KUSA—There is one scenario where Kyle Sloter can complete one of the Denver Broncos’ best preseason stories in years and make the season-opening roster.
Let’s begin with the Broncos’ preferred option in replacing Paxton Lynch, who is expected to miss the first two to four games of the regular season because of a banged up right shoulder. The preferred option would be to sign a quarterback with NFL experience -- but less than four years of service time -- who will be cut from another team’s roster come 2 p.m. Saturday.
Why less than four years of service time? Because players with four years of service are considered “vested veterans.’’ As such, these players are guaranteed a full year’s salary if they are on week 1 rosters – even if they are subsequently cut after that game or a few games into the season. That just doesn’t make business sense for the long-term good of a franchise.
But let’s say the pool of quarterbacks with experience, but less than four years of experience, who become available Saturday is extremely shallow. The Broncos may realize their best bet is a backup quarterback who is also a vested vet.
In this case, the Broncos could keep Sloter as their backup quarterback to Trevor Siemian only for their week 1 game against the Los Angeles Chargers. And then sign a vested veteran quarterback for week 2, when his salary would only have to be paid out on a weekly basis, rather than for a full season.
Sloter is an undrafted rookie from Northern Colorado who has exceeded all expectations so far by first, operating the third-team offense during offseason and training camp practices, and then by performing well in three preseason games. He has posted a 140.2 passer rating entering his start tonight in the Broncos’ final preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Still, the Broncos are hesitant to put Sloter in a position where he’s one play away from replacing Siemian and taking on the Chargers in the season opener September 11.
Again, signing a quarterback with experience but not that much experience is the Broncos’ first choice. But Sloter’s surprising ascension has not been halted, yet. He can help himself tonight. Not only will Sloter start, the plan is for him to play the entire game against the Cardinals (pregame show 6 p.m., kickoff 7 p.m., Channel 20).
Simmons ready to replace T.J.
No, Von Miller, it’s not fake news. The Broncos are expected to part ways, preferably through trade, with strong safety T.J. Ward by 2 p.m. Saturday.
It’s understandable Ward’s teammates are expressing displeasure their starting strong safety is about to leave, either through trade or release. But that’s why Vance Joseph is paid the big bucks as head coach.
Yes, Ward’s non-guaranteed, $4.5 million salary is a factor. The Broncos can fit it into their salary cap budget, but that money could also be used to help secure restricted free agents Brandon McManus, who has been nails in kicking field goals and 33-yard extra points this preseason, or linebacker Todd Davis to long-term extensions.
But the biggest reason Ward became vulnerable is while he missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury, second-year player Justin Simmons blossomed.
Simmons and his 2016 draft classmate Will Parks are ready for more playing time. And the Broncos may also want to make room on their 53-man roster for another young defensive back, including undrafted rookie safety Jamal Carter, who is a larger version of Ward in the box.
Trade or no trade, Ward’s time with the Broncos may be down to hours.