When Mike Shanahan selected Ryan Clady with the 12th overall pick of the 2008 draft, it’s fair to say that Denver Broncos fans expected big things.
Measured at 6-foot-7 and 319 pounds in pre-draft workouts, Clady was an enormous specimen at left tackle. On draft day, the Broncos made him the highest drafted player in Boise State history. He was the Denver’s highest selection on the offensive line since Chris Hinton in 1983, a player that was traded for you know who.
Clady was hand-selected by the most-celebrated coach in Broncos’ history to fill a position that had been manned by Matt Lepsis for the past nine seasons. Once again, big things.
His rookie season, Clady lived up to all of those lofty expectations, starting all 16 games for the Broncos and allowing only one sack, a distinction that earned him the honor of being All-Pro as a rookie. In fact, Clady did not allow a single sack in his first 20 games; the first tackle to accomplish that feat since 1994.
The 2012 season was just as impressive. One sack allowed in 16 starts, another All-Pro selection and an all-around spectacular job of securing the blind side of Peyton Manning.
Last offseason, Clady must’ve seen his 2012 success coming. He turned down a five-year, $50 million contract from the Broncos that would have made him the third highest-paid tackle in the league and put him within spitting distance of the $11.5 million average being paid to Cleveland’s Joe Thomas.
So there’s some concern about whether or not Denver will be able to come to terms with their star left tackle. But they have a plan.
Word came down yesterday straight from John Elway that Clady would be Denver’s franchise tag player for 2013, paying the tackle $9.66 million for the season.
“We’re going to tag him,” Elway said simply.
While the tag is a hefty raise from the $3.5 million that Clady made in 2012, there’s a good chance that he’s not going to be terribly happy with the news.
If last offseason’s negotiation is any indication, Clady believes that he should be the highest-paid tackle in the NFL. Multiple outlets have pointed to Clady as a top-five free agent in the NFL that the Broncos cannot let get away from them. With that being the case, many pundits will question this move by Denver, citing the tag as a way to draw the ire of premier players in the NFL.
Make no mistake; this is a smart move by the Denver Broncos. You see, what’s often conveniently forgotten about Ryan Clady are the three years in between his stellar rookie campaign of 2008 and his solid 2012 season that just ended.
From 2009-2011 Clady surrendered 24.5 sacks, including nine in 2011 a season in which he was also penalized 12 times; both career-worsts for the 26-year-old offensive lineman.
While Clady has never missed a game for the Broncos, it’s no secret that minor injuries have plagued him during the seasons of sub-par performances. In 2010, he tore his patella tendon while playing basketball. While he started every game later that year, he did surrender 7.5 sacks for the season. Nagging injuries were rumored to be a factor in Clady’s 2011 struggles, as well.
Most recently, Clady suffered a shoulder injury in the Broncos’ final regular season game of 2012. While he didn’t miss Denver’s lone playoff game against Baltimore, the shoulder will now require surgery. He is expected to miss much of the Broncos’ offseason activities, but not any regular season time.
Still, the team is wary of the injury, and rightfully so.
“Things have changed a little bit because he’s coming off a shoulder surgery,” Elway told the Denver Post. “But we like Ryan. We like him a lot as a player and we’d like to get something done.”
The latter half of the quote refers to the Broncos’ intention to continue to work with Clady towards a long-term deal, but Elway is careful to mention that the shoulder injury changes things.
In other words, if Clady wants to be the highest-paid tackle in football, he’ll have to duplicate the success he had in 2012. If he does, the Broncos will be happy to pony up. If he doesn’t, the team has more leverage come negotiation time following next season. If Clady caves to a lesser deal this offseason, there’s a great chance that Denver is getting a nice discount on a top three left tackle in the game.
What’s more, the Broncos will have saved themselves some valuable money against the salary cap, which will be crucial for the team to make key moves in free agency. The move to slap Clady with the franchise tag isn’t just a win-win for the Broncos, it’s a win-win-win and they would’ve been foolish not to do it. Clady may be upset about it initially, but from the team’s standpoint, it was the most sensible thing to do.
During the past decade, offensive tackles have become the second-highest paid position group behind quarterbacks. Denver may have an elite one, but it would be far from prudent to pay him top dollar before he proves that he can maintain this pace for a few years in a row.
John Elway may not have won executive of the year officially last season, but he certainly did so in the eyes of Broncos Country. Placing the franchise tag on Ryan Clady is a solid step towards retaining that title in 2013.
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