Broncos Free Agency Primer: Offensive Line – Part 1

It’s been nearly two months since the Broncos’ season ended in dismal fashion with the playoff loss to the Colts. Since that anticlimactic finish, we’ve been subjected to all kinds of questions about many of the players on the team: Will Peyton Manning return or retire? Will Julius Thomas sign with the Raiders or the Jaguars? How many times will Tony Carter eat at Waffle House before April? Yeah, it’s the boring portion of the football calender where we have a million questions about our team and practically no answers. (Okay, so there was the little tidbit today that Peyton is coming back and taking a $4 million pay cut. You know, no big deal.)

So what do you do when you get impatient waiting for the start of the new league year? Why, you speculate, of course!

Over the next few days or so, Pegboards will be covering each position on the team that we believe is in line for a major overhaul. We will present which players we think could start at that position in 2015, including possibilities in free agency and guys who are already on the team. Basically, we will speculate our asses off because we are restless fans and that’s what we do. First up: right tackle.

No player on the roster will benefit more from a return to Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme than Ryan Clady. It’s been a rough couple of years for Peyton Manning’s blind side protector, as Clady missed most of the 2013 season with a Lisfranc injury and then struggled through an up and down 2014, where a combination of factors prevented him from being the player we all know and love. With his rehabilitation behind him and a return to the blocking scheme that he was drafted for, we’re expecting Clady to bounce back next season and resume his status as one of the best left tackles in football. It’s a good thing too, because the Broncos don’t have any better options at the position. That could make the rumored contract restructure with Clady difficult, but we’ll see.

Regardless of how Clady performs in 2015, there is no question that the Broncos are on the hunt for a new right tackle. The revolving door process at that position was a big reason why the offensive line struggled so mightily last season. Whether it was Chris Clark, Paul Cornick or Louis Vasquez being trotted out there, the result was the same: opponents knew that the right side of the o-line was weak and they made the Broncos pay for it. If Peyton Manning is going to have any hope of a storybook ending, that absolutely can not be allowed to happen again.

The Incumbent: Michael Schofield

Part of the reason that John Elway and John Fox “mutually parted ways” can be contributed to players like Michael Schofield, who came into the season looking to make an impact but never really got a chance to play. I mean, really, you draft a guy to eventually play right tackle and yet when you bench your starter, you go for two other options first? Including one that moves your All-Pro right guard to a position he’s not well-suited for? Seriously? Anyway, Elway mentioned at the combine that Schofield is still in the team’s plans and coach Gary Kubiak pointed out how much he liked Schofield coming out of the draft last year. The second-year player from Michigan is going to have a role on the Broncos this year, but the size of that role will depend on his competition at right tackle and his own development.

Odds of Being the Starter: 50/50

The Big Ticket Item: Bryan Bulaga – Green Bay Packers

Bulaga is by far the best available tackle on the market. He’s also getting set to score his second contract. Translation? Big pay day. It would be a hell of a pick up for the Broncos, but there will be several other suitors with far more cap space and the Packers will definitely want him back. You could say the same for Doug Free of the Cowboys, another popular name being bounced around as a possibility for the Broncos.

Odds of Being the Starter: Slim to none.

The Consolation Prize: Derek Newton – Houston Texans

With Schofield waiting in the wings and a draft chalked full of talent at offensive tackle on the horizon, it’s hard to imagine Elway forking over too much dough in free agency when he can turn to a more cost-effective alternative. Enter Newton, whom Kubiak’s Texans selected in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft and is coming off his best season. Like Bulaga, Newton is up for his second contract in the league. Unlike Bulaga, it shouldn’t cost top of the market money to reel Newton in. He knows Kubiak’s system well and would likely flourish if he was reunited with his old coach.

Odds of Being the Starter: Clear-cut favorite

Tomorrow’s position: Center

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