ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – There are some things that exasperate Denver Broncos coach John Fox from time to time.
Things like turnovers on offense, dropped interceptions by his defensive backs, questions about basic roster decisions – "We do this full-time," he likes to say – and, oh yeah, anything that even hints at the Broncos having wanted anybody but Manny Ramirez at center.
"I've said it like 10,000 times," Fox said earlier this week. "And I'm not sure anybody believes me, but I'll say it 10,000 more [times], Manny Ramirez is our starting center. He was our starting center in the offseason, in training camp and in the preseason, and he's our starting center now."
And the Broncos put a contract extension where their mouth was Wednesday. Ramirez signed a two-year deal, which keeps him under contract with the Broncos through the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Ramirez, with a base salary of $815,000 this season, was set to become an unrestricted free agent next March.
Ramirez has been an oft-discussed member of the offensive line. He had never started a regular-season game at center in his career until last Thursday night against Baltimore. And after the Broncos moved him into the middle of the offensive line during offseason workouts, when they learned J.D. Walton was going to need another ankle surgery and treatment for an infection in the joint, they also signed Dan Koppen, who had started 12 games at center last season.
Meanwhile, folks just kept asking about Ramirez, about when somebody else would be doing his job. For his part, however, as the team was set to pick its 53-man roster to open the season, this is how Ramirez handicapped the race for what he considered his position: "I'm always here for competition and put my best foot forward and if the other person beats me out, he beats me out, but I'm going to give it all I got. And right now it's my position to lose and I don't see myself letting that go, no matter what people say."
Turns out he was right, as the Broncos moved quickly to offer an extension just a few days after a 49-27 victory over the Ravens. Though the Broncos still hope Walton will be ready to return by late October or early November – he’s currently designated as reserve/physically unable to perform – he has not played since fracturing his left ankle on Sept. 30, 2012, against the Raiders.
Walton’s recovery may have also played a part in Ramirez’ signing. Walton is also in the final year of his original four-year contract he signed as a rookie in 2010, a deal that has a $1.323 million base salary this season. Walton’s recovery is still a bit of an unknown given how long it has taken guard Chris Kuper to recover from a similar fracture/infection over the last two years.
From a football perspective, the Broncos have shown they believe Ramirez will continue to smooth out his rough edges in pass protection at center – Ramirez started 11 games at right guard in place of Kuper last season. Personnel executives around the league say he has trouble in pass protection when he loses his base, but the Broncos like his progress in their movement-heavy zone-run game. And in man-on-man power situations, Ramirez routinely grades out well.
"I always say I just keep working, keep my head down and continue to grind it out," Ramirez said in describing his approach.
Ramirez was selected by Detroit in the fourth round (117th overall) of the 2007 NFL draft after competing as a four-year starter for Texas Tech.
"Things just didn't work out there, in Detroit, for whatever reason," Ramirez said. "But Denver has been an important part of my development, they saw something in me, they brought me here and I just want to keep proving what I can do."