ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Tuesday is the first day NFL teams can use what some in the league consider the hammer in their toolbox for negotiations with high-profile free agents.
And few, if any, have used the franchise tag as often as the Denver Broncos have since John Elway became the team’s top football decision-maker in 2011. But with none of the marquee players up for free agency -- they do have some starters like tight end Virgil Green and linebacker Todd Davis set for the open market -- the Broncos will almost certainly sit out the franchise player gymnastics this time around.
That, as much, as anything else, is another indication of how far the Broncos have tumbled out of the playoff conversation. Because when they were living the playoff life on Elway's watch, the franchise tag was usually part of their offseason work.
The franchise player tender is a one-year deal for an unrestricted free agent that pays the player an average of the top contracts at his position while either allowing a team to match any offers the player gets or prevents the player from negotiating with another team, depending on which designation the team chooses.
In short, the one-year deal is guaranteed the moment the player signs it, but most players would prefer a long-term deal, and they choose not to sign the franchise player tender. It can lead to holdouts and plenty of hard feelings but can also sometimes lead to a long-term deal.
The Broncos, in Elway’s tenure, have certainly been willing to use it. And they have routinely used it on the way to long-term deals. The Broncos designated kicker Matt Prater in 2012, tackle Ryan Clady in 2013, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in 2015 and linebacker Von Miller in 2016. In all four of those cases, the Broncos worked out a multiyear deal with the players by July of that same year.
In each case, the Broncos eventually made the player among the highest-paid at their position, including Miller’s six-year, $114.5 million deal which was the largest contract in franchise history and the most leaguewide for a non-quarterback.
The Broncos were coming off an AFC West title in each of those years and trying to stay at the front of the line. In Miller’s case, he was coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance in Super Bowl 50.
In the past, Elway has spoken about not rushing negotiations because the player wants the long-term deal.
“I think when we’ve used it, we were working toward something,’’ Elway has said. “It can be a long process when you’re in the middle of it, but I think you keep working with your plan.’’
“When you’re in the middle of it, it feels like you’re just waiting and waiting,’’ Miller said recently. “I was happy when it was over.’’
Miller’s negotiations, in particular, got a little rocky down the stretch. He skipped the team’s offseason workouts and activities but did participate in the visit to the White House in June, 2015.
However, the two sides were frustrated with the pace of negotiations, and Miller had even cropped Elway out of a photo taken during the visit before posting it on social media. He also posted, at one point, there was “no chance’’ he would play the 2016 season under the franchise player tender.
But a nine-figure deal and two seasons later, Miller has been Elway’s biggest booster as the Broncos try to emerge from their 5-11 finish in 2017. “I trust John Elway to do what we need to do to get back up at the top,’’ Miller has said previously. He's also made it a point to talk to the team’s younger players about handling issues away from the field.
Miller is also the Broncos' franchise player at the moment so they're not compelled to tag another one this offseason.