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Offensive guard Connor McGovern #60 of the Denver Broncos waits to take the field against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 24, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Alessandra del Bene/Getty Images)
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Should the Broncos Pay or Pass in 2020 – Center Connor McGovern?

(Photo by Alessandra del Bene/Getty Images)

The Broncos have a lot of interesting decisions to make this offseason in regards to free agency. Before they decide on which ones to target from other teams, Denver must first look at its own players who are set to hit the open market.

Heading into the offseason, the Broncos have 14 players who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in 2020. At the end-of-season press conference, Broncos general manager John Elway said the Broncos are going to wait a month before they start evaluating their own players.

“That gives us more time to do it the right way. Rather than doing it on a personal side, because the coaches get connected with (players). I think you get a better objective view when you get away and you’re able to go back and look at it individually,” Elway said.

In the meantime, let’s take a tour through the list of players the Broncos need to make a decision about. During the next few weeks, I’ll take an in-depth look at Denver’s pending free agents, answering a simple question: Should the Broncos pay to keep them or take a pass, letting them head into free agency.

Next up…

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CONNOR McGOVERN
Center/Guard

The Broncos selected offensive lineman Connor McGovern out of Missouri in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. At the time, McGovern was considered a solid third-day pick by scouts, so the Broncos picked him around where he was projected to go.

McGovern was a bit of an online sensation when he came out of Missouri because of his feats in the weight room. He broke a lot of weight-lifting records at Mizzou, like a 690-pound squat, and the videos of his work lifting were making the rounds in the scouting and draftnik community. McGovern was such a freak in the weight room that he even tore his pec trying to bench press 515 pounds at one time.

In the pre-draft process, McGovern was the leader at the Scouting Combine with 33 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press and that got him even more attention from scouts. He obviously had a reputation of being incredibly strong, but McGovern did not have a set position entering the NFL.

In college at Mizzou, McGovern played all across the offensive line. Being able to play five different positions in college was great, but for the pros there was concern that he would take more time to develop at one particular position.

With the Broncos, McGovern has played both right guard and center – with center being the position he started 16 games in 2019. Even though he’s started 36 games during three seasons in the NFL, there is still debate as to whether he’s better off playing center or strictly being a guard. There’s even further debate as to whether or not McGovern should actually be a starter or if he is better off as a swing interior offensive lineman. This creates even further complications when considering what to do with his upcoming free agent status.

Should the Broncos pay or pass? Let’s take a look.

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Positives

McGovern’s biggest positive is that he’s super strong and can hold up at the point of attack. He has what scouts call “ready hands,: which means McGovern is capable of delivering a big punch at the right time on an incoming defender. Using his strength is what he does best and when he is in the correct position, McGovern can control his man.

He’s got good footwork inside and adequate athleticism to take on more active and penetrating defensive tackles. McGovern is rarely fooled by stunts and does a good job of making the line calls when the team lines up to find the “mike” linebacker.

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Negatives

Despite his strength, McGovern can be put on skates at time. He gets a bit top heavy as a blocker, something that was a problem for him back in college, and that allows a defender to get lower and move him back.

McGovern has not developed as much as some had hoped when he entered the league. While nobody was projecting him to be a star guard in the NFL, McGovern was considered an ascending prospect who could have been a solid starter. Instead, McGovern is still thought to be playing out of position at center – but he’s not good enough to replace the right guards that have been around him over the last two seasons.

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The Market

Because McGovern is not set as a guard or a center, we have to look at the market for both positions in the NFL. McGovern has started more games as a center, and that might be where his agent tries to establish his price tag this offseason.

There are four centers in the league making $11 million per year, with McGovern’s college teammate, Mitch Morse, ranking No.2 in the NFL with an annual average salary of $11.1 million. The No. 10 paid center in this category is Travis Frederick from the Cowboys, making around $9.4 million for the 2020 season.

McGovern is not going to get paid top-10 money at the center position, so where should he be ranked? Even the No. 17 paid center in the league, Ben Jones from the Titans, makes $6.75 million annually on average and McGovern is not as good as he is. Basically, McGovern is looking at a proper market (if he’s a center) of roughly $4-5 million per year.

The highest-paid guards in this league make more money than centers. All of the top-10 at the guard position make more than $10 million, with Brandon Brooks from the Eagles ranking No. 1 with an average annual salary of $14.08 million. Veteran guards like A.J. Cann from the Jaguars make around $5 million per year, which ranks No. 32 in the NFL. If McGovern is “declared” as a guard, then his market is going to be at $5 million or more.

Versatility is great but it does create complications when it comes to getting paid.

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The Verdict

I think McGovern is a better guard than he is a center. I know this team needs to be stronger up front as middle pressure will make any quarterback seem mortal, but that’s especially true with a young player like Drew Lock.

The Broncos need to do everything in their power to upgrade in the spots they need to this offseason. If they want an “okay” center with position versatility, then they might already have one in former Steelers center Pat Morris. We saw Morris get some playing time this year and he obviously has worked with offensive line coach Mike Munchak on two different teams.

With that being said, the Broncos need to pass on McGovern.

You can find an upgrade at the position in the draft or free agency. Most importantly, however, you can find clarity at the position. McGovern has worked hard to take over the center position from Matt Paradis, but he might be better suited being a guard or a swing player inside.