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 are most likely going to have to add a new starter – guard. Dalton Risner is entrenched on the left side of the line, after a stellar rookie season in which he was arguably Denver’s most-consistent offensive lineman. On the right side, however, change is probably coming. Leary is set to earn more than $9.3 million in 2020, a number the Broncos won’t want to pay the oft-injured right guard; by cutting him, they’ll save roughly $8.4 million against the cap. That’s all well and good, but they’ll still need to replace him. Who could fill that role? These free agents are possibilities.
Top Five Available
1. Brandon Scherff – During the past five seasons, Scherff has started 65 games for the Redskins, most at right guard. And during that time, he’s played at a very high level, earning three Pro Bowl invites, in 2016, ’17 and ’19. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, given that he was the fifth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. At just 28 years old, Scherff will demand a huge contract on the open market; look for him to fetch four years at more than $50 million, which is some serious money for a guard.
2. Andrus Peat – Some have him listed as a tackle, given that he’s played multiple positions in New Orleans. But the five-year pro mostly played left guard for the Saints, where he earned Pro Bowl honors in each of the past two seasons. The 13th-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, it took a little while for Peat to get comfortable and find a home along the offensive line. But once he did, he blossomed. At 6-foot-7, 315 pounds, he’s big, tall and athletic, making a very versatile player in the trenches.
3. Joe Thuney – The model of consistency since entering the league in 2016, Thuney has started in 64 out of 64 games for the Patriots during his four seasons in New England. His play hasn’t been earth shattering, at least not to the extent that it has earned Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors, but it’s been very, very steady. And the fact that he’s on the field every single week makes him a valuable member of any offensive line. He’s primarily played on the left side in New England, but can bounce around a bit if needed.
4. Ereck Flowers – The ninth-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Flowers never lived up to the hype that came along with getting selected that high. And when a top draft choice struggles in New York, the media and fans pounce, which is exactly what happened during his three-plus seasons with the Giants. An eight-game reprieve in Jacksonville didn’t help, but moving to Washington in 2019 seemed to do the trick. It wasn’t just the change of scenery, however. The Redskins made Flowers a guard, which seems like a better fit than tackle.
5. Michael Schofield – Broncos fans will cringe at the name, as the endure flashbacks of Vic Beasley blowing by Schofield and sacking Paxton Lynch time after time after time. But that forgettable day was as much the fault of Denver’s coaching staff as it was Schofield; he was playing out of position at tackle, where he was trying to deal with elite pass rushers on the edge. Since moving inside with the Chargers, Schofield has found a home. The past two seasons, he’s started 32 out of 32 games, being the model of consistency at guard.
Realistic Options for the Broncos
1. Schofield – A second tour in Denver would make a lot of sense, now that Schofield has found a home at guard. He’s an athletic guy, evidenced by the fact that he could at least compete at tackle, so he’d be a nice counter to Dalton Risner on the other side. Last year, he earned $2.5 million, so his price tag will probably be a bit higher. But he doesn’t figure to break the bank like Scherff and some of the other big names on the market. Plus, it would be nice to see things come full circle with Broncos Country.
2. Mike Iupati – He’ll be 33 when the season begins, so Father Time suggest that Iupati’s best seasons are behind him. The fact that his four-consecutive Pro Bowl appearances are now five years in the rearview mirror send the same message. That said, the veteran guard had a bit of a resurgence last season in Seattle, where he started 15 games for the Seahawks. It was a great bounce back after playing in just 11 games during his final two seasons with the Cardinals. He’s a veteran presence that won’t require a long-term deal.
3. Quinton Spain – Undrafted out of West Virginia, Spain made his way onto the Titans roster, where he played four seasons. Along the way, he developed into a full-time starter at guard, becoming a fixture along Tennessee’s offensive line. His one season in Buffalo, he did much the same thing, starting all 16 games for the Bills in 2019. He isn’t flashy, but he’s consistent, and he’s in the lineup almost every Sunday, which is a valuable trait, especially coming on the heels of the Ron Leary experiment.