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Broncos' 2021 payroll: No. 1 in defense; No. 31 in offense

The Broncos' top 6-paid players play defense. New GM George Paton switched strategies from trying to keep up with the Chiefs on scoreboard to trying to limit them.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — No NFL team has a greater disparity in how it allocates offensive and defensive resources than the Denver Broncos.

And the financial disparity tilts heavily towards Vic Fangio’s defense.

According to Spotrac, the Broncos rank No. 1 in defensive payroll this season with $125.878 million.

2021 Defensive cash spending

  1. Broncos …. $125,877,726
  2. Patriots ...... $120,632, 578
  3. Giants ….... $115,206,999
  4. Texans ...… $114,192,355
  5. Bills …..….. $110,865,460

But on offense, the Broncos’ $71.789 million cash payroll ranks 31st, just $1.59 million more than the Bengals, who rank last in offensive spending.

2021 Offensive cash spending

1. Cowboys ..... $173,577,132
2. Bucs ...…….. $138,920,663
30. Vikings ...… $78,092,715
31. Broncos … $71,788,017
32. Bengals ….. $70,198,549

While the Broncos have been defensive heavy on its financial ledger since quarterback Peyton Manning retired and edge rusher Von Miller got his record contract among defensive players prior to the 2016 season, the gulf in offensive and defensive dollars has not been so vast in recent years.

Broncos spending rank

  • 2020: 24th in offense; 12th in defense
  • 2019: 28th in offense; 16th in defense
  • 2018: 29 in offense; 4th in defense
  • 2017: 24th in offense; 16th in defense
  • 2016: 17th in offense; 2nd in defense
  • 2015: 3rd in offense; 26th in defense

John Elway in his final offseason in charge as Broncos’ GM, spent most of his 2020 offseason prioritizing offense to close his team’s financial gap. Right guard Graham Glasgow and running back Melvin Gordon III were two of the 4 most expensive players from the free agency/trade routes and the Broncos went decidedly offense in the draft, taking receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler in rounds 1 and 2.

The idea a year ago was to resurrect a long dormant Broncos’ offense in an attempt to keep up with the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have won the AFC West Division the past five seasons. Previously, the Broncos had won five AFC West titles consecutively.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos general manager George Paton on Monday, March 22, 2021, at the team's headquarters in Englewood, Colo.

This year, new GM George Paton has made a 180-degree shift in strategy. Stopping the Chiefs, not outscoring them, became the way.

“We didn’t do a very good job of stopping them previous years,’’ Paton told 9NEWS earlier this month. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to stop them but we’d like to contain them. And at the same time improve our offense. We don’t want to get in shootouts with Kansas City. Or the Chargers and Raiders. We want to play good defense. Vic is one of the best defensive minds in football. Let’s give him enough pieces to turn this into one of the top defenses in the league.’’

Paton paid huge dollars to re-sign Miller, safety Justin Simmons and Shelby Harris. His two biggest-ticket players in free agency were cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller. And he took another cornerback, Pat Surtain II, with his first pick in the draft.

In 2021, the Broncos’ six highest-paid players and nine of their top 12 are defensive players.

Highest-paid Broncos

2021 cash salary

  1. Von Miller, OLB, $19.03 million
  2. Justin Simmons, safety, $17 million
  3. Pat Surtain II, CB, $13.27 million
  4. Ronald Darby, CB, $10 million
  5. Shelby Harris, DL, $10 million
  6. Kyle Fuller, CB, $9.26 million
  7. Graham Glasgow, RG, $8.59 million
  8. Bryce Callahan, CB, $7.18 million
  9. Melvin Gordon III, RB, $6.94 million
  10. Kareem Jackson, safety, $5 million
  11. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, $4.42 million
  12. Bradley Chubb, OLB, $4.37 million

This doesn’t include offensive left tackle Garett Bolles who signed his four-year contract extension in late-December with his $20 million signing bonus finishing up last year’s payroll. One reason for the warped payroll structure is the Broncos are only paying $6.4 million to their three quarterbacks – Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock and Brett Rypien – this year.

Switch quarterbacks with Green Bay and the Broncos’ payroll will begin to balance out considerably.

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