, the Broncos matched it.

Anderson moves into upper end of the pay scale at the position league-wide with a four-year deal worth $18 million. Anderson was a restricted free agent, so the Broncos held the right of first refusal on any deal he could secure.

They still rolled the dice when they tendered Anderson at the lowest level last month -- $1.671 million for the 2016 season -- with no compensation if he accepted an offer sheet from another team and the Broncos elected not to match it.

Because he had no compensation attached, he was expected to draw some interest and did from several teams, including the Dolphins and the Chicago Bears. Former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase is now the Dolphins head coach and former Broncos coach John Fox is Bears head coach.

The Broncos could have tendered Anderson at the next level -- $2.553 million for 2016 with second-round pick compensation -- and might have deterred the kind of offer the Dolphins made. The Broncos tendered linebacker Brandon Marshall at that level and Marshall has not received an offer sheet from another team.

When asked Tuesday if he had any second thoughts about not using the higher tender on Anderson, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said: “No, no, we’re glad we got him tied up for four years, we find out what his market value was. … Overall, when we look at the package, we think it’s a very fair package for what he’s going to do."

The Broncos elected to match the offer, but they made it clear to Anderson if he is going to be paid like a front-line back, they want him to run like one more often, week to week and season to season.

Anderson, who made the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2013, has never started more than seven games and was No. 3 on the depth chart as recently as midway through the 2014 season. He has played his best, however, in some of the biggest moments, including a 113-yard effort against the New England Patriots this past season that featured a 45-yard touchdown run in overtime that was the game-winner for the Broncos.

That head-to-head win over the Patriots played a big role in the Broncos' securing home-field advantage on the way to a Super Bowl 50 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

“The key thing is, and when I talked to him, we have high expectations for him and we want to continue to get better on the offensive side of the ball. … We have high expectations for him and we think he has the ability to do that," Elway said. “The expectations always go up. And that’s what I told C.J., the expectations of you as a leader, somebody that’s part of this organization, all those expectations go up. With the rise in pay also go the rise in expectations. C.J. understands that and he’s ready to handle that."

Anderson's deal is front-loaded, with a $5.25 million signing bonus before the month is out and base salary of $675,000 guaranteed for the coming season.

That is in addition to $1.7 million of his $2.9 million base salary in 2017 also guaranteed in the deal. Anderson’s base salaries of $4.5 million in both 2018 and 2019 are not guaranteed, so he will have to be on the Broncos’ roster to earn that.

But the Broncos need Anderson, who has battled injuries, to stay on the field and in be in shape to be the team’s lead back. He finished with 720 yards and five touchdowns to go with a 4.7 yards-per-carry average this past season.

Elway said Tuesday free agency departures, including quarterback Brock Osweiler to the Houston Texans, “freed up some cash" for the Broncos to use on other players. The Broncos also carved out some additional salary-cap room with a renegotiation with DeMarcus Ware and opened business Tuesday with $11.523 million worth of salary-cap space.

Elway added with Anderson’s contract now on the books, the Broncos could still pursue some options at quarterback if the team wished. Elway called the signing of Mark Sanchez “the first step."

Asked specifically Tuesday if Anderson’s deal would prevent the Broncos from pursing another quarterback in free agency, Elway said: “No … With some of the players we had leaving that’s opened up some other areas so far … we’ll continue to look at different options."