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Mason's Mailbag: A pause at the end of a frenzied free-agent week

As always, you can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase, use the submission form or scroll to the bottom of this page.

Why are the Broncos being so cheap all of a sudden?
-- Frank Moore

"Cheap"? You use a different definition of the word than I do.

Given the reaction in some quarters this week, you'd think they were closing the wallet instead of adding a contract potentially worth $42.5 million over five years to Chris Harris Jr., (re-signed in December), issuing a $12.83 million franchise tender to three-time Pro Bowler Demaryius Thomas, and picking up a fifth-year option on Von Miller that increases his cap hit by 47.3 percent over 2014 and his salary by 85.8 percent over his 2011-14 average per year. Those three moves alone added $12.07 million under the Broncos' salary cap this year for those three players (which doesn't include the $2 million of Harris' bonus credited to last year's salary cap (all numbers per Spotrac.com). So that's a total of $27,570,000 of new costs committed to those players between December 2014 and today.

No one's saying it was easy to lose starters like Orlando Franklin, Julius Thomas and Rahim Moore. But they kept Miller and Harris -- two unique talents -- from the 2011 rookie class, with the intention of working toward long-term deals with both, and retained Virgil Green. The franchise tag of Thomas bought more time -- which helped the Broncos get past franchise players Matt Prater and Ryan Clady to long-term deals in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Sure, they could have kept all of their free agents -- at an exorbitant cost to future Broncos clubs by backloading the guarantees years down the road, which goes against the preferred philosophy to "pay as you go" as much as possible. Sound cap management and resource allocation is why the Broncos are one of just three teams with less than $1 million of dead money under the 2015 cap according to Overthecap.com, along with the Bengals and Vikings.

If you give a damn about this team, you don't want it to face a situation like the one the Saints encountered this year, or the Panthers in 2014. That led their general manager, Dave Gettleman (who didn't create the problem; he inherited it), to espouse that they were shopping "at the dollar store" to fill needs. Maybe you push a bit down the road, but it's not a tactic you want to frequently utilize.

There are many words to describe the Broncos' philosophy as it pertains to this week. "Cheap" is not one of them.

Is the Broncos' relative slow start in free agency to do with a lack of cash, less holes to fill, or looking toward extending Demaryius and Von? If the latter happens that is a win for me any day of the week.
-- Damian Glover

Cash and cap.

Before the contracts of Vance Walker, Darian Stewart and Shelley Smith are included into the calculation, the Broncos had $14.21 million of cap room, according to Spotrac.com. But with an estimated $6 million for the rookie pool if the Broncos get four compensatory selections to go with the six they possess, that effectively left $8.21 million. Walker, Stewart and Smith should shave at least another $4 million off that figure, depending on their per-year specifics.

It would be no surprise if Thomas gets extended before the summer; as mentioned earlier, they've done that with franchise-tagged players twice before in the Elway era. And if the Broncos can't get something done with Miller -- with the per-year cost for J.J. Watt ($16.67 million) and Ndamukong Suh ($19.06 million) poised lingering like slow-to-dissipate morning fog -- they could use the franchise tag. For linebackers this year, that tag cost $13,195,000 -- a $1,740,000 increase over last year, so you can expect it to approach $15 million next year.

Accounting for potential extensions for Thomas and Miller is part of the Broncos' long-term plan. But that is also the case for other emerging young players. And don't forget that contracts for Pro Bowlers like Emmanuel Sanders and Louis Vasquez expire after 2016, as well.

The Broncos' cap room for 2016 could approach $50-60 million, depending on whether Peyton Manning returns, the amount at which the salary cap increases, the impact of carryovers and bonuses, and other factors. But with the afore-mentioned players, plus plenty of other moving parts, that space gets consumed fast.

@MaseDenver With the lose of last years day one starters at FS, NT & MLB, how effective can the middle of the defence be in 2015? #askmase — Miles UK (@MilesUKMascot) March 12, 2015

The starter at middle linebacker, Nate Irving, wasn't likely to start this year as the Broncos convert to a 3-4 with Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan the projected inside linebackers. The free safety, Rahim Moore, was replaced by Darian Stewart, who by the numbers was a better tackler last year and could be a smoother skill-set complement to T.J. Ward. And Wade Phillips' nose tackles have typically been smaller than Terrance Knighton.

The spine of the defense can be effective, especially with the outside of the defense (outside linebackers, cornerbacks and defensive ends) featuring four Pro Bowlers and an efficient, underrated pair of ends in Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson. That duo possesses above-average chemistry in setting each other up with stunts, twists and one drawing a double-team to set up the other. The draft should bring additional depth, perhaps at nose tackle, and two backup inside linebackers (Todd Davis and Steven Johnson) started late last year.

**

Have the Broncos considered trying Kayvon Webster at FS? Omar Bolden has gotten looks there, but Kayvon seems to have the body type, speed and demeanor for the position, while Bradley Roby's steadiness has limited the opportunities Kayvon probably deserves.**
-- Tim Whatley

I can't speak to whether it's been considered at some point -- more ideas get tossed around in coaches' meetings than the world will ever know. But with Webster's background (he was recruited to South Florida as a safety before moving to cornerback) and his size and skill set, the idea has merit.

However, it would seem that more playing time exists for him as a fourth cornerback than as an extra safety. After the addition of Darian Stewart -- who said coaches have told him they want to use him at free safety -- it's hard to see where Webster could fit, unless he dislodged David Bruton as the No. 3 safety.

When you're emphasizing zone blocking, you're drawing from a different deck of offensive linemen: more agile with an emphasis on footwork and quick thinking. Usually that means smaller players, but if you can find a big O-lineman who is light on his feet, you've found a potential keeper; that's what spurred the Broncos to select George Foster in the first round of the 2003 draft.

The ZBS emphasis why it's notable that Head Coach Gary Kubiak noted how much he and the Ravens' brass liked eventual Broncos draft picks Matt Paradis and Michael Schofield last year. It's also a key part of the reason why Kubiak, Rick Dennison and others associated with the Broncos' past zone-blocking days unearthed plenty of long-time NFL starters from the mid-to-late rounds and the collection of undrafted free agents.

Justin Blalock, to cite the example you mentioned, is a poor fit for zone blocking. He doesn't have the quick feet to flourish in it. That appears to be a primary factor behind the Falcons' decision to release him; remember, their offensive coordinator is Kyle Shanahan, son of former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, and former Kubiak assistant in Houston from 2006-09, which included two years as a non-play-calling offensive coordinator.

Smith has the skill set to succeed in zone blocking, and he was a draft pick of Kubiak's Texans in 2010. He's young enough to still possess untapped upside, but experienced enough to where he won't see anything new and can offer some stability. From my film study, most of his problems last year with Miami were tied to his Week 2 knee injury. Now that he's healthy, he has a chance to put his career back on track.

You might think other players are better, and that's fine. But as the cinematic version of Herb Brooks said in Miracle, "I'm not looking for the best players … I'm looking for the right ones." Ideally, "best" and "right" are one and the same, and with the cap and cash room the Broncos had, they believe Smith qualifies.

First, my sincere congratulations to you, Mike.

However, even though I can write tens of thousands of words about football in a month, I have trouble with life's emotions and a subject such as this -- especially being a husband and father who always seems at the cusp of falling asleep while standing up. So I asked my wife for help.

Her first suggestion is that you should learn to say, "Yes, dear," even when you don't agree, think that what she's saying is nuts or know that you are right and she is wrong. She believes this because she has learned -- the hard way -- that I am incapable of simple agreement. I just can't go along to get along. I end up saying what I think in the name of honesty, and end up being in trouble as a result, because I am tactlessly blunt. (Or, worse yet, I say nothing and let a pot of emotional tumult boil like lava deep inside -- which erupts at some point, usually at the worst possible moment.)

My wife also said there's nothing wrong with stepping out of your comfort zone. For instance, she's turned me into a willing participant in the early-morning mania of "Black Friday," the shopping holiday the day after Thanksgiving here in the States. I put two limits on my involvement: 1, no big-box stores, because I'd rather not see my faith in humanity drop to zero, and, 2, I'm out before 9 a.m., because there's a football team to cover.

At all times of year, make time for yourselves. Life and work have a nasty habit of getting in the way. Schedule a "date night" if you have to. I recall that former Packers and Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren used to do just that, once a week during the season, even if it was as simple as a trip to the ice-cream parlor.

Don't limit gestures to special occasions. Any knucklehead can buy his spouse flowers on a birthday or Valentine's Day. They mean something on some random Wednesday when your beloved has endured a rotten day and the gesture is unexpected.

And don't "keep score." It's what we live by in sports, but it's petty in a relationship. Move on. Live in the moment. Treat it like a good cornerback would. There's only a few things you can't forgive … and if you're in the right relationship, you don't have to worry about them, anyway.

All the best to you both.

Roster spots matter too much to simply give one away without some legitimate hope of development -- whether that hope is based on skill set, past performance, eye-catching measurables, or some combination of all.

A few years ago, the league had an international practice-squad program where two divisions of teams per year took on one player from overseas to work on the practice squad. In 2005, it was the AFC West's turn, and NFL allocated Congo native Patrice Majondo-Mwamba to the Broncos through this program. He showed enough potential to be one of the Broncos' NFL Europe allocations, and stayed through training camp the following summer before being released.

Given the need for fresh players at practice, I'd love to see the program revived, especially without NFL Europe/Europa and its "national player" program to provide exposure and experience to players from outside of the U.S. and Canada. If the NFL is sincere about developing the game internationally, it would revive the international practice-squad initiative, and expand it to allocate multiple players to each team, every season.


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The analysis, opinion and speculation in this story represents that of the author, gathered through research and reporting, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Denver Broncos organization.

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