Because of the complexity of the NFL salary cap, comparing cap figures can be like comparing apples to oranges to bananas to walnuts.
Apples to apples? The Broncos will spend more on their 2012 payroll than they did in 2011.
"Cash-wise we'll spend more than cap this year," John Elway, the Broncos' head of football operations, said today. "But that's where it comes down to how everybody accounts and how the numbers get skewed. Whether you're over the cap or under the cap it just comes down to the accounting."
Each year, the Broncos' cash budget for player salaries has always been around 95 percent of what the NFL lists as the salary cap. Cash versus cap? Say the Broncos gave Von Miller a five-year contract with a $10 million signing bonus. The 2011 salary cap figure is $2 million because that $10 million can be spread out equally over the length of the five-year contract. While that $10 million can be reduced for cap purposes by accounting, it's real money. To the Broncos, Miller's $10 million bonus counts as $10 million towards their cash payroll.
Sometimes a team's cash number is lower than the actual cap. In 2012, for instance, Miller's bonus will still count $2 million against the Broncos' salary cap but because the Broncos paid it all a year ago, it's counts zero against the cash budget.
The Broncos usually keep back the extra 5 percent in order to pay players they may need to sign during the season to replace players who wind up on the season-ending injured reserve list.
In 2011, the Broncos spent $117.5 million in cash on salaries, or 98 percent of the $120.375 million salary cap. The cap is expected to again come in at $120.375 million for the 2012 season.
"That $3 million difference, we'll roll that over to this year," Elway said. "And that really came from the savings of (Kyle) Orton, so we'll have that money to spend this year."
The Broncos waived quarterback Kyle Orton with six weeks remaining in the 2011 season. When he was claimed by Kansas City, the Chiefs assumed the final $2.6 million of Orton's contract.
Before the Broncos start spending in the free agent market, though, they will have to budget plenty of money for their own players. The Broncos have 17 players -- including Eddie Royal, Matt Prater, Brian Dawkins, Joe Mays, Brodrick Bunkley, Marcus Thomas, Wesley Woodyard, Mario Haggan, Spencer Larsen and Jason Hunter -- who become eligible for free agency on March 13.
The Broncos are expected to open negotiations with their own potential free agents next week during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
"We're in draft meetings right now, getting ready for the combine, but there's no question those 17 guys are our first priority," Elway said. "We'd like to have them all back to come in and compete because we know them. But bottom-line is, until we start talking to them and figure out where they're coming in (with contract expectations) and whether they want to see where their value is on the market, or if we can get a deal done with them before they hit the market, we won't know for sure (who can be signed)."
Mike Klis: 303-954-1055 or firstname.lastname@example.org