John Abraham is the best replacement for Elvis Dumervil available.
Defensive end Elvis Dumervil is a free agent. The Denver Broncos agreed with Dumervil on a pay cut, but the two sides ultimately just ran out of time to complete the paperwork. You can blame the agent, the team, the player or the antiquated technology the NFL uses to conduct business for why Dumervil isn’t still with the team, but what’s done is done and both sides have to move on.
It’s not as simple as just re-signing Dumervil because of the salary cap implication of his release. The situation has changed and the Broncos needs to search for the best option to fill the hole they have at defensive end.
Dwight Freeney is one option for the Broncos, but John Abraham would be a far better option. The 34-year-old defensive end visited with the Patriots on Friday and has also visited with the 49ers and Seahawks. Whereas Freeney is a pass-rush specialist at this point, Abraham is still a solid defender against the run.
Robert Ayers—a starter in 2011—has fallen out of favor with the Broncos and will be a free agent in 2013. The Broncos could look to pair a pass-rush specialist with Ayers, but then they would be faced with the need to re-sign Ayers or another defensive end next year if they don’t draft a replacement.
Dumervil is a better player than Freeney at this point, so the Broncos are faced with the reality of downgrading at a key position. The Broncos have approximately a two-year window to win a Super Bowl, and downgrading is not something they wanted to do at defensive end. The Broncos were willing to keep Dumervil for $8 million because there is a lack of legitimate replacements, but Abraham was actually better than Dumervil last season.
ProFootballFocus has a proprietary statistic called pass-rush productivity that measures how productive players are at rushing the passer based on sacks, hits and hurries of the quarterback. Dumervil ranked 10th among all defensive ends with a pass-rush productivity rating of 9.82, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required); Abraham ranked sixth with a rating of 10.7. Freeney had a rating of 8.8 as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
The Broncos are taking a step back to reassess the situation, but they were already preparing for this possibility. Now the Broncos have to decide what would be the best use of their resources. Releasing Dumervil saved the Broncos $8.754 million of salary cap space, according to Over the Cap. That’s $4.754 million more than the Broncos would have saved if the paperwork on his pay cut had been completed on time.
What should the Broncos do now?
It’s this extra $4.754 million the Broncos can use to bring in a pass-rusher. If the Broncos wanted to sign Dumervil and maintain the same cap hit as the pay cut accomplished, they would only be able to offer him $4.754 million in 2013. Dumervil’s cap hit under the pay cut was $9.623 million, but because he was released, his prorated signing bonuses accelerated and hit the cap, resulting in $4.869 million cap charge (dead money).
It’s unlikely the Broncos can get the 29-year-old Dumervil to play for $4.869 million, but they have a realistic chance of getting Abraham to accept such a contract. Over the Cap has a breakdown of how the Broncos could structure a contract to save face with Dumervil, but that’s if the team really wanted to pay Dumervil $8 million.
All indications were that the Broncos wanted Dumervil for less than $8 million, but accepted the deal because he was better than the alternatives in terms of age and skill. Given the choices, the Broncos should roll the dice on Abraham’s age and save money to bring in other players.