Now post-Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos have team-constructing to work on, and that includes Lloyd Cushenberry III.

Cushenberry started his career off in a rough spot, giving up nine sacks in his first two years combined. But he’s certainly grown as time has gone on, and if he hits free agency he’ll be one of the most sought-after linemen.

But, will the Broncos franchise tag him before he gets away?

Denver likely to franchise tag Lloyd Cushenberry

When it comes to most-important players on a football field, the quarterback comes first. Then, left tackle is usually considered the most crucial lineman on the team. But center is right behind tackle.

That’s because the center is involved in every offensive play. They not only snap the ball to the quarterback, and block attacking defenders, but they also have to help read the defense’s front.

And in the 2023 season, Cushenberry has made his mark on the Broncos and the league.

He developed into arguably the best lineman in Denver, and according to Pro Football Focus, he was the 10th-best at his position last year.

Cushenberry enjoyed a career-high 73.2 grade (out of 100) from PFF, with only one sack allowed and five penalties committed. It was a dramatic jump from 2022, when a groin injury landed him on IR, and he recorded a dismal 56.2 grade.

On top of that, he was the second-best pass-blocking center:

Considering the cat is out of the bag on Cushenberry, the Broncos have to keep him, right?

Pro Football Focus, and others, expect Denver to lock down “Cush” for one year with the franchise tag. That’s likely to be just under $20 million for the 2024 season.

And if they do, there’s a high likelihood they’ll work out a longer-term deal with their improved center, too.

If for some reason the Broncos don’t franchise tag Cushenberry, they could instead choose to use it on linebacker Josey Jewell. Of all the team’s free agents, Jewell is second-most likely behind “Cush.”

If Broncos don’t tag Cushenberry, he’ll be in high demand

As discussed earlier, centers are crucial pieces to any offensive line.

Especially when considering the Broncos may decide to cut Garett Bolles to save $16 million toward the 2024 cap. Cush would then be the unquestioned leader of the line, teaming up with Quinn Meinerz, Mike McGlinchey, Ben Powers, and the new left tackle.

But, PFF considered what would happen if Denver didn’t tag him, and they’d expect the Rams and Jets to come calling.

The Jets may look to go after a cheaper center if they address the position in free agency, but we like moving Joe Tippmann to right guard full time and Alijah Vera-Tucker out to right tackle, which opens up the center spot as the missing piece. Cushenberry ran the offense for Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett during his brief stint as head coach of the Denver Broncos, so there is a lot of familiarity there. Granted, Cushenberry didn’t have a great year in 2022 and missed about half the season.

We’ve highlighted the Rams’ pending free agents along the offensive line, so here they add a young center on a long-term contract who could form a strong tandem with Matthew Stafford and perhaps help bring along the next quarterback when that day comes.

And, who would the Broncos then turn to?

They predict Tyler Biadasz of the Dallas Cowboys, or Evan Brown of the Seattle Seahawks.

Brown was ranked 26th among 36 centers this year by PFF, while Biadasz has long been a solid center for the Cowboys and ranked 14th. After finishing his fourth year, just like Cushenberry, Biadasz could be franchise tagged, too. But PFF guesses Dallas will instead tag running back Tony Pollard.

Free agency begins in just under one month, on March 13, and for now it seems like Denver will tag Cushenberry.