Defensive Star Malik Jackson Deserves Mega Extension After Breakout Year

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2016

Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson (97) celebrates after recovering a fumble by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (not pictured) for a touchdown in the first quarter in Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The second-best player in Super Bowl 50 wasn't Demaryius Thomas or Aqib Talib. Nor was it DeMarcus Ware, Chris Harris or even Peyton Manning.

No, the man who had the biggest impact this side of Von Miller was none other than defensive end Malik Jackson. That's according to Pro Football Focus, at any rate, giving him the second-highest rating on the defensive side as he forced six quarterback pressures and recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.

What a timely performance.

Jackson is set to hit free agency on the heels of the biggest performance of his career. That doesn't just go for the Super Bowl, either—the big defensive end had a breakout season in his first as a starter.

To those who had been following Jackson more closely prior to last season, however, his emergence was no fluke. He was actually the third-highest rated 4-3 defensive end in 2014 according to PFF, and that was in part-time duty—Jackson had never played more than 55 percent of his team's defensive snaps until 2015.

He transitioned nicely to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' defense, earning the ninth-best rating among his peers at 3-4 defensive end and helping boost his defensive line to a No. 1 pass-rush ranking in DVOA over at Football Outsiders. 

The four-year veteran was clearly an important cog in Denver's vaunted defense. So the Broncos need to re-sign him, right? Well, that's where things get hairy.

Setting aside the Manning drama—whether he retires or gets cut, he and his $19 million base salary aren't long for Mile-High City—navigating cap issues will be treacherous.

Von Miller is probably going to get Denver's franchise tag with the intent to sign him to a massive, long-term deal, according to Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post. The tag will account for roughly $15 million in cap space—second only to the quarterback tag. 

The Broncos will surely get him locked down to a long-term deal likely worth over $100 million, and they will be able to structure that contract to accommodate other obligations. But those obligations have already started to add up.

Big Broncos Contracts
PlayerPos.Total ValueAverageGuaranteed2016 Cap #
Demaryius ThomasWR$70,000,000$14,000,000$35,000,000$15,200,000
Ryan CladyLT$52,500,000$10,500,000$15,000,000$10,100,000
DeMarcus Ware34OLB$30,000,000$10,000,000$16,500,000$11,666,668
Aqib TalibCB$57,000,000$9,500,000$11,500,000$9,968,750
Derek Wolfe34DE$36,700,000$9,175,000$12,000,000$6,800,000
Chris Harris, Jr.CB$42,500,000$8,500,000$10,000,000$9,000,000
Louis VasquezRG$23,500,000$5,875,000$7,000,000$6,750,000
T.J. WardS$22,500,000$5,625,000$7,000,000$5,750,000

Combined with the need to retain quarterback Brock Osweiler, all that combined money could be problematic when it comes to the Broncos making other deals.

Fortunately, relief is coming in the form of a huge salary-cap increase.

If you've followed the cap since the latest collective bargaining agreement was ratified, that shouldn't be surprising—it has jumped every year. Perhaps the Broncos were signing all those contracts—some of them relative bargains—while anticipating this.

Of course, Jackson would still probably need to give a bit of a discount—he is going to be a hot commodity on the open market, even if he doesn't get superstar money.

Jackson understands this, as evidenced by an interview he gave to Brooke Cersosimo of after Super Bowl 50:

I'm not looking for J.J. Watt numbers or Ndamukong Suh numbers. I'm thinking more just getting paid. One hundred million dollars is a lot of money and J.J. was Mr. Defense a few times and a Pro Bowler. Suh was doing great things when he was in Detroit, so I'm not even saying $100 million. I'm not even saying $90 million, but somewhere in that ball park would be cool.

Netting something in that ballpark would probably make Jackson the second-highest player on the team behind Miller. Denver might have trouble giving him that kind of cheddar.

What will be more difficult, though: replacing Jackson on the field or making the team capologist work overtime? The answer seems obvious.

Jackson will have a tough choice on his hands, and he knows it.

The trouble with having an embarrassment of riches in the NFL is that you rarely get to keep them all for long.