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The axe is about to fall on alot of Broncos and Brian Xanders is about to do all the chopping along with Coach M

LEGWOLD: NFL housecleaning begins

By Jeff Legwold, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)

Published February 12, 2009 at 7:18 p.m.

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Cowboys tackle Marc Colombo tries to hold off the the Broncos' Dewayne Robertson during a 2008 preseason game at Invesco Field at Mile High.

Photo by Doug Pensinger © Getty Images

Cowboys tackle Marc Colombo tries to hold off the the Broncos' Dewayne Robertson during a 2008 preseason game at Invesco Field at Mile High.

Balance sheet

Balance sheet

The 18 players who are slated to count at least $1 million against the Broncos' salary cap in 2009. Figures include a player's base salary as well as the annual accounting for bonuses.

Pos.Player2009 cap figureDTDewayne Robertson$16,000,000CBChamp Bailey$13,668,525LBD.J. Williams$11,634,500CBDre' Bly$6,800,000TEDaniel Graham$6,650,000GBen Hamilton$4,484,000LBBoss Bailey$3,855,000WRBrandon Stokley$3,785,416RB*Travis Henry$3,600,000LBNiko Koutouvides$3,061,666QBJay Cutler$2,712,500LBJamie Winborn$2,250,000DEJohn Engelberger$2,185,000TRyan Clady$2,141,250DEJarvis Moss$1,900,000WR*Keary Colbert$1,666,667CCasey Wiegmann$1,350,000SMarquand Manuel$1,333,333

Lineup

NUMBERS GAME

0 Heisman Trophy winners invited to this year's scouting combine. The past two winners, Florida's Tim Tebow and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, were underclassmen who stayed in school.

TROUBLED TIMES

It will be intriguing to see if the NFL Players Association, franchise owners and other executives understand what's going on around them in the coming weeks and months as they each pound the labor war drums.

Because as they argue how to divvy up the league's money pie and go public with their complaints about how they deserve more than they're getting, it might be wise for them to remember the people who sit in the seats currently are living in one of the worst economic climates in years.

And any team that laid off a Web site writer, as several, including the Broncos, have done in the past year, then spends $4 million on a backup linebacker in free agency, has some explaining to do.

"I think that is a concern," said Richard Berthelsen, the NFLPA's acting executive director. "We're of the opinion there's enough revenue to go around, enough to have a deal and that we would all be wise to understand people need an escape in times like these, and football can be that escape if we get a deal that can be done."

HE SAID IT

"Seven hours you're on the plane, you've got the excitement of going to your first Pro Bowl, so you take a nap, and the last three hours you just start to get more excited, more excited, until the plane finally lands."

Jay Cutler, Broncos quarterback, on the flight to his first Pro Bowl.

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Of all the dates on the NFL calendar, this week's set of numbers didn't really draw much attention.

Tucked neatly behind the Super Bowl and Sunday's Pro Bowl, this week marked the official start of what will be for the Broncos - and everybody else in the league - in 2009. It was the first week the housecleaning could begin as teams began to arrange their rosters and their bottom lines to get into position for the start of free agency later this month.

The Cowboys released Adam "Pacman" Jones on Monday, and the Jaguars released Jerry Porter on Wednesday. In between, plenty of players were shown the door in plenty of places.

The Broncos released five players, a total that included running backs Anthony Alridge, P.J. Pope and Alex Haynes, tight end Chad Mustard and wide receiver Cliff Russell. Russell, who missed much of last season with a neck injury, failed a physical.

They were the first of what figures to become an actual list, before all is said and done, of those who were in the Broncos' plans during Mike Shanahan's tenure but who will now ride the winds of change to someplace else.

When free agency begins Feb. 27, the Broncos and every other NFL team will have to be under the $123 million per-team salary cap. Also by league rules, only the top 51 salaries are counted to make that mark, and only those top 51 are counted until teams make their final cuts in training camp to head into the regular season, when all 53 players count.

Before the Broncos made their five cuts Wednesday, they were at $114,630,341 in salary-cap commitments to 63 players for 2009. After the cuts, they had a little more than $112 million in salary-cap commitments to 58 players.

A salary-cap total includes a player's base salary as well as accounting for the prorated portions of bonuses they have already received. So the Broncos are already under the salary cap, especially if they count only their top 51 players.

But the Broncos do have some numbers with dollar signs in front of them that raise a red flag or three and will get some attention in the coming weeks. Such as:

* They currently have 18 players slated to count at least $1 million each against the 2009 salary cap.

* Ten of those players are on defense, where the Broncos finished at or near the bottom in every major category in 2008.

Leading the way is defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, whose bonus-heavy deal is set to count $16 million against the cap in '09 unless the Broncos redo it or release him. So most in the league believe he will not be on the roster under his current contract next month.

* Two players among the 18 are no longer with the team - running back Travis Henry and wide receiver Keary Colbert. They will count $3.6 million and $1,667,000 against the '09 cap despite having no chance to play a snap for the team.

Henry, who is facing federal drug charges, last played for the Broncos in 2007, yet his cap figure still is the ninth-highest on the team.

* Five players on the list who were on the roster and healthy did not start the season finale in December - Brandon Stokley ($3,785,000 against the cap), Niko Koutouvides ($3.06 million), John Engelberger ($2,185,000), Jarvis Moss ($1.9 million) and Marquand Manuel ($1.33 million).

Of that group, only Stokley is considered to be an "impact" contributor by rival personnel executives.

It all shows that decisions made in free agency, especially the ones that don't work out, have a significant impact on what a team can, and will, do as it moves forward.

Henry's mega-deal still stings, as does Colbert's. Colbert was the first player the Broncos pursued and signed in free agency last year, and they certainly raised some eyebrows by giving a $2.5 million signing bonus to a receiver who had two touchdowns in 2004, 2005 and 2006 combined.

He didn't crack the Broncos' rotation in training camp and was traded to Seattle in September for a conditional pick that is now a fifth-rounder.

Koutouvides, too, was tabbed to be the team's middle linebacker by Shanahan's staff and, after an extensive video review, was given a three-year, $7.2 million contract that included a $2.5 million signing bonus.

His future with the team is certainly in doubt considering he lost out in the competition at middle linebacker in training camp, didn't crack the rotation when the Broncos had all three starters out of the lineup with injuries and was eventually moved to backup strong-side linebacker as the season closed out.

So, given all that, the Broncos are expected to opt for some short-term pain by releasing players they don't believe are giving them the value they want and simply living with the "dead money" - charges on the cap for players no longer on the roster.

Either way, the calendar says the decisions are coming - and soon.

Subscribe to the Rocky Mountain NewscDaniels, here's the story from last week's Rocky!!!

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