It is that time of year for the present procrastinator, the last-minute shopper to begin their trek to cross everyone off the list. They trudge through busy shops, navigate their way through crowded parking lots, search through picked over shelves in hopes of finding something unique, creative and thoughtful. They search high and low with only hours to spare to find that extraordinary and distinctive last-minute item for their loved ones. They do so with the hope that their efforts won’t go for-not, grabbing onto the notion that their distinct present will make all the difference, and they will have succeeded in finding that special something, which in turn fills the wrapped-gift-receiver with joy and delight. But this time of year, the basement bargains are all gone, the deals are off the table; if you want something special, you are going to have to pay for it — maybe even more than it’s worth.

The same could be said for the NFL team who waits for the last minute to fill a roster, and while waiting and dragging their feet, the current players on their roster become free agents. Contract expire and deals don’t get done. Teams are left out in the cold with nothing to show for it other than a glairing hole to fill come free-agency time.

Teams attempt to fill rosters and check off lists as best they can during the regular season, but really the majority of roster filling, much like Christmas shopping, is done closer to the last minute. Free agency, like Christmas, is a frenzy of activity, and so the best General Managers and front office types try to get their shopping done early, they try to address the need before the need ever happens. For John Elway and the Broncos, bargin shopping early has usually paid off.

This week it was reported that the Denver Broncos were trying to get a deal done with wide receiver Cody Latimer. The insiders, media and Broncos fans have differing opinions on re-signing Latimer, perhaps for good reason. Latimer — the 56th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft — in four years with the Denver Broncos has a mere 35 receptions for 445 yards with three touchdowns. Latimer’s best season has been 2017, where he was a part of 38 percent of the snaps and targeted 31 times. His contributions have been much greater on special teams as a kick returner and as the team’s gunner on punt coverage this season. Latimer is a question mark for some, but for others getting an early deal done with Latimer is a no-brainer.

Sorry – this audio content is no longer available.. Latimer is going to surprise a lot of people.”

Moves like signing Cody Latimer have proven valuable for Elway and the Broncos. Like a Black Friday shopper getting the best deals early, signing players during the last season of their contract has proven to be a great move, valued players who produce at a fraction of the market price.

Derek Wolfe is a perfect example of an early deal getting done and it paying off immediately. Wolfe signed a contract extension in 2016 for four years, $36.7 million. This was an absolute bargain in the NFL, where adaptive defensive linemen come at a premium. Wolfe is an excellent pass rusher and a leader who stops the run all the while having the ability to play multiple positions across the defensive front. Elway signing Wolfe early, keeping him from possibly hitting the open market, was an absolute gift for Broncos Country.

The Broncos, however, didn’t get a deal done with his former counterpart, defensive end Malik Jackson. Jackson during the 2015 season said he would have signed for less early on with the Broncos. Instead of getting a deal done, Elway let the season play out and Jackson became a free agent. After the 2015 season Jackson signed with the now first-place Jacksonville Jaguars on six year deal worth $85.5 million. Jackson is not only making money but he is on every Jags fans ‘nice’ list this season. In 2017 he has four forced fumbles and eight sacks and has been a disruptive force in what has become the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. Jackson has proved that he is worth every penny of his $14.25 million average salary and the Broncos by not offering him a deal early, might have cost themselves more than just money.

Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. is another good example of Elway getting a bargain by pulling the trigger and signing a player before he hit free agency. Harris currently has a five year contract which will expire after the 2019 season. He is currently making an average of $8.5 million per year, where on the open market the least-targeted corner in the league, would no doubt demand far more. Elway did right by signing Harris when he did.

The Broncos are going to have a lot of tough decisions to make in 2018 and with two games left on the schedule, decision time is coming sooner rather than later for some of these Broncos in the final year of their deal.

While Latimer, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, is catching headlines right now, there are 16 players currently on the Broncos roster with expiring contracts in 2017, including:

Matt Paradis – RFA (Played every game in 2017 despite coming off of two hip surgeries)

Shaquil Barrett – RFA (4 sacks and at least 1 tackle in all 14 games this season)

Bennie Fowler  RFA (3 TDs and 11.8 yards per reception in 2017)

Brock Osweiler – UFA (Recorded the highest single game passer rating thus far in the NFL with 147.7)

The good news with three of the four players listed above is that the Broncos are allowed to make the first play on them as restricted free agents. The bad news is that Elway’s last big play with a restricted free agent didn’t go so well. Elway low-balled C.J. Anderson‘s initial offer after the 2015 season and had to match the Dolphins’ offer.

He can’t afford to do the same with Paradis and Barrett, who are known commodities across the league and would be welcome on any roster. Elway will have to come to the table with quality offers to keep them around and still have money to work with for his own unrestricted free agents and his targets not currently on the roster.

History has shown the earlier they start signing players, the better off the Broncos will be in regards to dollars saved. The Broncos season has not gone as expected and Broncos Country is not satisfied. If 2018 is going to be any better, the Broncos need to start shopping for deals now, and they need to start shopping locally.