ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Even though the Denver Broncos waved around the league’s biggest checkbook in free agency and tried to make the most of five draft picks, they approach rookie minicamp camp this week with many of the same problems they had headed into the offseason.
The Broncos have spent $241.4 million -- the most in the NFL -- in free agency so far, but there are still parts of the Broncos’ roster thin enough for the light to shine through.
Broncos general manager George Paton called the post-draft search for depth “ongoing and it never stops.’’ A position that Broncos coach Sean Payton has tagged as one of the most important in the team's quest to end a seven-year playoff drought -- the offensive line -- is a concern.
"[Hall of Fame coach] Bill [Parcells] felt the offensive line was one of the most important positions on your roster because it permeated the building,’’ Payton said. “He didn't say it had to be done in the draft or in free agency, but he just felt like that position group was important. Regardless of his philosophy and my exposure to Bill -- when George and I started ... that was a focus for us in upgrading and getting our team better.’’
It's no accident the league’s worst offense in 2022 (16.9 points per game) with a quarterback who was sacked a league-most 55 times has seen the most change, especially in the offensive line. Tackle Mike McGlinchey (five years, $87.5 million) and guard Ben Powers (four years, $51.5 million) received the Broncos' two biggest free agent deals.
Players who started a combined 128 games in the offensive line for the Broncos over the past four seasons, and made 57 combined starts in 2022 alone, are gone. That total includes players who started games last season- at left tackle, right tackle, center and left guard.
Guard Dalton Risner, who is an unsigned free agents, had 62 of those starts and Graham Glasgow had 37. As one of the league’s general managers put it this past week: “If it was me, I’d be nervous, but it takes time every time you make a change, and they've traded a lot of picks.’’
It’s why Payton has said the new players, whether they played for him in his long stint with the New Orleans Saints or not, had to be part of the solution.
“That’s all part of this stew that is going to create the culture,’’ Payton said. “Honestly, it’s the people from within that are here and that are anxious to win and have success.’’
McGlinchey and Powers likely fully understand what is expected of them. But any sort of bad luck with injuries, and the Broncos might not even be as equipped to deal with it as they were last season, when they struggled to overcome 22 players finishing the season on injured reserve.
Beyond the five projected starters up front on offense -- McGlinchey and Garett Bolles at tackle with Powers and Quinn Meinerz at guard to go with Lloyd Cushenberry III at center -- the Broncos have 20 combined starts from all of their current backup linemen.
They don’t have a reserve guard, or a player they list at guard on the roster, with any NFL starts. And they do not have a player -- other than Bolles -- on the roster who has started an NFL game at left tackle.
The Broncos have also had turnover at tight end. Denver traded for Adam Trautman, a former third-round pick in Payton’s time with the Saints. Trautman has 28 starts with a career-best 27 catches in 2021. They had players with 22 starts at the position in 2022 alone move on.
With five picks in the draft, a deep class of tight ends offered no help, with the Broncos choosing players at other spots over the three days. The Broncos might also need to address depth at running back with Javonte Williams, who is recovering from right knee surgery, and free agent signee Samaje Perine, who hasn’t had more than 95 carries in a season since his rookie year in 2017.
As Paton was poised to sign a long list of undrafted rookies in the days following the team’s five selections, he said, “We’re hoping to find a few really good players in free agency post draft.’’