We sit here today watching the Broncos struggle once again. For the first time in team history, Denver has started 0-3 in back-to-back seasons. That’s right, the team that always held a standard of winning has become the most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL. Denver will now more than likely be the first team in NFL history to win a Super Bowl and miss the playoffs for the next five seasons.
The Broncos were on top of the world on Feb. 7, 2016, after winning Super Bowl 50. But there’s been a trend and it dates back to even that season on why the Broncos are in the situation they’re currently in.
John Elway thinks Denver can win without a good offensive line. As we enter Week 4 of the NFL season, the Broncos have given up 13 sacks, the second most in football. From 2016 until now, Denver has allowed 180 sacks, which is sixth most in the NFL in that time span.
Going into the 2015 season, Orlando Franklin became a free agent and was told by the Broncos that they would bring him back. It turned out the Denver didn’t really want to bring back Franklin and decided that Michael Schofield was a better option at right tackle.
Elway also had an opportunity to trade for the best left tackle in the game in Joe Thomas after Ryan Clady went down with a season ending injury. Elway refused to make the deal that would send unknown pass rusher Shaquil Barrett and a second-round pick to the Browns for the future Hall of Fame left tackle.
Instead, the Broncos went out and signed Ryan Harris who was sitting on his couch in Westminster after being released by the Chiefs. Think about that; John Elway didn’t want to build a solid offensive line for his 38-year-old quarterback in Peyton Manning as they made one final Super Bowl run.
Luckily, Manning used his brain and was smart enough to work around the offensive line. But they were still a bad group up front.
In 2016, the Broncos would have to roll out Trevor Siemian, who showed some promise that he could be the next franchise quarterback, but would be sacked 31 times. Elway went into free agency thinking that Russell Okung would be solid at left tackle and Donald Stephenson would be solid at right tackle after moving Schofield inside to right guard. It’s safe to say why both of those tackles hit the open market that offseason.
In 2017, Elway would draft Garett Bolles instead of Ryan Ramczyk in the first round of the NFL Draft. Bolles has led the league multiple times in holding calls while Ramczyk has been named an All-Pro for the Saints. Elway would also go out and sign Menelik Watson after the Raiders were happy to allow him to walk after they continued to build an elite offensive line. The Broncos would also sign Ronald Leary to play guard. Sounded like a great move to take one of the offensive lineman from the Cowboys, right? Well, he was a backup guard for Dallas. Leary would battle injuries each season while with the Broncos.
In 2018, the Broncos would trade for an aging right tackle in Jared Veldheer who was on the verge of retiring, but was convinced to give it another try. Denver remained with Bolles at left tackle as he continued to lead the NFL in holding calls, while Connor McGovern struggled at right guard.
In 2019, Bolles remained at left tackle while the Broncos would give him some hep by drafting Dalton Risner to play left guard. Risner was talked about as being the smartest offensive lineman on the team as a rookie. Denver would not bring back center Matt Paradis due to the scare of his injuries to both legs. The Broncos would move McGovern to center. Elway was wanting to sign McGovern to a long-term deal until an offensive coach told Elway that it would be a huge mistake per source.
Denver also signed right tackle Ja’Wuan James, making him the highest paid right tackle in NFL history at the time. James would play less than 70 snaps all of last season after suffering a leg injury. James had been known to be soft and unwilling to fight through injuries while down in Miami, but Denver failed to do their homework on him in free agency. This forced the Broncos to start Elijah Wilkinson and that led to him giving up 10 sacks in 2019.
As the Broncos entered the 2020 NFL Draft with the 15th pick, Denver was in serious need of offensive line help at the tackle positions, but Elway failed to drafted one. This backfired on the Broncos after Ja’Wuan James decided to play the Broncos like a PlayStation and sit out this season due to COVID-19 reasons, collect $150,000, and then receive his $10 million guaranteed in 2021.
During free agency, the Broncos would sign the second ranked offensive guard on the market in Graham Glasgow, but he’s struggled this season as well, having to help out Wilkinson at right tackle and Lloyd Cushenberry at center. Cushenberry wasn’t Denver’s first option as far as centers in the draft. It was reported that Denver’s No. 1 guy was Matt Hennessy after they tried to trade back up and get him in the third round. They then settled on Cushenberry.
Earlier this week, the Broncos placed Wilkinson on IR with a leg injury and will replace him with 34-year-old Demar Dotson after acquiring him from Tampa Bay.
As I’ve mentioned through the years of the struggles on the offensive line, the Broncos have gone through 10 starting quarterbacks including Manning. The quarterback play has been awful during that time span and it’s because of the horrific play by the offensive line. Any quarterback the Broncos place behind these offensive lines will struggle. Nearly all of them have been hurt forcing them to miss time or forcing them to be benched due to bad play.
If the Broncos want to get back to the postseason, they must have solid offensive line play that would help the quarterback position excel to another level and lead this franchise to the promise land.
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