KUSA—It is no secret that from their list of 11 unrestricted free agents, the Denver Broncos have given priority to three: pass-rushing linebacker and Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller, quarterback Brock Osweiler and defensive end Malik Jackson.
9NEWS will make the case for each of those three players – plus outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, whom the team has asked to take an undisclosed pay cut – in a daily series.
Monday we will make the case for Miller. Osweiler will be presented Tuesday and Ware on Wednesday.
Today, we make the case for the one player of those four who is most likely to leave: Malik Jackson.
For starters, the Broncos are only allowed to tag one player and that will go to Miller. The deadline for designating the tag is 2 p.m. Tuesday. The Broncos and Miller’s agent, Joby Branion, have held serious negotiations the past two days and talks are ongoing.
As of Sunday, though, the two sides were far apart. A franchise tag of $14.129 million, or exclusive tag closer to $14.8 million, is likely.
That leaves the Broncos to negotiate new long-term deals with Jackson and Osweiler if they want to keep them. The Broncos have made a strong offer to Jackson worth close to $12 million a year.
A strong case can be made, however, that Jackson is worth $15 million-plus.
Start with $15 million-plus is the going rate for elite defensive linemen who can pressure the quarterback from an interior position. Jackson is a 4-3 defensive tackle or a 3-4 defensive end, depending on the system. In 2015, he was a defensive end in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.
Let’s look at the contracts of three interior defensive linemen: Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy and Marcel Dareus.
We won’t compare Jackson to J.J. Watt because Watt has no comparison. But Suh, McCoy and Dareus are widely considered the next best interior defensive linemen in terms of harassing the quarterback.
Player, team …………..…. Total value ……. Annual average
Ndamukong Suh, MIA … $114.4 million …. $19.1M
Gerald McCoy, TB ………….. $95M ………..… $15.9M
Marcel Dareus, BUF ………. $96.6M ……….. $16.1M
All three were considered superior players to Jackson early in their careers. Suh, McCoy and Dareus were top three overall draft picks while Jackson was the Broncos’ fifth-round selection in 2012.
Now let’s look at how Jackson’s on-field production in 2015 compares to those three players.
QB pressures …. Hurries … Hits … PD … Sacks …. Total
N. Suh, MIA …………… 22 … 19 …… 5 .…... 6.0 …….. 52
Malik Jackson, DEN .… 21 … 16 ….... 7 …… 5.5 …….. 49.5
Gerald McCoy, TB ….... 13 … 17 …… 1 ..….. 8.5 …….. 39.5
Marcel Dareus, BUF .... 13 ..… 5 ……. 0 ..….. 2.0……... 20
Even if sacks are worth double the other quarterback pressure categories of hurries, hits and pass deflections, Jackson was far more productive than McCoy and Dareus and he’s right there with Suh, who is the NFL’s highest-paid player.
And that’s not even including the damage Jackson caused in the postseason when he had four more quarterback hits and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Or the fact Jackson’s personality exemplified the Denver Defense in that he’s a likeable sort with a touch of goofiness while hanging with the guys in the locker room but plays with a mean streak on the field.
The Broncos’ offer to Jackson is considerably greater than that of Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins, the fourth highest-paid defensive tackle with an annual average of $10.67 million, and Arizona’s Calais Campbell, the Denver native who is the league’s fifth-highest paid defensive end at $11 million a year.
Considering the Broncos have other players to pay – besides big tickets’ Miller and Osweiler, Bronco free agents include starters Danny Trevathan, Evan Mathis, Ryan Harris, Ronnie Hillman and super subs David Bruton Jr., Jordan Norwood, Antonio Smith and Bubba Caldwell – their latest offer to Jackson is more than fair.
But it also figures to be well short. With the salary cap increasing 8.4 percent (from $143.28 million to $155.27 million), the market for elite interior defensive linemen much higher than most fans realize, a team like Jacksonville having 10 times more salary cap space ($80.1 million) than the Broncos ($8.4 million), and Jackson proving he belongs in the top class of inside defensive linemen, it is not without justification that he commands a contract worth at least $15 million a year.
Although unfortunately for the Broncos that would also mean a key player from their No. 1-ranked, Super Bowl-winning defense.