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Broncos release Kareem Jackson and send Phillip Lindsay to less restricted free agency

Lindsay's no-round tender means other teams can submit offers without draft compensation. Broncos would have right to match.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos said goodbye to arguably their top leader on defense, while half-pushing out their most popular player on offense.

In defense of new Broncos’ general manager George Paton, he wasn’t afraid to make some unpopular decisions.

Paton informed hard-hitting safety Kareem Jackson he would not be exercising his $1.5 million option guarantee on a $10 million salary, a source told 9NEWS, which was first to report the move. The transaction releases the veteran Jackson to free agency after two strong seasons with the Broncos.

> Above video: Lindsay speaks at 2020 Inclusive Sports Summit.

Paton also told restricted free agent running back Phillip Lindsay that he would only offer him a low- or original-round tender worth $2.18 million. Since Lindsay was undrafted, opposing teams can now submit an offer sheet without having to give up a draft pick in return. Had Lindsay received a second-round, $3.38 million tender, his return to the Broncos would have been virtually assured as teams generally consider a second-round draft pick prohibitive compensation.

The good news for Lindsay and his agent Mike McCartney (son of Colorado Buffalo coaching legend Bill McCartney) is he is now essentially a free agent who can generate multiyear offers from opposing teams. In 2016, the Broncos gave give RFA running back C.J. Anderson a no-round tender instead of a $2.553 million, second-round tender. Anderson received a four-year, $18 million contract offer sheet from the Miami Dolphins and his former offensive coordinator Adam Gase. The contract included $6 million in 2016. The Broncos matched the offer sheet, and therefore made a $3.5 million mistake in 2016 by not giving him a second-round tender.

Credit: AP

The Broncos have the right to match any competitive offer signed by Lindsay, but will they? Lindsay, a hometown hero from Denver South High School and the University of Colorado, was among the NFL’s biggest surprises in 2018 when he rushed for 1,037 yards and 9 touchdowns and caught 35 passes for another 241 yards and a touchdown to earn a Pro Bowl berth.

Lindsay had another 1,011-yard rushing, 35-catch season in 2019, but in 2020, the Broncos paid free agent Melvin Gordon a two-year, $16 million contract to become the team’s primary running back. The Gordon-Lindsay duo didn’t mesh in Pat Shurmur’s 2020 offense, at least not from Lindsay’s viewpoint as his production dropped to 502 yards and 7 catches in 11 games.

When Gordon had his two DUI charges dismissed in a Denver District Court last week, Lindsay’s place on the team went from secure to vulnerable.

Even if Lindsay has a chance to financial prosper from a low-round tender, it’s an emotional blow. A second-round tender sends the message the team values the player to the point it definitely wants him back. A low-round tender sends the player the message he’s not as valued by the team. In the end, players want to be loved.

Jackson was also a well-liked, two-year starting safety for the Broncos who became a ferocious hitter despite his 185-pound frame. He also organized the Broncos’ march through downtown Denver last summer as a protest demonstration against the social injustice against people of color in this country.

Jackson signed a three-year, $33 million contract with the Broncos in March 2019. But with his partner Justin Simmons getting a second franchise tag -- which puts him in position to potentially become the NFL’s safety at around $15 million per year -- and Jackson turning 33 next month, the Broncos felt a need to cut costs.

The Broncos did offer Jackson a contract restructure/reduced pay in lieu of his final $10 million salary. But when Jackson balked at the pay cut, the team declined his option and sent him to free agency.

It's possible, if not likely, Jackson could re-sign with the Broncos at a lower rate, but he will first test the market. 

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