<
>

Broncos' shrinking cap space helps Mark Sanchez's chances to start

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – As they concluded another week in free agency, a couple things became clear for the Denver Broncos.

The first being, especially during coach Gary Kubiak’s hour-long question-and-answer session at the NFL owners meetings this past week, the Broncos like the acquisition of quarterback Mark Sanchez more than a lot of folks.

And while Kubiak certainly tried to make it sound like the Broncos would keep tackle Ryan Clady on the roster despite signing two tackles in free agency (Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson), the Broncos need to do something with Clady’s contract – or others’ – before next month’s draft at the latest. It all goes together because the Broncos' tight salary cap also increases the chance Sanchez remains the most proven quarterback, in terms of career regular-season and playoff starts, on the team's roster

On Sanchez, Kubiak repeatedly said in South Florida that the Broncos were “excited’’ to have acquired Sanchez in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. And when asked a pile of questions about Sanchez and the Broncos’ situation at quarterback in general one of the more revealing answers was when he was asked if Sanchez could win the job.

“He’s got to come in and compete and do the things that he’s capable of doing, and do them consistently,’’ Kubiak said. “I think that’s the big thing. We wouldn’t have went out and gotten Mark if we didn’t think he could run our offense and do those types of things, but I think it’s going to be up to him to prove that he is the guy or can be the guy.’’

And then when asked if he would be able to go into the season with a quarterback depth that had Sanchez as the starter, Trevor Siemian as the team’s backup and a pick in this year’s draft as a potential No. 3, Kubiak said:

“If that’s how our competition ends up, if that’s what is best for our football team, we’re going to see. We’re not through creating this competitive environment that we’re going to create. I know that.”

And Kubiak continued to repeat what John Elway has said as well, that the Broncos would look to add another quarterback, if able, in the coming weeks.

However, until they deal with Clady’s contract, or some others’, they aren’t going to do much of anything. As the business week drew to a close the NFL Players Association had the Broncos with $2.050 million worth of cap space, and don't forget the team also is trying to find a way to negotiate a long-term deal with linebacker Von Miller.

At the moment, the Broncos probably would not have enough room to make their first two draft picks in April (the first- and second-round picks probably are the only two that would count among the team’s top 51 salary cap figures that count toward the cap in the offseason).

Clady has the team’s third-highest cap figure for the coming season -- $10.1 million. He has two years left on his deal. The Broncos have attempted to cut his pay and salary cap charge in recent weeks, but the two sides have been unable to come to a deal.

The Broncos also have shopped him for potential trades. If he were released the Broncos would gain $8.9 million in cap room.

The Broncos could find a trade partner for Clady, but during the league meetings several team executives said they simply believed the Broncos eventually would have to release Clady to find some cap room. But those same executives said if a team liked Clady enough to want to be sure to get him, they could see a late-round pick headed the Broncos’ way.

Kubiak was public at the owners meetings that Clady could still remain with the team, perhaps in an effort to offer a scenario where Clady could remain with the team to spur some additional interest in a potential trade.

As Kubiak put it last week: “Ryan is still ours. Ryan is on our football team, nobody mentions that, that’s still a possibility. ... He’s busted his tail and I think he’s very close and ready to be a participant in our offseason program. We’ll see, but he’s part of our team. Our plans are to put Ryan back to work, so we’ll see.’’