DENVER -- Mike Sullivan is one of the most important names associated with the Broncos.
There are two of them and the pair will be significant in the off-season.
Combined, the Mike Sullivans have been employed by NFL franchises (Broncos and Giants) that have played in four Super Bowls, and won three.
Mike Sullivan 1, the Broncos’ director of football administration, negotiates and structures players contracts, but his primary responsibility over the next several weeks will be managing and manipulating the salary cap.
Mike Sullivan 2, the Broncos’ new quarterbacks coach, will be charged with helping the team do something special about that critical position.
Mike 1 joined the Broncos a year after John Elway assumed command of football operations. He had been on the other side for 30 years – working to represent players in their contract negotiations. During one point, the attorney and former All-American high school quarterback partnered with famed agent Leigh Steinberg. Those two sat across the table from each other after the Broncos drafted Steinberg client Paxton Lynch.
Mike 2 was hired by the Broncos after the shakeup/firings of the coaching staff of the Giants, for whom he was the offensive coordinator the past two seasons. The West Point graduate and ex-United States Army Ranger had served two tours with the Giants (2004-2009 and 20015-20017) and also coached for the Jaguars and the Buccaneers.
The Sullivans have tough tasks ahead – and quarterbacks will be at the center.
If, for instance, the Broncos pursue Kirk Cousins, Mike 1 will have to come up with probably the highest-contract offer and one of the most creative money deals in league history. And Mike 2 would have to prove to Cousins that he would be an ideal coach for the quarterback’s talents.
Mike 1 would have a simpler situation if the Broncos decide to draft a quarterback with the fifth overall pick. Draft choice contracts generally are slotted, although quarterbacks do get bumps over other position players. Last year wide receiver Corey Davis, picked No. 5 by the Titans, received a four-year contract for approximately $25 million (all guaranteed), including a $16 million bonus. He was the last first-round draft choice to sign. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky, at No. 2 to the Bears, was presented with a $29 million guarantee.
A quarterback at No. 5 in 2018 might expect $30 million over four years fully guaranteed, with a team fifth-year option.
If Washington doesn't franchise or transition Cousins for a third year, he would become a free agent and could end up with a contract for six years for $168 million, with half guaranteed.
Mike 2 will coach a veteran quarterback, such as Cousins or Case Keenum, or a rookie draft selection along with Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly. The Broncos could draft a Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen, or take a risk in the second or third round on a young QB, then sign Josh McCown as a veteran backup at closer to $6 mil than the $15 million annually for Keenum or $28 mil for Cousins.
Obviously, the quarterbacks coach will have input on what the Broncos do, although John Elway, with advice, especially from Gary Kubiak, ultimately will make the final decision.
Mike 1 will definitely have considerable maneuvering to achieve to find the Broncos more salary-cap space.
The salary cap in the NFL will increase in 2018 to an estimated $178 million. The Broncos currently have about $23.4 in wiggle room, plus an $11.4 million carryover from last season.
The Broncos are in the middle of the NFL pack with space, but they need to get to at least $50 million in order to sign unrestricted free agents at quarterback, tight end, wide receiver, and on the defense.
If they trade Aqib Talib, $11 million more would be freed (with a $1 million dead-cap hit). C. J. Anderson could be another casualty because he’s due $4.5 million. If released, his number wouldn't count anything toward the cap. The subtraction of Manelik Watson and Zach Kerr also would give the Broncos serious relief. Without those four players, the salary-cap space would ascend to $56.4 million. And if they dump the salaries of five more veterans who haven’t been major contributors, the space would be more than $60 million – enough to acquire Cousins, a quality offensive tackle and a couple of other free agents.
No matter what happens between now and September, Sullivan & Sullivan will be of high value to the Broncos.