The Broncos knew damn well that they wouldn't be able to keep everyone.
Whatever Super Bowl hangover the team earned in February arrived in the presence of this cold reality -- a reality that hit Denver in the face like an early Monday morning.
Among the group of teams waiting to poach Denver's Super Bowl roster scraps in free agency are a few front offices that can actually afford it. The Jaguars are unquestionably high up on that list. The Broncos have already constructed strategies to secure long-term pieces, including a franchise tag for Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and a reported offering to four-year veteran defensive end Malik Jackson.
Reports maintain that the Broncos offered Jackson a five-ish year deal somewhere in the range of $10 million per year. These same reports insist that Jackson is actually looking for a deal worth about $75 million -- a request that the Broncos may mislay beneath their stack of more pressing contract negotiations.
Unfortunately for Denver, free agency threats like the Raiders and Jaguars are waiting in the wings -- they can put that $75 million on paper.
Malik Jackson is an excellent interior pass rusher. As a member of one of the league's most prolific pass rush units, Jackson built his name in his first year as a full-time starter in 2015 and now looks to cash out in free agency. Oakland and Jacksonville seem like likely landing spots -- mostly because of the colossal amount of cap space between the two clubs, but also because of a shared desire to strengthen their defensive interiors.
Versatility headlines a large part of Jackson's resume. Jackson unearthed production as a 3-4 edge rusher in 2014, and could find success bouncing inside and out for Jacksonville. Jackson is definitely not a true 4-3 edge, but could uncover a role as a 3-tech/big end rotational asset in the Jaguars scheme.
I've watched enough of Malik Jackson's tape to come to a buzz-killing conclusion -- Malik Jackson is not a superstar yet. Jackson won't always impress you with his decision making, nor will he lead your team in sacks (probably). Jackson is an intimidating interior presence, but he's not necessarily a torpedo. His motor is non-stop, however, and he has accumulated enough QB pressures to prove his determination.
Jackson has illuminated his own value through his on-field utility time and time again. Versatility is one of the many things that will earn you a free agency pay-day, and Jackson has put enough good things on film to aid his presumed potential.
He's not flashy, but he's an asset. I have collected a couple of examples of Jackson's 2014/2015 play.
In the first example, Jackson demonstrates his interior superiority. This is from the 2014 season.
As illustrated, Jackson is going to stunt around the nose tackle in an effort to plug the A gap.
As a Bills tight end sprints across the formation at the snap, quarterback Kyle Orton hands the ball to his running back. Jackson uses his pick to arrive in position.
As Jackson meets the running back face to face, the tight end arrives between the altercation. The running back plants and attempts to break to the right.
Jackson moves laterally, shoving the tight end out of the way in order to maintain a position in front of the running back.
The running back fails to evade Jackson, who stretches to wrap up his kill. Two-yard loss.
Malik Jackson has evolved into a decent run stuffer over time. Jackson's ability to occupy the interior has only grown since he first entered the league in 2012.
In passing situations, Jackson can be a flat-out menace. There's really no better way to put it.
Under the bright lights in Super Bowl 50, Jackson lines up as a 3-4 defensive end.
At the snap, Jackson (red) digs under the offensive guard. Jackson actually gets swallowed up a bit here. Teammate Von Miller (yellow) gets a great release on the outside.
As Miller beats the right tackle, Jackson plants his foot and rotates. Jackson continues to drive his body as Miller pushes Cam Newton up into the pocket.
Cam Newton's pocket quickly disappears. As Miller applies outside pressure, Jackson wins his battle with the guard and eats up any space Newton has to work with.
Eventually, Jackson arrives in the quarterback's personal space. Newton, somehow, is able to chuck the pass out of bounds with Jackson completely latched onto him. This is a great illustration of shear determination by both players.
Jackson is the kind of body that offensive linemen have to continuously account for -- if not for his versatility as he flows through positions, then for his ability to quickly catch a lineman off guard and out of position. Jackson doesn't lose a battle very often.
Still, asking for a J.J. Watt-sized paycheck is an enormous request. There are a few concerns surrounding a Jackson cash-out, including worry that Jackson's play last season was inflated by the Super Bowl unit surrounding him. The Jaguars have money to spend, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll shovel money in the direction of a player that they don't have all-embracing faith in. I have no doubt that Jackson would be a valuable asset to a rotational pass rush, but in an offseason stuffed with team needs, is Malik Jackson really the Jaguars' prized possession?
It's not unlikely that the Jaguars target a free agent for each of the three main defensive groups during free agency. Malik Jackson could very well be the first puzzle piece to be placed in a complete defensive overhaul.
But only if the Jaguars are as high on Jackson's potential as he is.