For years, one of the biggest crutches for the Denver Broncos has been their offensive line.
Turnover has been one of the major factors, as well as trying to rely on draft picks, some who have prospered and others who have floundered.
Last year, Denver went out and signed Ja’Wuan James, who was supposed to be an anchor on the right side of the line. But, after dealing with injuries in 2019, he played a mere three games and was a non-factor. Last year also saw homegrown talent Matt Paradis walk to Carolina for the big-time contract he had earned by playing well in the Mile High City.
When Paradis left, that opened the door for another homegrown talent in Connor McGovern to slide over from guard and play the crucial center position. McGovern filled in valiantly and played quite well for his first season at center. In fact, Pro Football Focus graded him the 10th-best center in the league as he allowed only one sack and zero penalties.
But, McGovern was lured away by the New York Jets yesterday, one day after the Broncos signed Graham Glasgow, formerly of the Detroit Lions, to play guard.
Glasgow could play center, which was the first guess on him, but it turns out he will fill in for the departed Ron Leary at right guard. Leary had an up-and-down season, but he was also banged up, and performed well in the pass blocking game down the stretch.
Where does that leave the team? A starting offensive line that currently looks like this, from left to right: Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Patrick Morris, Glasgow and James.
So, what we all want to know is, will the Broncos offensive line be better or worse this season than we’ve seen in recent years?
Two days into free agency and it’s hard to argue the Broncos offensive line has improved.
McGovern was a very good guard and a good-to-very good center, and as soon as Glasgow was signed, he was supposed to fill in at center with Elijah Wilkinson at right guard.
But, it now sounds like Glasgow at right guard, and he was a much better run-blocker last year than Leary although he was a slightly worse pass-blocker. Which is hard to believe considering he gave up zero sacks and had a mere three penalties for the Lions. That means Denver should be able to run right, or at Glasgow, better than they could last year with Leary, but Lock may see a few more pressures come through that side of the line. It feels like a push.
Now over to center, with unknown Patrick Morris likely to fill in, at least for now. According to reports, offensive line guru Mike Munchak “loves” Morris. And while McGovern was better than average, it’s hard to believe second-year player Morris with no experience will be better.
We should also remember the Broncos offensive line wasn’t awful last year, even if that’s the consensus around Broncos Country. According to Pro Football Focus, they were the 12th-best offensive line and, just like the rest of the team’s offense, they seemed to improve down the stretch of the season. It’s no coincidence Drew Lock’s mobility and elusiveness helped the line, too.
So, unless they sign a new starting center, or draft one, the Broncos line is worse two days into free agency than they were before it.
Two days into free agency and Drew Lock should be able to rest a little easier, knowing he’s got an improved line in front of him.
So what changed?
Starting with their big signing, Glasgow will be a tremendous upgrade over the degraded Leary. At this point in his career, you could make a very convincing argument for Leary being Denver’s worst offensive lineman a season ago, over Garett Bolles. He was flagged eight times, which is nearly three times as many as Denver’s two other starting interior linemen were, combined. Pro Football Focus also graded Leary as the Broncos’ worst starting offensive lineman in terms of both overall grade and run-blocking grade
Glasgow, on the other hand, was one of the best guards in the league last season. He was one of just three guards to allow zero sacks and draw no more than three penalties. He also earned a top-10 grade overall and a top-5 run-blocking grade among all guards with at least 800 snaps.
It should also be noted that Ja’Wuan James is expected to be back healthy next season. Now, with James, it’s understandably an “I’ll believe it when I see it” proposition, but even if he doesn’t return in 2020, the Broncos will be no worse off, as Wilkinson would just slot back into the right tackle spot. If he does return, they’ll undeniably be upgraded at the position.
Lastly, there’s the inexperienced Morris, who will be filling in for McGovern. He has no track record, so the only reason we should believe he’ll be better than, or even comparable to McGovern, is that Mike Munchak is over the moon for him. That might not sound like much, but if one of the best offensive linemen in NFL history and the best offensive line coach in the NFL says to John Elway, as is speculated, “we don’t really need to spend all this money on McGovern. I believe that Morris, who is much cheaper, is almost as good, if not better,” well, that’s all I need to be convinced.