The Broncos have to make decisions in free agency, both on their own players and those from other teams. They also have to make decisions on players who are still under contract but they may find it best to part ways with prior to the 2020 season.
This is my “Keep or Cut?” series.
In this series of articles, I will examine the players that are on the roster bubble for the Broncos – for various reasons. Some players are just past their prime and not worth the money anymore. Some players have a price tag that is too high and the team could move on in a money-saving effort. Some players are a combination of both.
There are only a few players to look at before free agency, but some of them are big names and important former (and current) starters for the Broncos. The Broncos have around $60 million in cap space right now, but with a few cuts here and there, that number could grow to around $90 million. That extra money could come in handy as the Broncos are expected to be one of the most-active teams in free agency this offseason.
Next up, veteran offensive lineman Ron Leary. Should the Broncos keep or cut? Let’s take a look.
Eight is More Than Enough
The Broncos are looking to make a splash in free agency, and they have plenty of salary cap space to do just that this offseason. However, by getting rid of Leary, they could get even more room to maneuver.
Leary has a cap number of $9.3 million in 2020, but there is less than $1 million remaining in dead money. That means the Broncos could free up more than $8 million in cap space if they were to release the veteran.
There is an argument for keeping Leary, which I will make in the rest of this article, but freeing up that much money could help the Broncos perhaps keep their own free agents that many think are getting away. Keeping Leary might be worth it, but is it better to let him go to free up $8 million and then take that money to potentially keep guys like Derek Wolfe or Chris Harris Jr.?
The answer is easy for me, but it’s one the Broncos must consider all sides before making a final decision. When the Broncos signed Leary to a four-year contract as a free agent back in 2017, this final year was seen as one where he would not be with the team. We’ll see if that’s actually going to be the case.
More Problems Inside?
Many fans and analysts focus on the Broncos problems on the outside of the offensive line, mainly left tackle Garett Bolles and right tackle Ja’Wuan James. However, taking a look at the interior offensive line shows that the Broncos have concerns there, as well. In fact, those concerns might even be greater inside depending on what you think of the outside starters.
At left guard, the Broncos have a star player in Dalton Risner. A second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Risner is not only a fan favorite, but he also has the upside to one day be an All-Pro player. The Broncos have no worries at left guard, but at the other two positions inside there are question marks.
The center position is unknown for the 2020 season. That’s the quarterback of the offensive line and the Broncos have no plan in place just yet. Connor McGovern was the starting center in 2019, but he’s set to be an unrestricted free agent. The team may have wanted to sign him to an extension last year during the season, but that did not happen. McGovern may get away in free agency as the team looks for someone like Pat Morris to take over at the position.
Right guard is where Leary has been starting since he’s been with the Broncos. He is a fine starter, but he has not played a full 16-game season during his time with the Broncos. In fact, Leary has only played a full season (2013) once in his career and it was the first year he was active in the pros. If the team does keep Leary around, they need to have a quality plan in place if (when?) Leary misses more time due to injury.
All About Fit
The dirty little secret in the NFL is it’s all about fit. Players have natural talent coming into the league, but their success largely depends on how they fit in the system they’re playing in.
The Broncos are switching to a power gap system under new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. This moves away from the traditional zone-blocking scheme that most Broncos fans are accustomed to dating back to the days when Mike Shanahan was the head coach.
In a power gap system, the team needs to find larger and more powerful offensive linemen. In a zone system, linemen are usually smaller and much more athletic.
Undrafted out of Memphis in 2012 due to a degenerative left knee condition, Leary was graded by most in the scouting community as a third-round pick. The talent was always there with Leary and that’s why the Cowboys picked him up. It was just a matter of how long he would be able to play due to the knee issue. He was a rare player from the standpoint that he could fit in multiple schemes. With the Cowboys, Leary was all about power, but you could see the athleticism was there for him to do more.
Leary is huge at 320 pounds and he used to be athletic enough to work in a zone system, and that’s what made him an effective starter when he was healthy. However, at this advanced age Leary is merely a power player – and that works in his favor if the Broncos decide to keep him.
It’s time for the Broncos to consider other options at the right guard position. Leary has been a fine starter for Denver when healthy, but it’s time for the team to move on.
I believe the Broncos should cut Leary.
His price tag is simply too high for a player of his age and with his injury history. Yes, Leary would solve a problem for you at right guard, but for how long? Instead, I would rather the Broncos put Eli Wilkinson at right guard and let Leary go.