As the years go by, I find myself becoming more and more appreciative of Tom Nalen. For over ten years, Nalen was the foundation of the Broncos’ offensive line and one of the leaders of the team. He was a great player and was the very model of stability during his time in Denver. Very rarely do you see such consistency at one position for such a long period of time, and it’s really made the Broncos’ issues at center all the more glaring since his retirement.
The good news is that the Broncos have an opportunity to finally recapture the peace of mind that Nalen brought to the middle of the line. The bad news is that they’ve already squandered this opportunity a few times before, as having an opening is no guarantee that you will actually bring in anyone worthwhile.
Last season, Manny Ramirez was the initial starter at center and got pushed around like a nerd in a mosh pit. Will Montgomery filled in and did better, but he wasn’t a great fit for the power blocking scheme that John Fox and Adam Gase were trying to employ. Peyton Manning had trouble stepping up in the pocket because of the duress that awaited him there, which completely disrupted our passing game at times and was part of the reason for Manning’s struggles down the stretch. Put your pitchforks away Patriots fans, I’m not making any excuses for the Sheriff, but it’s difficult to get into a groove on offense when your pocket is non-existent. Brady had the same problem earlier in the season before the Pats corrected their woes up front and then went on to win the Super Bowl. Tony Romo had the best season of his career and the Cowboys actually won a playoff game because of how many resources Dallas spent on improving its offense at the line of scrimmage. It sounds simple, but if you don’t have the right guys in the trenches it can derail your whole season before it ever begins.
So how can the Broncos go about following that blueprint in free agency? Will we actually see someone finally live up to the standards set by Nalen? Let’s take a look at the contestants!
The Holdover: Matt Paradis
Much like fellow 2014 draft pick Michael Schofield, I don’t believe that Paradis ever saw the field in 2014. I’m not sure that he was even promoted from the practice squad at any point during the season and depending on who you listen to, he lacks the size to ever be an ideal NFL center. I’ve never seen the guy play, so I have no clue if he is any good or not, but from what I read he could potentially work for Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme. Yeah, I know, none of this fills you with much confidence, but Kubiak was quick to point out that Nalen himself started his career on the Broncos’ practice squad. No pressure, Matt.
Odds of being the starter: Not likely, but crazier things have happened, right?
The Cream of the Crop: Rodney Hudson (Kansas City Chiefs) and Stefen Wisniewski (Oakland Raiders)
Now that Manning has finalized his… ahem, Peycut (I’ll be here all week), the Broncos will probably have enough cap space to sign one big name player in free agency. I would be shocked if that splash didn’t come in the form of an offensive lineman, especially considering that the Broncos have all kinds of holes up front and there are some quality players available for the right place. Elway would love to procure the services of either Hudson or Wisniewski, two centers who would not only fit an immediate need but would also give Elway a chance to hurt a division rival in the process. Hudson is supposedly looking to become the highest paid center in the league and will have plenty of suitors looking to pick him up, and that could complicate things. Elway sets a price for every player that he pursues and once the bidding gets too rich, he leaves the table and doesn’t look back. Should another team drive up Hudson’s hefty salary demands, look for Elway to zero in on Wisniewski and try to get a deal done quickly. Either player would provide a significant upgrade at center and could finally provide the steadiness that we’ve been lacking there for years. Stay tuned.
And yes, I’m fully aware that I chose Wisniewski for the leading image of this article even though he was a Raider. I don’t feel any better about it than you do. Let’s just move on.
Odds of one of them being the starter: Very likely. Elway is the ultimate closer in free agency.
The Blue-Collar Workers: Chris Myers (Houston Texans) and Will Montgomery
Did you know that Chris Myers used to be a Bronco? Do you remember that Mike Shanahan traded him to the Houston Texans in 2008 for a sixth-round draft pick, right after Myers had a breakout year filling in for the injured Tom Nalen? And did it ever occur to you that if Shanny had simply moved on from the aging Nalen and not made that trade, he already had the heir apparent ready to go on the roster? Because I think about this shit all the time and curse Shanny for going through with such a stupid and illogical trade. The Texans just cut Myers after seven years of serving as the mainstay at center, so I suppose the phrase “better late than never” could apply here for the Broncos. He would just be stopgap option, of course, but he knows Kubiak’s system by heart and would provide Manning with a reliable veteran presence for all of those crazy checks and signals that Manning loves so much. Montgomery would work too and both would be affordable, but I have a feeling the Broncos will consider these two as fallback options rather than quality replacements.
Odds of either being the starter: Only if Elway strikes out on Hudson and Wisniewski.