Why 'Doom' Is in Danger in Denver

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystMarch 7, 2013

Elvis Dumervil is in danger of being released if he doesn't accept a pay cut.
Elvis Dumervil is in danger of being released if he doesn't accept a pay cut.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports


The NFL doesn’t have guaranteed contracts, which is why every year teams rip them up to avoid paying too much for a player. Players understand the NFL is a business, but they don’t always like being the ones losing money. Who would?

According to Vic Lombardi of KCNC-TV in Denver, the Denver Broncos are asking Elvis Dumervil to take a pay cut. It’s not really a request; it’s an ultimatum. Take a pay cut or be cut because you aren’t worth what you are being paid. That seems harsh, which is why it can be so hard for players to agree to a reduced salary.

Many free agents find out the hard way that they really weren’t worth what their former team was paying them. If the Broncos were to release Dumervil because he refused a pay cut, he’d soon find that he isn’t nearly worth $12 million he will make in 2013.

According to Overthecap.com, Dumervil is the seventh-highest paid 4-3 defensive end in the league (even though ProFootballFocus.com graded him as the 30th-best 4-3 defense end among players who played at least 50 percent of the time). There’s a huge disconnect here that the Broncos need to fix.


The Options

In many cases, a team can still pay above-market rates to a player because of how bonuses accelerate against the salary cap. This situation is just one of the many reasons why the Broncos have stayed away from signing bonuses in contracts.

There are still a number of ways that a team might come to an agreement on a restructured contract that saves them money against the salary cap. One structure that has already been ruled out converts base salary into a signing bonuses that is prorated over life of the contract. These types of restructurings kick the can down the road. It doesn’t make sense with Dumervil or fit what the Broncos like to do.

However, a veteran player might be able to parlay his imminent release into one or two years of guaranteed base salary at above-market rates. Dumervil is due $12 million in base salary according to OvertheCap.com, which is the sticking point for the team. If he agrees to reduce this number, he could ask the Broncos to guarantee his base salaries over the next two years (or a portion thereof).

The Broncos may be willing to accept such a structure because they are already on the hook for Dumervil’s prorated signing bonus of $1.6 million per year for the next three years. Cutting Dumervil would result in the bonuses accelerating and causing Denver to hit the cap this year.


Breaking Point

The Broncos are reportedly interested in free-agent defensive end Dwight Freeney if Dumervil doesn’t accept a pay cut (via Vic Lombardi). You might eventually have to add defensive end John Abraham to that list. For that to work, the Broncos would need an estimated $3.5 million in cap space to sign Freeney based on the deal Abraham signed with the Falcons last offseason (and adjusting for increase due to the salary cap). Releasing Dumervil would save the Broncos $8.7 million, which is more than enough.

The difference between what Freeney would cost the team ($3.5 million estimated, and $4.9 million in dead money from Dumervil’s release) to Dumervil restructuring (base salary plus prorated signing bonus) would need to be comparable. That puts the target base salary for Dumervil around $7 million, a decrease of about $5 million in 2013.

The Broncos will have to decide if Dumervil is even worth $7 million per season, and Dumervil will have to decide if he’s willing to take such a large pay cut. ProFootballFocus gave Dumervil a performance-based value of $1.6 million in 2012. If you were to average that and his current 2013 base salary, you would land at about $7 million per year.


The Odds

The alternatives to Dumervil might actually be better options for the Broncos. I previously described Freeney as a poor fit for the Broncos primarily because of the presence of Dumervil, but things change drastically if he’s a replacement instead of an addition.

Abraham has played extremely well at his advanced age and would be an even better addition than Freeney. He doesn’t rely on speed as much as Freeney and therefore can line up tighter and stop the run more effectively.

Dumervil will probably be resistant to a pay cut, but if the offer is reasonable he’d be crazy not to accept it. He has the chance to win a Super Bowl with the Broncos, and unless some team sees him as an elite 3-4 outside linebacker, there’s little chance he’s going to get as much money on the open market.

With a long list of alternatives for both the Broncos and Dumervil and the huge gap that needs to be bridged, the odds Dumervil returns are probably not as good as some believe. Don’t be surprised if it comes down the 11th hour with the odds of Dumervil returning to the Broncos being about 50-50.