ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos continued their big-guy approach in free agency Friday as Menelik Watson became the second offensive linemen to come to terms with the Broncos in the first two days of free agency.
The Broncos, intent on adding players on both the offensive and defensive lines, also pursued defensive end Calais Campbell (he signed in Jacksonville) and chased nose tackle candidates Earl Mitchell and Chris Baker as well. Mitchell, who had been released by the Miami Dolphins, signed with the San Francisco 49ers before free agency opened, and Baker signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday.
Watson played in 10 games and started five for the Oakland Raiders this past season.
Terms: 3 years, $18.3 million.
Top 150 ranking: No. 90.
Grade: If he’s healthy and can stay in the lineup, this could be a solid B. Watson won’t turn 29 until December, so he fits in the age-value profile Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway likes in a potential free-agent signing. Guard Ronald Leary was the first unrestricted free agent to sign with the Broncos in free agency’s opening hours. The Broncos have now added two potential new starters up front.
What it means: It could mean the Broncos are working toward a decision on Donald Stephenson. Watson is far more likely to play right tackle for the Broncos because that’s likely a far more natural position -- he has struggled with speed rushers in pass protection at times when he has played on the left side. Stephenson, who started at right tackle last season for the Broncos has a clause in his contract that guarantees his $4 million base salary for 2017 if he’s on the roster on Monday. Stephenson did not play as the Broncos had hoped last season -- he tied with Russell Okung for the team lead in penalties -- and Elway wouldn’t rule out cutting Stephenson last week at the combine. It also means the Broncos have added players from the No. 2 rushing team in the league this past season (the Cowboys) and the No. 6 rushing team in the league in the Raiders.
What’s the risk: Watson has never played more than 12 games in a season because of a variety of injuries, including a groin injury this past season, and missed the 2015 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. He’s had a tough road in that regard, and the Broncos will certainly need some additional insurance at the position even with Michael Schofield on the roster if they choose to release Stephenson rather than guarantee his base salary.