Pursuit of Solder indicates Broncos are all-in on improving porous O-line

Feb 4, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder (77) walks off the field after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

After watching the Denver Broncos’ offensive line struggle for the past three seasons, the team has a lot of work in front of them if they want to protect whoever their quarterback may be. In 2018, the Broncos are in a position to hit the ground running, as the team has positioned itself to finally obtain a quality group of starting offensive linemen.

On March 12th, as the 2018 legal tampering period of NFL free agency began, the Broncos placed a second-round tender on restricted free agent Matt Paradis, one of the best young centers in the NFL and a stalwart on the Broncos’ offensive line. Despite the team’s struggles on the offensive line, Paradis has consistently performed as an elite center in the NFL.

Barring another team striking a deal with Paradis in an attempt to take him away from the Broncos, Paradis should be back in a Broncos uniform for 2018, with a long-term deal likely in the near future. As a restricted free agent, the Broncos also have an option to match any contract another team offers Paradis. If the Broncos decline to match any other offer Paradis receives, they would receive that team’s second-round draft selection as compensation. All things considered, it’s unlikely that a team would be willing to offer a long-term contract in addition to a second-round pick for Paradis’ services.

The biggest hole on the Broncos’ offensive line has been the right tackle position, which the team attempted to fill with the trio of Menelik Watson, Donald Stephenson and Allen Barbre last season. None of those three were up to the task, and the Broncos will need to seek out another one. Keep an eye on Dolphins’ tackle Ju’Wuan James, who the Broncos may have interest in trading for, per Mile High Sports’ own Benjamin Allbright.

James, a former first-round draft pick, has been a serviceable tackle for the Miami Dolphins. Though James’ 2017 season was cut short due to a hamstring injury, he did finish the 2016 season ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 32nd-rated overall tackle. A proven four-year starter at right tackle, James would, depending on the Dolphins’ asking price, be an immediate upgrade over the Broncos’ current tackles on the roster.

Additionally, NBC Sports Boston, who cover the New England Patriots, recently reported that the Broncos are “among the front-runners” for free agent left tackle Nate Solder, as tweeted by Jon Heath.

Colorado fans should be familiar with Solder, as the Colorado native was an All-American tackle for the University of Colorado before being selected in the first round by the New England Patriots. While Solder, who is arguably the best tackle on the market, will most certainly receive interest from other tackle-needy teams, the Broncos showing interest in Solder confirms that solidifying the offensive line remains a top priority this offseason. In this instance, the Broncos would likely have last year’s first-rounder, Garett Bolles, make the switch to right tackle, while Solder would remain at his natural position. While the Broncos’ preference is to keep Bolles developing at left tackle, Solder’s proven track record as a left tackle may be too much for the Broncos to pass up.

As free agency continues to pick up steam, the Broncos will be right in the thick of things as they build an offensive line that can protect whichever quarterback they bring in to start the season. While on paper, the Broncos appear to be far away from a quality offensive line, one (or two) more moves could set the team up with a solid offensive line for years to come.