Polumbus: O-line options for the Broncos a week into free agency

San Diego Chargers tackle King Dunlap (77) looks on during the third quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Qualcomm Stadium. Dunlap is among the possible free agent options at left tackle for the Denver Broncos this offseason. Photo by Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

When free agency began, most Denver Broncos fans likely wanted the team pick up a handful of offensive linemen. And if they heard the team added a starting right guard and a starting offensive guard before free agency kicked off, they would probably think it was a great free agency.

The Broncos added a starting right tackle (potentially a left tackle) in Menelik Watson and a starting guard in Ronald Leary.

The problem is they currently do not have a starting left tackle on the roster.

Denver did not pick up the contract option on last year’s starting left tackle, Russell Okung, and he’s now a member of the Los Angeles Rams.

This is a cause for concern, despite the fact that both Leary and Watson are solid free agent pickups. The most important position on the offensive line, left tackle, remains vacant almost a week into free agency, and the remaining free agent options are sparse.

Free agent left tackles

There is one left tackle available who intrigues me: King Dunlap. The Los Angeles Chargers recently released Dunlap after four seasons with the club and new Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who had been the head coach during that time.

With few free agent left tackles remaining, Dunlap is the only intriguing player for whom the Broncos might pick up, outside of a trade or the NFL draft.

My assessment of Dunlap:

Dunlap is one of the tallest tackles I can personally recall playing at a high level in the NFL. This is both a good and bad thing. It is obviously a great advantage in the length he is able to play with in the pass game but also a challenge to overcome with leverage in the run game.

An adequate left tackle, Dunlap will leave the casual fan scratching his or her heads at times — and leave coaches satisfied enough to keep him as a starter. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but a coach’s opinion of players generally has much more leeway than the casual fan because they understand just how difficult it is to find an upgrade in the NFL.

Dunlap will play well enough for a team to win plenty of football games. Most of the time you will not notice him, but a couple of times a year he will have a mismatch against a guy that will expose his height and leave you thinking his performance is worse than it actually is.

Should the Broncos sign him? It is really quite simple for me; just ask McCoy.

McCoy obviously knows Dunlap well and was hired by the Broncos because they obviously trust and seek his opinion.

I would be fine with the Broncos signing Dunlap if McCoy gives him a vote of confidence. However, if McCoy does not trust him, then the play does not warrant valuing the film more than McCoy’s opinion.

Left tackles in the draft

I have a full breakdown on my top three tackles in the draft, but I will save that for another post.

What I will tell you now, though, is that if you are looking for a starting left tackle in this draft, you better get lucky with an overachiever.

The top tackles in this draft barely have first-round grades, and offensive lineman in general usually take the longest to develop in the NFL.

I wouldn’t bank on the draft

Left tackle options via trade

Teams don’t generally trade away a starting left tackle without great compensation, so a trade could be difficult to get done.

However, here are three potential names Denver could acquire via trade:

Easiest to get: Ty Nsheke of the Washington Redskins.

Nsheke is the swing tackle for the Redskins, but he got some great experience last year filling in for Trent Williams and played at a high level.

Best player but tough to get: Jason Peters of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Jason is scheduled to make $10.45 million this year and was in the conversation for the Eagles to be a cap casualty a few weeks ago.

Philadelphia said Peters will be back, but with a salary that high, I would imagine the Eagles would let him go to a team that can afford his salary.

Most likely, based off availability and ability: Jared Veldheer of the Arizona Cardinals.

Jared is a solid player, yet he was replaced by D.J. Humphries.

Although Arizona moved Jared to right tackle, he is still a capable left tackle.

Because the Cardinals are paying him left tackle money to play right tackle, he would be the best value-to-availability player via trade.


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