ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos continue to grind through the team’s draft preparations, they closed another business week with the tightest of salary caps, at least one opening on the quarterback depth chart and a continued effort to convince San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to take a significant pay cut to join the defending Super Bowl champion.
The Broncos ended business Friday, even as they tried to close a deal with Kaepernick, with $1.62 million worth of salary cap room, according to the NFL Players Association. That is barely enough room for them to pay their first-round selection in the coming draft and certainly not in the same salary-cap galaxy to add Kaepernick's contract as it stands. Kaepernick, if he doesn't make any changes to his contract, is due $11.9 million base salary for the 2016 season.
Tackle Ryan Clady continues to be the potential starting point in any work on the salary cap. The Broncos signed two free agent tackles -- Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung -- who project to be their starters, while Clady carries a $10.1 million salary-cap figure and has spent two of the last three seasons on injured reserve.
The Broncos have tried to trade Clady in recent weeks and there are teams with interest. They may have a difficult time dealing him, however, since every team knows their situation. They may be forced to release Clady before the draft since that would give them $8.9 million worth of additional salary-cap room.
They simply have to make a move with Clady if they have a chance to complete any deal for Kaepernick, which would send a mid-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers -- most likely a fifth-round pick -- and Kaepernick agrees to a major re-structuring of his deal.
With the draft still almost a month away, teams have been inclined to wait out the Broncos. And from their perspective, the Broncos have tried to combat that by publicly suggesting they would be willing to keep Clady and don’t feel compelled to rush into “a bad move.’’
When talking publically, especially about their quarterback situation, both coach Gary Kubiak and executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway have used the words “patience’’ and “our pace.’’
But the fact remains that until the Broncos create more cap space, they aren’t going to be able to do anything, including make their draft picks. They also have limited choices.
They can release Clady, or potentially punter Britton Colquitt ($4 million against the salary cap), but releasing players will continue to add “dead money’’ to their cap. “Dead money’’ is a salary-cap charge for players no longer on the roster and the Broncos already have added plenty in the offseason.
They had less than $1 million in dead money on the books for 2016 just after their Super Bowl 50 win, and that total is now $7.23 million. Releasing or trading Clady would add $1.2 million more in "dead money" and releasing Colquitt would add $750,000 more.
Kaepernick's current deal has five seasons remaining on it and, at the moment, his salary cap charge for 2016 is $15.9 million. That goes to at least $19.2 million for each of the final four seasons of the deal, topping out at $21.4 million against the cap in 2020. So, even if the Broncos convince Kaepernick to cut his salary this season, because of a chance to join a Super Bowl winner to go with a significantly lower tax rate in Colorado, it is likely the Broncos would have to address the remainder of the contract as well at some point.
The Broncos, for example, asked Peyton Manning to take a $4 million pay cut before the 2015 season.
To create some additional cap space, the Broncos could go to players with some of the larger contracts on the team, such as wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, cornerback Aqib Talib or cornerback Chris Harris and turn some of their base salaries into a signing bonus for a renegotiation.
That would lower the salary-cap figure for those players, but it would require the Broncos to hand out cash immediately for those signing bonuses. And cash flow is also something they have an eye on, with their attempt to get a deal done for Von Miller that could top $60 million in guarantees.
So in the end, the Broncos could close a deal for Kaepernick and that would fill out their depth chart at quarterback, but it won't come close to fixing all of the things they need to do on the books before training camp opens.