Mason's Mailbag: Adding Ja'Wuan James shows commitment to O-line

Please explain to me what is dead money, and how it affects the salary cap. For example does too much dead money hinder your chances of acquiring a player in free agency or the draft?

-- Ros Manuel

Dead money is simple: It's the amount of money that you're paying players who are no longer on the roster, because they were released or traded when their team still had signing-bonus money or other guarantees owed to them. So it hinders you simply because it's money that you can't spend on your current roster.

However, some players are released with cap savings that outweigh the dead money. So if you had a player not living up to his contract with a salary-cap figure of $10 million and $1 million in dead money, you might make the move because the $9 million saved would outweigh the $1 million still charged against your salary cap.

According to OvertheCap.com, the Broncos have $21.38 million of dead money under their cap at the present time, with the biggest chunk coming in the wake of the Case Keenum trade. Barring unforeseen issues, the Broncos should be in considerably better shape next year when it comes to dead money.

Let’s face facts, if the Broncos don’t address the offensive-line issues, the quarterback will not have time to do squat. We have the running back, we have a pretty good defense but need that line, desperately. I hope the new O-line coach can make a big difference too, another thing our Super Bowl teams had. Your take?

-- David Jones

You wrote this on March 14. By that time, the Broncos had already announced that they had agreed to terms with Ja'Wuan James. In two of the last three years, the biggest contract the Broncos issued in free agency was to an offensive lineman (James this year; Ron Leary in 2017). Left tackle Garett Bolles was a 2017 first-round pick. And you noted Offensive Line Coach Mike Munchak, whose impact in Pittsburgh was profound in turning a group that was the league's second-worst in sack rate during Ben Roethlisberger's first 10 seasons into the second-best from 2014-18.

As big an acquisition as James was, Munchak could be bigger. Working with former starting guard Chris Kuper, who will assist Munchak in coaching the line, you have a Hall of Famer and an outstanding starter who both possess the ability to convey their knowledge to the players on their watch. Even if the Broncos do not add another immediate starter in free agency or the draft, it is fair to expect this line to improve because of the coaching and the experience collected by Bolles, Connor McGovern and Elijah Wilkinson, currently slotted to start at left tackle, center and right guard, respectively.

For the impact of coaching, remember how Tom Nalen blossomed in 1995 under Alex Gibbs, who jumped from Kansas City that offseason to coach the Broncos' offensive linemen. In more recent years, you can see how New England's offensive line immediately rebounded to its vintage form when longtime line guru Dante Scarnecchia returned to their staff in 2016.

In two of the last three offseasons, the Broncos made premium investments in their offensive line. Now it's time for Munchak and Kuper to bring it together.

With Matt Paradis signing with Carolina, how do you think Denver fills that position? Is McGovern the answer or is it a free agent or maybe the draft?

-- Martin Stockton

As Elway said at his press conference Friday, "Connor is our center right now." Drafts and future free-agent pickups can change that, although the Broncos don't have much wiggle room under the cap after their work of the last few days.

If the Broncos trade down in the first round, they could look to find their center. If not, the value for interior offensive linemen looks better in the second or third rounds than it does at the No. 10 selection.

The list of late-first-round potential centers who could be in the mix if Denver trades down includes North Carolina State's Garett Bradbury and Kansas State's Dalton Risner, a Wiggins, Colorado product who also projects as a right tackle.

Day 2 interior-line options include Wisconsin's Michael Deiter (who is more of a guard, but could project as a center), Texas A&M's Erik McCoy and Mississippi State's Elgton Jenkins. Personally, my favorites in that list are Risner, Deiter and Bradbury. McCoy could be an ideal scheme fit for the zone-blocking concepts you will see from the Broncos this year; he's quick and athletic.

With Ja'Wuan James, the Broncos are now "settled" at LT (Bolles), LG (Leary) and RT (James) right? Or is it the plan for someone to switch positions?

-- Jose Borrero

Don't expect any position shifts for the players you mentioned. Leary will stay at left guard, with Wilkinson currently slotted at right guard, according to Elway.

Given the willingness of teams -- especially in the AFC West -- to use elite pass rushers over the right tackle as often as the left tackle, it doesn't behoove the Broncos to move James to the left side, especially when he has just a handful of college and pro snaps over there. He is a right tackle and will remain so.

Should the Broncos go after Justin Houston in free agency? It could be Miller and Houston wreaking havoc like Miller and Ware, and Chubb under them would be nasty.

-- Andrew Massey

Given free-agent expenditures to this point, Houston doesn't make sense unless he lingers on the market and his price hits bargain-basement levels. Besides, it's not like he would even start in Denver; Von Miller and Bradley Chubb have the edge-rushing roles sewn up.

The Broncos had other urgent needs that needed addressing before they added an extra edge rusher. With Shaquil Barrett moving on to Tampa Bay, Denver could use a little more depth there, but they could find it on the second or third day of the draft. Don't forget about Jeff Holland, who showed some flashes late last year after spending time on the practice squad following his acquisition as a college free agent. It would be no surprise if Holland takes a similar career track to the one Barrett enjoyed after going undrafted in 2014.

*Don't ask me why, but for some reason I've always been a fan of AJ McCarron. Do you think Elway will take a flyer on him? *

*-- Mark Morgan *

I won't ask why, but maybe you're an Alabama fan? Anyway, I'm not sure what the point would be beyond having an experienced backup, although you can bring back Kevin Hogan, as well. Two teams jettisoned McCarron in the last eight months. In both cases, the teams let him go while holding on to Nathan Peterman, whose passer rating of 32.5 is the worst for any quarterback with at least 125 career attempts since 1980. That says something, and it isn’t good.

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