ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' decision-makers have promised over and over again that the offensive line is a priority this offseason.
When John Elway arrived to the scouting combine last month, he said it was the position group where he had spent most of his time to that point.
It has certainly come to pass in word and deed, as the Broncos' two major signings thus far in free agency have been offensive linemen. The second arrived in rather splashy fashion Thursday when tackle Russell Okung agreed to terms with the Broncos on a five-year deal that will average just over $10.6 million per season, a source told ESPN's Josina Anderson.
Okung joins former Kansas City Chiefs tackle/guard Donald Stephenson as the Broncos' two additions in free agency to this point. They also acquired quarterback Mark Sanchez in a trade. It also likely spells the end for the longest-tenured Broncos player on the roster, Ryan Clady.
The Broncos were actively shopping Clady in the trade market Thursday, and if no suitor is found they will consider releasing him. It all comes in the wake of unsuccessful attempts to rework Clady's deal.
Clady said as the 2015 season drew to a close he would be willing to redo his deal if it meant he could stay. Before Okung's scheduled visit this week, the Broncos had been actively talking to Clady's representatives to lower his base salary and the salary-cap charge ($10.1 million) for the coming season. Clady has two years remaining on the deal. The increased interest in Okung was an indication things had reached an impasse with Clady.
Clady was the Broncos' first-round pick in 2008, Mike Shanahan's final draft as the team's coach. But the Broncos need cap room to add Okung to the roster and to continue to do their offseason business in the coming weeks.
They will also probably need roughly $6 million worth of room to account for their 10 picks in next month's draft. The Broncos finished a reworking of DeMarcus Ware's deal this past weekend to create room to match the Miami Dolphins' offer sheet to running back C.J. Anderson.
The 28-year-old Okung, who had also drawn interest from the Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, was the No. 6 pick of the 2010 draft and has been named to one Pro Bowl in his career. He immediately projects to be the Broncos' starting left tackle with Stephenson at right tackle, and Stephenson could play guard if needed as well. Okung has never started 16 games in a season over the course of his career but started 13 last season for the Seattle Seahawks.
Ty Sambailo, who started at left tackle in the Broncos' first three games in place of Clady last season, is a player the Broncos believe could play at guard as well. The Broncos could be looking at a line that includes Okung and either Stephenson or Sambrailo at the two tackle spots with Max Garcia paired with Stephenson or Sambrailo at guard to go with Matt Paradis at center.
The Broncos have already turned over three starters on the offensive line with the release of guard Louis Vasquez, Ryan Harris (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Evan Mathis (Arizona Cardinals) leaving in free agency. The Broncos will also continue to take a long look at a deep group of tackles in the draft.
But this turnover was the one given of this Broncos offseason, even as they waited for a decision from Peyton Manning and went on the hunt for new quarterbacks. As Gary Kubiak said, "We feel like it's one of the places we want to improve, but we also feel like the group we put together is going to play well and do the things we need to get done."