The Denver Broncos are going to see a major makeover on the offensive line this offseason, specifically we’ll see major shifts at right tackle and center.
The center position is an area the Broncos have needed to upgrade for over a year, since Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Peyton Manning’s head in the Super Bowl, it was blatantly evident that they needed to make a change. They tried to sign Evan Dietrich-Smith, formerly of the Packers, who ended up signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason.
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After whiffing on Dietrich-Smith, the Broncos moved on to the draft and bottom tier free agents, and drafted Boise State’s Matt Paradis and signed Will Montgomery of the Redskins, opting instead to keep Ramirez as the starting center at least for another year.
It did not work out.
Ramirez was terrible, and was moved to right guard in favor of Montgomery at center as the Broncos tried to find the right combination up front. While the right tackle position remained an issue, the Broncos actually got significantly better at center with Montgomery in the starting lineup, and he ended up grading out as the 15th best center in the NFL last year according to Pro Football Focus.
Montgomery is a free agent, Ramirez is a candidate to be cut, and the Broncos’ need at center persists. Lucky for them, there are a couple of guys on the free agent market that could fill a gaping hole for them up front. Here are some of the top options.
The Ideal Option — Rodney Hudson, Chiefs
As far as unrestricted free agents go, Hudson is the best center on the market. He’s Rotoworld’s third ranked interior offensive lineman behind Mike Iupati and Orlando Franklin, and graded out last year as Pro Football Focus’ third best center in the NFL.
That’s why this is considered the absolute ideal scenario for the Broncos to sign him. Hudson is a really sound all around player that would fill a major need and would also stick it to rival Kansas City. The Chiefs probably won’t have enough cap space to sign Hudson unless they make some cuts that we have yet to see.
Hudson would be immediately inserted as the starting center for the Broncos and would put fans’ minds at ease. By the way, Hudson is also only 25 years old and should have his best football ahead of him. This would be a big time pickup for the Broncos.
The Incumbent — Will Montgomery, Broncos
The Broncos could just re-sign Will Montgomery and draft someone to eventually take over. It wouldn’t be anything that would get fans pumped up by any means, but Montgomery has the ability to hold down the fort if need be, and he has experience with the team already. He would also likely come at the veteran minimum if the Broncos are trying to cut costs.
I don’t see that as highly likely, however, as John Elway has proclaimed this team will make the investments needed to upgrade the offensive line this offseason.
Still, there are worse options than Montgomery out there, so re-signing him if even for depth has to be considered an option.
The Underrated Veteran — Brian De La Puente, Bears
The Bears got just eight games out of De La Puente this past year as a center and guard, but he ended up grading out as a top 10 player at the position by Pro Football Focus and would be an interesting option on a two-year contract for the Broncos.
He is 29 years old, and previously spent three seasons with the New Orleans Saints prior to seeing a cold market as a free agent.
I could see the Broncos looking at him as a secondary option to guys like Rodney Hudson if that falls through, and he would do well.
The…Raider — Stefen Wisniewski, Raiders
Stefen Wisniewski is a pretty good young player who had problems with penalties, but only gave up one sack for the Raiders this past season. He had a poor grade by Pro Football Focus standards, but he graded out well in run blocking and didn’t really let Derek Carr get hit.
The Broncos will need to make sure that Wisniewski is on the upswing as a young player (he is just 25), but he is expected to only ask for $3 million annually and that might be a risk worth taking. He is Rotoworld’s fourth ranked interior lineman on the open market.
Prediction — Rodney Hudson, Chiefs
The Broncos land the big fish, and snag Rodney Hudson to be their new center. John Elway and company know they need to make significant additions to the offensive line, so adding a player like Hudson is smart for the short and long term. Getting a player of his caliber as the pivot man in the offense would be huge, and you can see the Broncos addressing a need on the offensive line through a rival team’s player like they did with Louis Vasquez in 2013 (Chargers).
Maybe this is a hope of mine as well as a prediction, but I could see Elway reeling in this big fish on a four or five year contract worth $4-5 million annually.