Last week, I gave you an explanation of all the signings the Broncos made in free agency. Here, I’ll offer some brief opinions on these signings–though I still want to reserve a fair share of analysis after the draft, when my 2023 road map can be properly evaluated.
Is the long regional nightmare at right tackle finally over?
No position has been problematic for the Broncos for a longer period than right tackle, dating all the way back to 2014 when they moved Orlando Franklin to left guard. They have had three very embarrassing whiffs in major free agency during that period with Donald Stephenson, Menelik Watson, and Ja’Waun James. Most recently, they tried going cheap at the position with multiple players, and got what they paid for.
Will Mike McGlinchey break this ridiculous drought? I certainly hope so, and I’m bullish on his prospects. Last year, I had always identified McGlinchey, Elgton Jenkins, and Jack Conklin as possibilities to hit the free agency market. Once Jenkins and Conklin agreed to extensions within hours of each other, I was very pessimistic for the Broncos, thinking that those extensions would quickly lead to a McGlinchey extension by the 49ers, or at the very least a franchise tag to lead to and extension. But as McGlinchey himself reported, the 49ers never had any intention to extend him, saying they told him “We’d love to have you back, but we can’t stretch ourselves too thin.”, meaning that they wanted to spend their money elsewhere on the roster.
Given that opportunity that I consider unexpected looking from the outside, I’m glad that the Broncos aggressively pounced on getting him to Denver, evidenced as to how quickly it took McGlinchey to be convinced to agree to terms with the Broncos. As I explained, I think the contract is fair for a starting level right tackle. The likely three year commitment is the biggest chance the Broncos are taking here–if they misjudge yet again, it’ll likely be a costly misjudgment. But stability is so badly needed here, and while every transaction has risk, it’s very tough to imagine a different way to reliably get that stability than with getting McGlinchey.
A change of the guard at guard
Another signing the Broncos made very quickly was that of Ben Powers to be their left guard. I was a bit surprised to see this, yet after consulting with those familiar with the Ravens, I probably did not pay enough attention to Powers as part of the market as a whole. There is some concern about his sudden breakout year in 2022, but as explained, the pay is on the bottom end of the top tier for guards, and is only a two year full year commitment. The Broncos had to sign someone at left guard, and they got someone.
What surprises me more is that the player that Powers is replacing, Dalton Risner, is still unsigned. I had thought that the events of 2022 were going to make it best for him to pounce on a 1 year deal quickly, but even that did not materialize. I could foresee the Broncos having different plans than retaining Risner, but instead I vastly misjudged how the entire league appears down on him. I hope he can still get a reasonable contract this offseason, but it might have to come until after the draft from teams that miss out on guard prospects and/or are trying to preserve compensatory picks right now.
The offensive line appears set for 2023
As a final paragraph to close out this unit, the starting lineup of Garett Bolles, Ben Powers, Lloyd Cushenberry, Quinn Meinerz, and Mike McGlinchey is what I would expect on Week 1 on 2023. There has been consistent questioning about Cushenberry in the middle of this line among fans and the media, but Sean Payton says that “we see him as our starting center”. They did sign Kyle Fuller from Seattle to add to depth on the interior, and if the draft yields a center at the top of the board any time the Broncos are on the clock, then by all means they should pounce. But it would make good sense if the Broncos ultimately make use of Cushenberry’s final season on his rookie contract alongside the new talent that Payton says should help Cushenberry out.
A swap at interior defensive line, with more work to do
Moving on from Dre’Mont Jones, who signed with Seattle, and replacing him with Zach Allen from Arizona, was well within reasonable: Jones got about $2M APY more from the Seahawks, and Allen has familiarity with new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Both of those transactions make good sense.
Yet, the Broncos still remain thin at this position group. Alongside Allen and DJ Jones as clear starters, the third spot remains murky, consisting of soon to be 32 year old Mike Purcell, practice squad regular Jonathan Harris, and second year players in Eyioma Uwazurike and Matt Henningsen. Another veteran addition would be appropriate here, with DeShawn Williams (another player that I badly missed on his contract value) following Ejiro Evero to Carolina.
Splurging at backup quarterback
I’ll outsource to Jason Fitzgerald on a take on signing Jarrett Stidham:
I guess they liked what they saw on tape in those last two games because I think most would have pegged Stidham [as] a sub $2M player and maybe one on a VSB contract. Stidham will earn up to $4.5 million this year and has another $1 million guaranteed next year. While those guarantees can be offset this is one where it may not be. There has to have been better options than throwing $5 million per year away here.
George Paton and Sean Payton are obviously seeing something different than we are. Hopefully they’re right and we’re wrong, but in the likeliest ideal world, it would be unanswerable in the case of Stidham playing no snaps at all behind Russell Wilson for the next two seasons.
Set at linebacker…
I thought that Alex Singleton could be had for about $4 million APY, but the Broncos went out to re-sign him for $6 million APY, more than fellow linebacker Josey Jewell. Despite a possible overpay I think this is fine–getting three years in length is good for them to protect against a possible Jewell departure in free agency next season, with Jonas Griffith also still on the team to provide depth.
…but not set fully at running back–yet
Getting Samaje Perine on a low level contract is a good first step in restocking the running back depth chart, but it is not sufficient. The team still has to prepare for Javonte Williams possibly not being ready for the start of the season. I’d like to see at least one more veteran signed, along with at least one rookie acquired. Thankfully, there will still be other running backs on the market after the draft, so there is no rush yet to make a move here even if a move is still needed.