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John Elway details the situation with Broncos' soon-to-be free agents

Zac Stevens Avatar
March 2, 2017

 

INDIANAPOLIS — The Denver Broncos are gambling, not with chips and cards at the poker table, but with their soon-to-be free agents. Unlike last year—where general manager John Elway was at the high stakes table with linebacker Von Miller in contract negotiations—the stakes are significantly lower this year.

Although the Broncos have three starters hitting free agency on March 9—LT Russell Okung, OLB DeMarcus Ware and NT Sylvester Williams—they are in no rush to sign any of them before they hit the open market. However, this doesn’t mean Elway is ready to part ways with any, or all, of these players, it just means they are willing to roll the dice with them.

“Even though we didn’t exercise the option with Russell that’s not saying he’s not going to be back,” Elway said at the NFL Combine on Wednesday. “I wouldn’t say we moved on; we just didn’t exercise an option. That doesn’t mean that we’ve moved on. We would still like to talk to Russell, and I’m still going to talk to Russell about what he wants to do. But obviously, he’s looking at the market and seeing what’s our there also. We aren’t counting Russell out; he’s part of the process.”

On Feb. 23, the Broncos notified Okung that they would not be picking up his four-year, $48 million contract option, thus making him a free agent this year. Elway also confirmed that he would want Okung back as their left tackle, not right.

Speaking of right tackles, although Stephenson is still under contract for two more years, there is a possibility that the Broncos could cut him to save $3 million against the cap this year, especially after a disappointing season. At the combine, Elway didn’t necessarily put these theories to rest.

“You keep all of those options open,” Elway said in reference to if he would consider cutting Stephenson. “Right now he’s ours, so that’s a good thing. We got our starting right tackle back from last year.”

The uncertainty with the future of the offensive line, specifically both tackle positions, should come as no surprise. Last year, Elway thought he made the right moves to fix the line, but less than a year later he’s still unhappy with the performance.

“I wanted to play better last year than we played on the offensive line,” he said. “I thought with Russell coming in and Stephenson coming in that we might play a little bit better on the offensive line than we did.”

On the defensive side of the ball, while two starters are not under contract for next year, Elway is still interested in bringing both Ware and Williams back.

“We still have interest in trying to get Sylvester back too, but he wants to see the market,” he said. “We’ve had conversations with his agent, but it sounds like they want to find what’s our there, so we will allow it. He will hit [free agency], and we will see what happens.”

Last offseason, Denver did not pick up Williams’ fifth-year option—which would have kept him under contract through the 2017 season at a $6.75 million price tag. After a down year for Williams, the Broncos would likely want to bring him back for significantly less than the fifth-year option price, while Williams believes his value is greater on the open market. However, according to Elway, the Broncos will stay in communication with his agent through the process.

The biggest Bronco, in terms of name recognition that’s set to hit free agency is Ware. After making just over $8 million last season, and only starting eight games, the Broncos didn’t sign Ware to an extension, but Elway will still meet with the 13-year veteran.

“I haven’t talked to DeMarcus; he’s been around, I haven’t had a chance to sit down with DeMarcus,” Elway said. “As we get through this and get back to Denver, I’m sure I’ll sit down with DeMarcus, and we’ll talk about it.”

Just because Elway will talk to these soon-to-be free agents by no means assures that they will be back in orange and blue next season. In fact, Elway knows that he will lose some players from last year, and that’s just part of the business.

“It comes down to money too. It’s not a bottomless pit. There’s only so many different things that we can do,” Elway said. “We don’t want to lose anybody, but there is always so much turnover year after year that you know that’s going to happen.”

While turnover is inevitable, just because players are set to hit free agency doesn’t mean they won’t be apart of the team in the future. Elway and company are rolling the dice, betting that they can get a better deal once these players hit the market.

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