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Mason's Mailbag: Don't forget about Troy Fumagalli

I am following up on your Shelby Harris response from last week with a couple of questions. Is Harris capable of taking over for Domata Peko at nose tackle? Since Harris is a restricted free agent, what kind of deal is it going to take to keep him in Denver?

-- Jeff Hinrichs

Potentially. The deal to keep him Denver will likely depend on the level at which the Broncos tender him. If the Broncos place a second-round tender on him -- which would likely be just over $3 million -- they should be able to retain him.

If the Broncos place an original-round tender on him, the team would save about $1 million under the salary cap, but since Harris broke into the league as a seventh-round pick, another team would only have to surrender a seventh-round pick if it submits an offer sheet that the Broncos decline to match. 

It's possible the Broncos could sign him to a long-term extension, but in recent years, their typical tactic with restricted free agents is to submit a tender and either match an offer sheet -- as they did with running back C.J. Anderson in 2016 -- or wait another year before working on an extension, as was the case for inside linebacker Todd Davis. 

There are variables in play for both this year and future years. For example, if the Broncos do not re-sign Peko and promote Harris to a full-time first-team role, he might want to play out this season on the one-year RFA deal in the hopes of getting a heftier contract after a year as a starter.

What’s going on with the tight end position? With so much injuries this season, how’s the recovery for Butt and Heuerman going?

-- Parker Widemann

Both are coming along fine, although Heuerman is set to become an unrestricted free agent if the Broncos do not re-sign him before the start of the league year, so his status is up in the air at this point.

In terms of tight ends coming off of injuries, don't forget about 2018 fifth-round pick Troy Fumagalli, who spent his rookie season getting back to full health and working in the weight room. The day after the regular-season ended, he said that he had added "eight to 10 pounds" of muscle over the course of the fall.

"That was one of my goals coming in when I found out I was going to be [placed on injured reserve]," he said.

"I think I really needed this time. I think it was a blessing for me, looking back on it. I'm just fortunate that [President of Football Operations/General Manager John] Elway and everybody else gave me the chance to grow and learn this year, and I'll be ready to go next year."

Not a Vic Fangio question, but it's been bothering me since Monday.

What if -- in years to come -- a superstar 19-year old QB plays in a foreign league so can be signed immediately (no college)? It might not happen for 20 years or so, but it's an interesting concept. 

-- @martynrich (via Twitter)

Because this player took part in a foreign league, I expect that he would be treated like Eric Swann, a defensive lineman who became the then-Phoenix Cardinals' first-round pick in 1991. After graduating from high school in 1989 and being ruled academically ineligible to play as a college freshman, he played for the semi-pro Bay State Titans in Massachusetts in 1990, then became eligible for the draft the following year.

In recent years, you had the example of Moritz Böhringer, a sixth-round pick of the Vikings in 2016 who just signed a reserve-future contract with the Bengals after spending 2018 on their practice squad. Böhringer, a wide receiver who converted to tight end last year, spent three seasons in German leagues – including 2015 campaign in the German Football League that resulted in being named that circuit’s Rookie of the Year -- before Minnesota drafted him. His example is different than Swann’s, because at the time of his drafting, Böhringer was 22 years old and years into his university studies.

One would expect that a player who was not a product of the U.S. educational system and took part in an overseas league at age 18 or 19 would be allowed to follow the same path Swann, especially since it would put him into the draft pool, giving teams a more structured opportunity to evaluate and select the player. However, that hypothetical player of whom you speak could opt to challenge the process entirely and sign with a team without going through the draft. 

As American football continues to establish itself in Europe, I would not be surprised if your scenario arises. But I would also expect a player with that sort of potential at age 18 to be on the radar of U.S. universities who would try and recruit him to their programs first, assuming he did not play a professional down in Europe before his 18th birthday.

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