A lot went wrong for the Denver Broncos last season, and offensive line play was probably the biggest problem the team had. After a hot start to the season, the line struggled to open up holes in the running game, committed too many drive killing penalties and had quarterbacks running for their lives for most of the season. If the Broncos want to have a functioning offense next season, the offensive tackle position needs to be addressed this offseason.
Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson were brought in last year to bookend the offensive line, and both didn’t play up to expectations. The Broncos find themselves in an interesting spot now with both linemen. Stephenson is legitimate candidate to be cut after playing as poorly as he did, and there would only be a $1 million cap penalty if the Broncos decide to do so. Okung’s situation, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated.
Okung signed a five year, $53 million contract last offseason, but he was essentially playing on a one year $5 million deal this past season in 2016. The remaining four years of his deal only kick in if Denver decides to exercise his $1 million team option. If they do, Okung would be making elite left tackle money for the remainder of his deal, but he doesn’t deserve that kind of payday after his 2016 campaign.
If the Broncos decide to part ways with at least one of their tackles, the position will need to be addressed. There are a few options the Broncos could pursue through free agency. The tackle market is pretty top heavy, but the Broncos may be able to pry away the top talent from their current teams.
The Cincinnati Bengals had a disappointing year and left tackle Andrew Whitworth could be open to going to a winning franchise at this stage of his career. Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil is also on the the market this offseason, coming off of an injury-shortened year, but the odds of him leaving aren’t very high. The only tackle that the Broncos have the most realistic chance to sign would be Andre Smith, who would be a perfect fit at right tackle. If Denver happens to strikeout in free agency, there should be plenty of offensive line talent available when the Broncos pick at 20 in the spring.
Alabama’s Cam Robinson is widely considered the best tackle prospect in the draft, and there a good chance that he’ll be on the board when the the Broncos pick as things currently stand. Robinson was excellent in the ground game and showed great improvement in pass protection this past season. His draft position is still hotly debated though, as some teams have him pegged as second round prospect.
If Robinson’s off the board by the time the Broncos pick, Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk would be an excellent consolation prize. The Wisconsin product showed great run-blocking ability and was surprisingly good in pass protection in his first season as the Badgers’ starting left tackle.
One prospect to look out for is Utah’s Garrett Bolles, who’s been on the rise as of late and drawn first round grades from a few scouts. After two years playing at junior college, Bolles was excellent in his first season with the Utes and has all the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. The only question mark when it comes to Bolles is whether or not he’s just a one year wonder.
With their championship window waning, Denver can’t afford to have another season derailed by bad line play. Whether it’s through the draft or free agency, addressing at least one of the tackle positions should be priority number one this offseason. Otherwise, it’ll be another disappointing year in Denver.
Mike Esposito is the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos Staff Writer at Endzonescore.com. Follow him on Twitter @espo6891