Reports emerged earlier today that according to sources the Denver Broncos will not pick up the option on Russell Okung’s contract, which means he may be able to test the free agent market for the second straight offseason. The first reports of this came from Fox Sports, with all the usual big names echoing the report as the day has gone on.
This means there is likely to be yet another mid-level free agent left tackle available to teams next season, as Okung will likely join former Pro Bowlers Matt Kalil and Andrew Whitworth in looking for a new team for 2017. If nothing else, the left tackle market could make for an interesting game of musical chairs, with names such as Kelvin Beachum, Riley Reiff and Ryan Clady all looking for a new place to call home.
Many Seahawks fans are likely to clamor for Okung to return “home” after testing the waters down the road for a season, and it will be interesting to see if there is any bad blood between the Hawks and Okung following the negotiation process of last offseason. It has been reported that it can be difficult and insulting for players to represent themselves, as the teams that have employed them can point out all of their shortcomings in attempting to negotiate the most team friendly deal, which can leave a sour taste in a player’s mouth.
However large a sour taste the negotiating process may have left with Okung, it will be interesting to see if that can be outweighed by missing the playoffs for only the second time in his career. In the six years Okung spent with the Hawks he was a leader on the offensive line and the team made the playoffs in five of those six seasons. This year, the Broncos not only missed the playoffs in large part due to the poor play of their offensive line, it was reported that following a late season game Okung attempted to stand up and speak in front of the team, only to be told to sit down and be quiet by a member of the Broncos defense. That wouldn’t seem to be an environment which Okung would look forward to playing in next season, and as much as I am certain he will likely be upset about missing out on $48M over the next four years, finding a home where he’s not told to sit down and shut up will probably be a nice relief.
As for whether he would be sought after by the Hawks could come down to his durability. The players the Hawks have brought in via free agency in the past have traditionally been durable players who have not missed a lot of time, and outside of this past season in Denver, Okung has not been very durable or reliable.
For me, it likely comes down to price. If Okung is once again looking for a top of market deal where he is making elite tackle money, he will likely price himself out of the Hawks range very quickly. However, if he is willing to come in and play on a smaller deal, then it could be something of interest to both Okung and the team.
One issue that might come in to play is that just because the Broncos have decided to pass on Okung’s option does not necessarily mean he will be available in free agency. It is highly likely that he will be, however, this could be a negotiating ploy by the Broncos to attempt to get Okung to accept a deal that is not quite as rich over the coming seasons or the Broncos could still trade Okung to a team willing to take on his deal.
The structure of the option in Okung’s deal is very team friendly, so they could theoretically exercise the option and then trade him to another team, or trade him to another team and let the other team exercise the option. If a team had ample space under the salary cap and felt it would be more worthwhile to take Okung at the terms of his option, then that could be a possible solution. One item to keep in mind, however, is that because the Broncos do not have to do anything to let his contract expire (they actually have to exercise his option, otherwise he simply becomes a free agent by default) he would count towards compensatory picks calculations for the 2018 draft.
That means, that if he does become a free agent and leave Denver, any contract he signs could realistically net the Broncos a 5th or 6th round pick in 2018, so they would have to weigh the value of that potential comp pick against any trade compensation they might receive this offseason. In any case, it will be interesting to see how the LT market plays out across the league, and how many of the names involved simply end up playing musical chairs.