Denver Broncos’ O-line makeover isn’t finished
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Take a $4 million pay cut, John Elway told Peyton Manning, and I’ll fix your pocket of protection.
The Broncos’ boss eagerly signed off on new coach Gary Kubiak moving his best lineman back to his natural position, traded for a new center and signed a much cheaper left guard.
His next move might very well be selecting one of the many talented tackles in the NFL draft.
“I think that is one area of the draft that does have some depth, especially at the top,” Elway said.
Elway was forced to be a frugal shopper in free agency this year after breaking the bank last year for the likes of DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Emmanuel Sanders and Aqib Talib.
That places added importance on their draft. With four compensatory picks, Elway has 10 selections, giving him plenty of fodder to move up.
That’s not as easy as one might think.
“The hardest thing about the draft that no one realizes is that you can’t move when you want to move. Everyone says, ‘Move down.’ Really? We need someone to move down with or move up,” Elway said. “We tried to move up last year with a team and they wanted my three first grandchildren.”
Elway has spent much of the offseason addressing his offensive line. Louis Vasquez is back in his comfort zone at right guard, Gino Gradkowski is in the mix at center and Elway signed Shelley Smith for $5.65 million over two years after the Chargers lured left guard Orlando Franklin away with a $35.5 million deal.
This could be Manning’s last chance at a second Super Bowl, so the players that are added this weekend could be critical to his hopes of going out on top.
Here are some things to know about the Broncos’ 2015 draft:
LINEBACKERS LINE UP: In Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall, the Broncos have two of the fastest, nastiest inside linebackers in the league. They also have two of the biggest question marks, which means they could use a high pick on the likes of UCLA’s Eric Kendricks or Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney if they stay put at No. 28.
Marshall underwent surgery on his left foot and hopes to return by late July. Trevathan fractured his left leg three times last year.
“We really feel good that we have some good young linebackers ... but you never have enough of those, either,” Elway said. “If there is a good one available, we’ll take him.”
QB QUESTIONS: With Manning recently celebrating his 39th birthday and backup Brock Osweiler entering the final year of his contract, Elway’s annual search for a QB prospect takes on added intrigue.
The proliferation of spread offenses in college, however, makes projecting good passers in the pros more difficult. One prospect that has plenty of experience in the pro-style set is Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson, whom Elway said is “probably more ready.”
“If you haven’t been under center, there is an adjustment to being able to come out and you’re more limited to what you can see because the big guys are right in front of you,” Elway said. “I think that is the biggest adjustment that they have to make.”
MANNING’S MEN: While spread offenses complicate the transition to the NFL, wide receivers are big beneficiaries.
“That is why there are so many wide receivers coming out because of the fact that they are being trained so well in college right now with the offenses being wide open,” Elway said.
Elway will have his eyes on a pass-catcher because three of Manning’s most trusted targets, Julius Thomas, Jacob Tamme and Wes Welker, aren’t around anymore.
START IMMEDIATELY: Elway’s take on immediate impact has evolved in his five years in the front office.
He said “it would be great” to find a few starters in the draft, even on a roster with a Super Bowl-or-bust mentality, but “other than the offensive line, the quarterback position and the starting corners, who really starts?”
Elway said the defensive line has become rotational and the secondary more often than not includes extra cornerbacks, so the better barometer is how many “contributors” come out of the draft, not necessarily “starters.”
DRAFT AFTERTHOUGHTS: Some of the Broncos’ best work comes after the draft is over and they hit the phones. For 10 straight seasons a player who was overlooked in the seven-round draft has made Denver’s opening day roster, including Pro Bowlers Chris Harris Jr. and C.J. Anderson.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Elway said. “The credit does go to the scouting staff.”