ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Since the free-agency market officially opened Thursday afternoon, the Denver Broncos have done virtually all of their work on the offensive and defensive lines. That work continued through the weekend when they signed two defensive linemen (Domata Peko and Zach Kerr) and made a decision on right tackle Donald Stephenson.
Stephenson’s base salary of $4 million for the 2017 season was set to become guaranteed Monday, but if he was released before then the Broncos would have owed him nothing. After the acquisition on Friday of another right tackle candidate, Menelik Watson, Stephenson’s roster spot was in some jeopardy.
But Stephenson agreed to a restructured deal this weekend that makes $2 million of his salary guaranteed, and he will have to make the 53-man roster to earn the other $2 million. In 2016, Stephenson started 12 games, playing in 13. He dealt with a calf injury at one point and briefly lost his job because of performance.
Right tackle was consistently a trouble spot last season for the Broncos. Stephenson tied with Russell Okung for the team lead in penalties (11), and opposing defensive coaches repeatedly said they thought they could create consistent pressure in the pass rush against Stephenson or his replacement, Ty Sambrailo.
John Elway, the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations/general manager, hinted in recent weeks that a move could be coming on Stephenson. Asked recently if he believed Stephenson’s contract or roster spot needed to be addressed, Elway said: “You keep all those options open, right? Right now, he’s ours and we’ve got our starting right tackle back from last year.’’
After Denver's signing of Watson and guard Ronald Leary, there is still an opening at left tackle. Stephenson started 23 games at left tackle during his time with the Kansas City Chiefs, but the Broncos didn't consider him for that role when they signed him to a $14 million deal a year ago.
The Broncos have a new offensive line coach, Jeff Davidson, so it remains to be seen how he wants to deploy his players in the lineup. The Broncos begin on-field workouts in May.