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Broncos 2020 Free Agency Preview: Centers

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

When the NFL free agency kicks off on March 18, the Broncos figure to be very active. For one, they have a lot of holes to fill, so there are plenty of reasons for John Elway to go shopping. But in addition, Denver’s general manager will have a lot of money to spend.

Currently, the Broncos are $58 million under the 2020 salary cap, but that number could grow to as high as $76 million once Ron Leary and Joe Flacco come off the books as expected. And if Elway really wants to get crazy, he can free up nearly $9 million in additional cap space by parting ways with Todd Davis and Jeff Heuerman.

How should the Broncos put all of those dollars to use? In the weeks leading up to the start of free agency, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the best players projected to be on the open market, as well as analysis of who would be a realistic fit in Denver.

It continues today with a position where the Broncos have a major need, at least at the moment – center. Last year’s starter, Connor McGovern, is a free agent and there’s been no indication that Denver plans to bring him back. If he leaves, it leaves a major void in the middle of the Broncos offensive line, with Austin Schlottmann currently listed at No. 2 on the depth chart and Patrick Morris right behind him. In other words, two very inexperienced and unproven players would remain on the roster. If Denver decides to move on from McGovern, one of these players might be a logical replacement:

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Top Five Available

1. Austin Blythe – Like a lot of the centers on this list, Blythe has played multiple positions during his four-year NFL career. As a rookie, he saw action with the Colts at right tackle. The past three season, all with the Rams, he’s played left guard, right guard and center. So, he’s certainly a versatile player. That said, he’s projected to hit the open market primarily as a center, where the soon-to-be 28-year-old will be in demand. He started 31 out of 32 games for the Rams the past two seasons, proving that he can play.

2. Ted Karras – He’s spent the last four seasons in New England, finally becoming a regular starter this season. That was good timing heading into free agency, as the 27-year-old center is one of the better young players on the open market at the position. His lack of experience, however, is a bit of a concern. With only 20 career starts, 15 of which came in 2019, it’s not as though he’s seen a ton of action. In addition, a lot of his playing time has come at guard, as he’s been a bit of a utility lineman for the Patriots.

3. Stefen Wisniewski – Early in his career, the former second-round pick primarily played center. During his first four seasons in Oakland, he anchored the offensive line. He did the same thing during his one season in Jacksonville. Since then, however, he’s primarily played guard, both in Philadelphia and Kansas City. In fact, that’s where he lined up for the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. Does that mean he can’t make the transition back to the middle of the o-line? No. But it’s been a while since he’s been at that position.

4. A.Q. Shipley – In three of the past four seasons, Shipley has started all 16 games for the Cardinals. He missed the entire 2018 campaign due to a torn ACL. A former seventh-round pick of the Steelers, Shipley has bounced around the league during his eight years in the career. Two stops in Indianapolis and one in Baltimore proceeded him finding a home in Arizona. There’s he’s blossomed from a jack-of-all-trades who primarily played center, but also lined up at fullback and tight end. He’s a bit long in the tooth, but a steady veteran.

5. Brett Jones – After starting 13 games with the Giants in 2017, Jones moved on to the Vikings, where he has struggled to see the field the past two seasons. A year ago, he saw action in 14 games, but only started three. And in 2019, Jones was only on the field for two games, sitting behind first-round draft choice Garrett Bradbury. Perhaps the fact that Minnesota felt it was necessary to use a day-one pick on a center should tell everyone all they need to know about Jones, who might just be a backup at this point in his career.

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Realistic Options for the Broncos

1. Connor McGovern – According to most rankings, the Broncos starter in 2019 is the best center in this year’s free-agent class. Denver invested a fourth-round pick in him in 2016, spending the last four years developing him as a player, both at guard and center. It seems counterproductive to move on a from a player who has started 31 games in the past two seasons, especially when the other options available are less than dazzling. The Broncos would be wise to retain McGovern.

2. Blythe – He’s young. He has some experience. And he’ll come relatively cheap.

3. Karras – Another center in his 20s, which makes him a good option. Given his lack of playing time, his price tag probably won’t be too high.

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