The Denver Broncos haven't recorded a winning season since 2016, but there is plenty of optimism surrounding this franchise entering 2020. The defense is still loaded, and the team appear to have finally found its quarterback of the future. The Broncos spent the 2020 NFL Draft loading up on offensive weapons, in an attempt to compete with the Kansas City Chiefs' high-flying offense. This is a good thing, considering the AFC West as a whole could be one of the better divisions in the NFL this season.
Much of the Broncos' young talent is currently on team-friendly contracts, which is imperative when it comes to building a contender. You want your youth to carry you as far as they can before having to break the bank to re-sign them.
Typically, you can find a number of salary cap bargains on every NFL roster. Usually these players are on their rookie contracts, but sometimes they are signed in free agency to one-year prove-it deals. Below, we will examine the Broncos' roster to pinpoint the five players who present the biggest "value" for the franchise from a salary cap standpoint. We will be referencing Over The Cap for all cap numbers, using each player's 2020 cap hit.
1. QB Drew Lock
2020 salary cap hit: $1,593,368
The Broncos have missed Peyton Manning since he retired following the 2015 season, but they may have finally found someone to lead them into the future. Lock played in just five games last season but won four of those contests. His big arm translated nicely to the next level, and he was even more accurate downfield than many expected he would be, as several times he was able to fit balls into tight windows and also showed impressive touch. The quarterback is the most important position in football, and the Broncos get to enter the 2020 season with the 50th highest-paid signal-caller in the league. Talk about a steal.
2. LB Alexander Johnson
2020 salary cap hit: $750,000
A.J. Johnson is a perfect example of why you one, scout college players as much as you can, and two, give people a second chance. While he was a leader on the University of Tennessee's defense, Johnson was suspended after being accused of a serious crime in November of his senior season. He lost his invite to the 2015 NFL scouting combine and had to wait until he was acquitted of all charges before he began his NFL career. In August of 2018, the Broncos signed him to their roster, and it ended up being one of the best decisions they made in recent memory.
After playing in just one game in 2018, Johnson made 12 starts last season and recorded 93 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one interception. He was named PFF's AFC Defensive Player of the Month after recording 28 total tackles without a missed tackle in October and finished the season as the fourth-highest graded linebacker in the NFL with an 88.6 grade. Johnson is an absolute steal, and it's about time people other than Broncos fans realized this.
3. WR Courtland Sutton
2020 salary cap hit: $1,865,981
Despite being the third wide receiver taken in the 2018 NFL Draft, Sutton quickly proved he was an up-and-coming star in the NFL. In two seasons, he has caught 114 passes for 1,816 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 8.7 yards per target. His second season was clearly his best, and he even recorded the fourth-most yards against press coverage behind stars like Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones.
The NFL world has been put on notice when it comes to Sutton, but he honestly still might be underrated.
4. RB Phillip Lindsay
2020 salary cap hit: $755,000
The Broncos may have gone out and signed Melvin Gordon in free agency, but Lindsay is still going to play a major role in this offense. Lindsay has stated that Gordon is not his his enemy, but he won't give up the starting job that easily. The former undrafted free agent out of Colorado burst onto the scene in 2018, rushing for 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 5.4 yards per carry, which earned him a Pro Bowl nod. Lindsay has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons in Denver and has also caught 70 total passes for 437 yards and one touchdown.
Lindsay and Royce Freeman made up a nice two-headed rushing attack. All the team did by adding Gordon was improve that running backs room, and Lindsay is still going to get his touches.
5. TE Noah Fant
2020 salary cap hit: $2,861,528
Fant almost appeared to be a bust during the early stages of his rookie season, but anyone who watched the former first-round pick during his time in Iowa knew this kid had potential. After the halfway point of the 2019 season, Fant recorded two 100-yard games and two of his three touchdown receptions. He clearly came along as the season progressed and should be considered underrated entering the 2020 season.
Tight ends are a quarterback's best friend, and just because Lock has talent all around him doesn't mean he won't be able to establish a relationship with Fant as his security blanket when things get screwy in the pocket.