At this moment, the Denver Broncos do not have a left tackle – at least not a player that is considered a definitive starter.
Quite frankly they don’t need one – at least not today.
The NFL will kick off Sept. 7, 2017, and by that day the Broncos will have a starting left tackle. In fact, by that day the Broncos and all the other 32 NFL teams will have full rosters with plenty of new faces in new places. Cuts aplenty will occur through preseason, and additions and alterations will be made from today through kickoff of the 2017 NFL season. It is not time to be hasty; the Broncos will have their opportunity, and they certainly have plenty of time.
On March 6, at the beginning of NFL free agency, superstar agent Leigh Steinberg sent out a tweet that sums up free agency, and the truth about what you actually get when acquiring talent during this stage of the NFL season.
#NFLFreeAgency Best players in NFL never become FA's,contracts extended or franchised.So in FA (w exceptions) B+ players get A+ contracts
— Leigh Steinberg (@leighsteinberg) March 6, 2017
In other words: You don’t ever get what you pay for.
The Broncos, for the most part, have been a successful franchise, and specifically through the time in which they have been owned by Pat Bowlen, they have been a consistent winner. This success was not due to over-spending in free agency, or reaching on players because of a lack of availability. The Broncos have been winners because the moves they have made in the past were calculated, they were timely, and they were done in a manner that made sense, both by team needs and financial responsibility. The Broncos have built a long-lasting winner by using all of the tools, not just by throwing money at free agents.
There is a long list of unsuccessful NFL franchises. Teams that seem to always find themselves in trouble with their roster, with the salary cap, and ultimately with their fans. Teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns, who have been very busy this off season, may “win free agency,” but they seldom win actual games. The supply-and-demand formula proves that you have to pay more for less when it comes to free agency. And it can cost franchises dearly.
The Broncos want and need a left tackle, but left tackles just don’t grow on trees. Like defensemen in hockey, or starting pitching in baseball, great left tackles are rare and coveted in the NFL. Like “Tickle Me Elmo” toys at Christmas, lesser teams line up in front of the free agency door, waiting to get their hands on one, and with only a limited supply, those desperate teams are willing to pay whatever necessary. This year was no different in regards of players available at left tackle in free agency.
Take Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth. Whitworth, probably one of if not the best tackle available in free agency, was desired by many NFL teams. And he certainly got paid as he signed with a team notorious for overspending during free agency in the Los Angeles Rams on a three-year, $36-million dollar deal. Good for him. While he might have been worth the money in 2017, father time is undefeated; and Whitworth is certainly in the winter of his career. Ultimately Whitworth was no longer wanted by the Bengals at that price, and at 35 years old, who could blame them? Reaching for and paying too much for because demand is high and supply is low is not how you build a long-lasting championship team.
John Elway said, “win now, and from now on.” You cannot succeed long or short-term by making impulse purchases. You simply cannot pay too much for players; there are other ways of getting results.
This NFL free agency season has been filled with reaches and impulse buys. Former Broncos left tackle Russell Okung is a perfect example. Okung left the Broncos after they declined his option for the 2017 season. Okung would have received $20.5 million guaranteed in what would have been a four-year, $48-million dollar contract. Sorry, but Russell Okung did not prove in 2016 to be worth that, struggling mightily in both pass blocking and even in run blocking where he had previously excelled. The Los Angeles Chargers felt differently, as they gave him $25 million guaranteed over the next two years and a full contract of $53 million over the next four. That is a ton of money for a guy who was allegedly once was told to sit down and shut up by Aqib Talib.
The Broncos, despite what others say, have made moves that will help whoever is at left tackle. Ronald Leary, the road grater recently signed from the Dallas Cowboys, is an emotional mountain of a man who is an instant upgrade at guard, no matter what side he plays. This addition will help both the positions next to him, center and tackles, as the offensive line works as a unit.
Both tackles, Okung and Donald Stephenson, were not helped in their situation in 2016 by the play of their respective guards lining up in their split. Michael Schofield, while improved, was new to the position of guard and needed help along the way. The youngster Max Garcia in his youth and inexperience was not helping out Okung much by way of knowledge and experience. The addition of Leary by way of his knowledge and strength at the position will certainly help whoever is on the edge for the front five of the Denver Broncos. His bullish attitude and demeanor is also something that was lacking in this unit. He will make the tackles better and give them an attitude; without ever lining up on the edge.
There is another addition made to the Broncos o-line which will help the left tackle spot – the addition of Menelik Watson. Watson, like Leary, has attitude. He also has question marks in regards to injury. Coming out of Florida State after his junior year and drafted in the second round, Watson was a project. Originally a basketball player for Marist College, he didn’t play football until he transferred to Saddleback College, then eventually transferring again to Florida State. With some grooming and hopefully without further injury, Watson could become what the Broncos need on the right side. This would leave strength in numbers in regards to the gaping hole at LT, as the rest of the o-line group, including Stephenson and Ty Sambrailo, would compete for the possible vacancy on the left side and at the very least add needed depth.
The Broncos need a left tackle, there is no doubting that. But they have options and time to look into every scenario. Ten picks in the draft (four in the top 101). Roster cut-downs. And with John Elway as GM, there is always a trade out there we haven’t even thought of. While they might not have the answer at left tackle by way of what is on the roster today, the Broncos have more than five months to figure it out.
The smartest men don’t make decisions until they have to. John Elway will hit the target, when he has to pull the trigger.
In Elway we trust.