ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The bottom line on Monday's cuts was the salary-cap calculus -- cold, cruel and unavoidable.
You can't have a cap charge of over $8 million to a backup linebacker, and you can't have a seven-figure cap figure for a third-team quarterback. And that's what D.J. Williams and Caleb Hanie were in 2012 -- and barring a rash of injuries, were going to be in 2013.
Williams was not going to supplant Wesley Woodyard as the Broncos' starting weakside linebacker, and even his situational role late last season as a nickel linebacker was shared with Danny Trevathan, who was nearly as effective, has a near-league-minimum contract as a sixth-round pick, and, just as important, has significant upside.
The Broncos only have two quarterbacks without Hanie, but that won't be the case for long. The question is where they find a third quarterback -- whether it's as an unrestricted free agent or from the rookie pool.
Denver isn't the most attractive situation for a veteran quarterback looking to push for playing time. Peyton Manning is the present; Brock Osweiler is the future, and Osweiler is a virtual lock to be the No. 2 quarterback. If the Broncos add a No. 3 as a veteran, it's the type of player who is content with his standing and wants aboard for a legitimate chance at the ring.
But an undrafted rookie would be cheaper relative to the salary cap and would possess growth potential. He also could potentially be shuttled to the practice squad in the regular season so the roster spot could be used for another position, which further enhances his value. It's also possible the Broncos could add both a veteran and a rookie, and let them duel for the last spot; the Broncos did carry four quarterbacks during training camp last year.
Hanie's fate was foretold by how he was used each week. Even when Osweiler was a raw rookie and Hanie a veteran with previous starting experience, the Broncos activated Osweiler, week after week, right into the playoffs. That decision spoke volumes: if something had happened to Manning against Baltimore or in any other crucial game, they were content to ride out Osweiler's ups and downs for as much as four quarters rather than go with the more experienced option.
Salary-cap management is often about finding out which parts you have the best chance of doing without -- and of getting the most bang for the buck. The first half of that took place Monday. They'll get more out of the $7 million they saved in cap space once free agency begins.