Why Malik Jackson’s future is dependent on Peyton Manning

Sam Monson explains why Peyton Manning's decision to–or not to—retire will likely impact Jackson's future in Denver.

| 8 months ago
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Why Malik Jackson’s future is dependent on Peyton Manning

We have now seen back-to-back seasons of quality play from Malik Jackson, and that means that he is chasing a big-money contract as he enters free agency. After posting a very strong +35.2 cumulative grade a year ago as a rotational body in Denver’s front, he repeated that performance (+37.9) as a starter this year, playing 1,023 total snaps (including the playoffs).

In abstract terms, the Broncos would be crazy to let Jackson walk, but the problem Denver has is that their cap is being held ransom by Peyton Manning and his desire to take every possible minute to decide on his future. Manning’s cap number for 2016 is $21.5 million, and the Broncos would get $19 million of that back if Manning is no longer on the roster.

Denver isn’t just dealing with Jackson—Von Miller, Danny Trevathan, and Brock Osweiler are also impending free agents. As good as Jackson is, in a straight choice between him and Miller, he is the second priority.

While Jackson is an impact player on defense, we need look no further than the playoff run to see that Miller is one of the few defenders in the NFL that can change games single-handedly. In the three playoff games, he averaged over seven total pressures per game, and in the final two outings, he was likely the difference between winning and losing for the Broncos.

Denver likely uses the franchise tag on Miller, eating up $14.1 million of cap space and putting them around $5 million over the cap—effectively ending any chance that the team can retain Jackson until Manning retires and frees up that cap space.

As soon as that happens, though, they can play with around $13.5 million of cap space to try and get a deal done. If they re-work Ryan Clady’s deal, or cut him entirely, they can free up at least another $4 million of space. At that point, retaining Jackson becomes a very real possibility.

Jackson notched 75 total pressures in the 2015 season (playoffs included); over those 19 games, he registered at least one pressure in every game except one, and that outing saw him record a pair of batted passes.

In a league swimming with high-quality talent on the defensive interior, Jackson generated more total pressure than all but six other interior defenders. Two of those players were J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald. There is no doubt that Jackson has shown himself over two years to be a disruptive force and a key part of a defense that was one of the best the league has ever seen.

The alternate scenario for the Broncos is that they manage to get a long-term deal worked out with Miller, freeing up the franchise tag to be applied to Jackson. Jackson’s franchise tag number as a defensive end ($15.7 million) would exceed that of Miller as a linebacker, but he would still be worth that figure if it enabled Denver to work out a long-term deal and prevent him from hitting free agency. The team could even try and tag him as a defensive tackle to save another $2 million or so, and see what comes of him challenging that designation.

The Broncos have been working on an all-in basis with regards to their salary cap as long as Peyton Manning has been the quarterback, loading up as best they can to take home a Lombardi Trophy. That strategy was ultimately successful, getting them to the dance twice and finally winning it all in February, but with Manning likely retiring, now is the time to try and return to normality and retain the core players that got them there.

With two or three key players all scheduled to hit free agency, the Broncos just don’t have enough money to go around until Manning walks, and as good as Malik Jackson is, he is definitely the second priority after Von Miller.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • anon76returns

    I love Malik, and any positive you can say about how good he is as a player I will likely agree with. But I think that the Broncos will be better off with Malik returning a 3rd round compensatory pick then trying to squeeze his (well earned) salary under the cap space.
    First of all, for the 2016 season the Broncos have about $21M of the ~$155 cap tied up in DeMarcus Ware, Sylvester Williams, and Derek Wolfe. Add in $14.5M for Miller (assuming he gets the franchise tag today) and you have those 4 players accounting for $35.5M (23%) of the cap. Now add in something like $13M for Malik, and Denver’s front 5 would count for over 30% of the cap. That’s too much, especially when the 5 “starters” (counting Roby here) in the secondary account for another $30M. This is a team that will need to find its franchise QB ($15M-$20M), and should probably lock up its burgeoning star at RB when he becomes a UFA next season. In addition, the Broncos need to shore up the offensive line (possible that Vasquez and Clady could contribute to that with return to All Pro form next year, so better if they’re not cut). They also need to stay young on both sides of the ball, which means not tying up every one of their excellent players to long term contracts, as eventually age will impact ability. The Broncos already have two quality defensive ends on the roster in Wolfe (+27.4 reg season grade in 671 snaps in 2015) and Vance Walker (+11.2 in 388 snaps in 2015). In addition, Kenny Anunike has been one of the most impressive defensive players for them the past two preseasons, and should finally have a chance to earn a roster spot (slim chances at playing time have caused the Broncos to use relatively minor injuries to stash him on IR each of the last two seasons). With their two NTs (William and Kilgo), they really only have space for 6 DL on the final 53 man roster, and that 6th slot can be filled by one of their 10 draft selections this Spring. Such a rookie selection would then get a season of grooming to take over for Vance Walker’s spot once his contract expires following the 2016 season.
    Neither Anunike, Walker, nor the new draftee are likely to be as good as Malik Jackson would have been were he retained. But paired with Wolfe they would still be one of the best defensive interiors in the league. With cap space saved on Jackson being applied to e.g. a franchise QB & RB, and with a very good comp draft pick coming from Malik’s departure, it’s fairly clear to me that the Broncos as a team would be better in 2016 and beyond even without their star DE.

  • raider_harvey

    Sooo in this scenario they have no qb?

  • crosseyedlemon

    I’ve read elsewhere that Manning plans to announce his retirement by the end of the week.

    • Aaron McFarland

      Adam Schefter reported today that he still wants to play, so that is not a ‘for sure’ he announces his retirement, which may force the Broncos hand.

  • Brian

    Denver jus needs to cut manning if this is hurting the odds of retaining jackson. I know it’s Peyton manning, but let’s face it. He sucked last year & he had very little to do w them winning the super bowl. It’s not like he’s been a bronco for life. Denver doesn’t owe Peyton anything. Honestly Denver already has one qb that is known for super bowl choke jobs in elway & if not for shanny & terrell davis, Elway would be battling Peyton for the worst postseason qb title. Point is, Peyton didn’t help them win a sb, Denver doesn’t need to be attached to another choke artist. Cut him & resign the defense.

    • OrangeCrush

      Elway and Manning both having winning records in the post season and each have 2 Super Bowl victories! Choke Artists? You’re an idiot!

      • Brian

        No your an idiot. I’m just correct. Go look at elway’s super bowl stats. He was terrible in 3 out of 5 super bowls & was nothing more than average in the other 2. He’s been to 5, was blown out in 3 of them, & won 2 on the back of terrell davis. Unlike Peyton, Elway did great in the postseason until the super bowl. U know the biggest game of the year. And Peyton Manning is 13-12 in the playoffs with a record 8 one and dones in the playoffs. He’s been to 4 super bowls. Was blown out in one, choked in another, & won one on the strength of his defense and Bob sanders. And the one he just won was despite Peyton not bc of him. He played horrible. It was as bad as elway’s choke jobs in super bowls. I’ll give u that elway and manning are all time great qbs but neither of them are anywhere close to the conversation of greatest qb ever. Montana and Brady sit alone on the mountain. Maybe u Denver fans are satisfied w a winning playoff record & getting blown out in super bowls while occasionally winning one, but fans from sf, NE, & pitt aren’t happy unless there are rings involved. Peyton is the biggest playoff choke artist the qb position has ever saw. Elway is the worst super bowl qb the position has ever saw. And Denver is tied w buffalo for being the worst super bowl team ever. Sure buffalo lost all 4 and in a row, but they did make it 4 times in a row which is amazing. Denver has now won 3 super bowls but it doesn’t take away from the fact they were blown out and embarrassed in 5. U would think by jus have winning the super bowl the truth of the matter would bother Denver fans, but maybe all those blowouts still hurt.

        • Brian

          Throwing for over 300 yards and a touchdown, running for another, and winning the MVP in SB 33 is average?

          • Brian

            Along with a pick, 2 throws that should have been missed, & a few missed throws. And we are talking about the single super bowl he wasn’t terrible.

        • Wingnut

          Yeah, because a win or loss is only on the QB right? The rest of the team has nothing to do with it. Denver’s defense for one, showed that any QB can look bad in big games if their O-line is as porous as a sponge. Carolina’s defense was pretty damn good as well. Disraeli said ” There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Also as far as the worst Super Bowl team you forgot my fave NFC team the Vikings 0-4. Also there are the Falcons and the Chargers who are only 0-1. So based on winning % they are worse than Denver. Focusing only on the number of losses is a form of cherry picking your statistics. Yes NE and Pitt have a better SB history. SF’s isn’t very recent but I’ll grant you that one (although Denver has won three since SF last won one). But there are probably 20+ teams that wish they had Denver’s SB history. I’m not sure what your last sentence was trying to convey (its semantically null). But as far as the blowouts go, of course we remember them. This last win could very easily have turned into another blowout loss, but the breaks mostly went our way. It’s easy to point out a few teams with a better SB won/loss % and say that that is the only stat that counts. That’s your opinion, but I believe that it is very simplistic and self-serving. But from a historical perspective its probably not entirely inaccurate. If you could only use one stat to determine team success, that would probably be the one to use. But it is a team sport, so to conflate SB won/loss with QB quality is not just simplistic, it’s a joke.

          • Brian

            I mean in the end all the does matter is rings. There’s no Lombardi or ring for 2nd place. And I never said the rest of the team has nothing to do with it. However, especially in today’s era, the qb the biggest factor in winning a super bowl. U look at brady last year & come away thinking there’s no way NE wins without him. Certainly Seattle’s last drive played a huge role also. Things have to fall a certain way for teams to win. Both of the pats most recent losses are 2 more examples of that. They could have easily won those but the big plays at the end went against them. Denver’s win this year was diff. It had as little to do w the qb as it can. Their defense is one of the 10 greatest defenses of all time and it was the main reason they won it all. My original point was that if giving peyton time is holding up resigning jackson then they should cut manning bc he is irrelevant especially in comparison to jackson. Jackson is one of the best interior defenders in the league. He’s vital to the defense, the strength of the team. Peyton was a liability all season. And back to the point about super bowls. Perception is reality. It really is. 1st let me just say, I don’t have a favorite team. Or even a team I pull for. I like certain players based on different things. I watch bc I love football not bc I love a team. What I’m saying is I’m very unbiased. For example I love peyton manning but I’d never pick him to be my qb in the playoffs. I like peyton way more than elway, but I think elway is higher than Peyton on the all time great list. I don’t care for brady and can’t stand Montana but I don’t question them as the 2 greatest qbs ever to play. But what I’m getting at is about perception being reality. I totally agree that there are teams that would love to have Denver’s sb record. But the perception is that Denver is a super bowl choke job waiting to happen. Mainly bc it’s happened to them more than anyone. They’re a victim of their own success. They’ve been successful enough to have the expectations of the pitt sf NE Dallas gb teams, but they haven’t been as successful as them and have been embarrassed in the super bowls all those times. So while Minnesota is 0 4 in them, noone is really taking it out on them bc they haven’t been successful enough. I’m not saying I agree w this but that’s how many feel. But I will say that if I had a favorite team I’d rather them not make the super bowl than get blown out. If they just lost that would be OK but to be embarrassed how Denver has been, so many times, I would feel ashamed. I’m not even a denver fan, but I feel ashamed and pity for them. Worse so than even buffalo. Just my own personal feelings but that’s how I feel. When I think of Denver I think of them choking in all those sbs and I think of the 2 qbs from their franchise, Elway and manning as 2 of the biggest super bowl and postseason choke artists repectively. I watched the super bowl at a party of about 30 and there’s was a ton of conversation about all of this. And after they won the tone was even when they win a sb their qb still choked. I’m not saying it’s everyone, but many times when the conversation heads towards the Broncos these things come up.

        • Dan Meakin

          How on gods earth are Denver tied with Buffalo as the worst SB team? You aware Denver have actually won 3 Superbowls? The Vikings and the Bills are both 0-4. Denver made it to 3 out of 4—all losing efforts under elway, So…your Bills made it to 4 in a row doesn’t bear much significance. Bills compared to Broncos in the Superbowl doesn’t even bare comparison. They have won zero and appeared in half as many SBs. Get a clue.

      • Brian

        Here’s a link for elway’s stats. They’re worse than Tebow stats lol. Peyton’s link too.



    • Matt

      You’re a joke bruh. Get out of moms basement and get a life. See my comment about about why you are an idiot and then cry to your mommy

  • codered5

    To me it doesn’t seem like a good idea to keep malik just cuz he’s good. It’s like suh last year. Compared to the amount of cap he will take he is not worth it and now that von has the non-exclusive tag 17 million or so whatever cap relief peyton can give will leave enough room for osweiler or a free agent qb. Priority wise malik should be gon. Ozzie Newsom had to let pernell mcphee go. That’s how it works when you have a great roster unfortunately. Malik is a quality interior defender but it would be foolish to resign him at the cost of virtually any starting qb.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    manning’s cap number for 2016 is actually 25.5 mil after he earned two separate 2 mil bonuses for reaching and then winning the superbowl. those bonuses are of the “not likely to be earned” type so they aren’t held against the 2015 cap and are applied forward when earned. his 19mil salary is still the same tho

  • geneinjersey

    No mention of signing Brock Osweiler, who is also now a free agent. With QB-hungry teams ready to pounce on him, hey Denver… Welcome to salary cap hell!! Ok everybody, repeat after me: Defensive End Malik Jackson, Oakland Raiders!! Damn that hurts, doesn’t it?

  • Nastyj

    I don’t get this notion that Denver being “all-in each year in regards to cap” is abnormal, or somehow not desirable. It’s not like they are pushing money further down the road or back loading contracts. Denver has been one of the top teams in the league in terms of dead money on their cap, so the notion that they’re somehow differing from other teams or a preferred strategy is just a myth that won’t die. Every team (other than Oakland or Jacksonville) is “all-in”each year with their cap, trying to fit as much talent as possible under it to compete each season. Denver is just better at it than most.

  • Matt

    No, Brian you are an idiot. Calling either a choke artist is just plain ignorant and shows you are a weak, little troll. Elway went to 5 Super Bowls, meaning he got farther than 30 NFL teams. If that makes him a choke artist, what does that say about someone like Dan Marino, an all time great. He went to one and lost it. Think how many legend qb’s went to maybe 2 Super Bowls and won both. They still only managed to make it to the big game twice. It speaks volumes about Elway that he continually took poor teams to the big game, basically himself. When he had a better team around him, they won. But he was always winning his division and making a run at the bowl. F’in CHAMP. And you are a twat.

    • Brian

      The lack of knowledge & hostility u have tells me u are over compensating. Probably little d*ck syndrome and a lack of personal success. And I’m pretty sure I’ve been in more fights than u have had sex so losers like u that talk big on the internet are the least of my worries. Not to mention incredibly sad and pathetic. Anyone that starts talking smack like u have done is clearly unhappy. I feel sorry for u. And trolling then blaming it on someone else is lame. Whether u are a troll, unhappy, over compensating, anger issues, or whatever reason u feel the need to talk smack online when u know there are absolutely zero repercussions, u should at least be witty or original. I mean saying u live in your moms basement is not only lame and unoriginal but leads me to believe u do in fact live in your moms basement. Why else would u even think of that. Grown *ss men dont talk smack on the interner or even think about anyone living in their moms basement unless they are about ti kick some kids *ss in real life and even thats a stretch. But im pretty certain u wouldnt know anything about a real life fight. Im really thinking u are just a troll. Simply bc u have no statistic evidence to back your thoughts other than talking smack. Thats the definition of a troll. Dan Marino or elway is not in the convo of greatest ever qbs. U wanna talk about taking bad teams places go look at what Brady has done and who he’s done it with. Montana and Brady are on a completely different level than elway and manning. Rodgers is already surpassed them both. U see how he lost this year, he went out fighting and did more than enough to help his team advance. Elway and Peyton go out choking. Montana and Brady have multiple super bowls where they have led many clutch game winning drives. Elway and Peyton have a combined zero. Shoot brady threw more tds last year’s sb than Peyton did in 4. Any unbiased person will tell u that both elway and especially Peyton’s postseason accomplishments leave much to be desired. They’re both all time great qbs, jus not in the conversation of the greatest ever to play. Unlike peyton, Elway has had more postseason success than failures, and he does have clutch games in the playoffs, it’s just he’s stunk in super bowls w the exception of maybe 1. But what am I doing wasting my time trying to rationalize w a neadrethal.