The Denver Broncos will undoubtedly keep their options open at center, but prospect Patrick Morris could already be an early favorite for the job.
Sometimes, the Broncos’ — or anyone else’s — best solution for a roster need is not simply to throw a bunch of money at a guy or use a premiere draft pick on the position, but to trust your coaches and development of in-house players and even unheralded prospects.
There are actually a number of situations where this strategy could be implemented over the course of the next couple of months, but one prominent area we may see it is at the center position where last year’s starter — free agent-to-be Connor McGovern — could be on a new team in a matter of weeks.
Troy Renck of ABC7 in Denver wrote that the Broncos could have a figure they are comfortable with regarding bringing McGovern back into the fold in 2020, but that there is also a place where they may draw the line.
"“McGovern had a solid season, but I would not be surprised if the Broncos draw a firm line with him, given how much they like prospect Patrick Morris.”Troy Renck"
Interestingly enough, Renck’s little nugget there about Patrick Morris is not the first time I’ve heard something along those same lines.
Morris was claimed off of waivers in early December by the Broncos from the Pittsburgh Steelers and actually stepped in to play some left guard for Denver on short notice when Dalton Risner was struggling with the flu.
Because of Morris being a bit less flexible in terms of positional versatility — he’s really a true, pure center — the fact that the Broncos were willing to put him in a regular season game for 37 snaps at a position he’s not overly familiar with with less than three weeks in the offense is telling.
This is a guy Mike Munchak must really like quite a bit, not only for Renck to say what he did, but for the Broncos to just insert him into the lineup as the next man up at a position he doesn’t play.
It’s very possible that, when all is said and done, Morris will be the starting center for Denver. The Steelers picked him up as an undrafted player in 2018 and he was promoted to their active roster in 2019 even after Munchak had left for Denver.
When the Steelers tried one too many times to let him slip through the waiver process as they dealt with fairly common roster shuffling, Morris was claimed by Denver and now could be a factor.
Entering his third year in the NFL, Morris’ playing time with the Broncos was the first he’s received as a pro. He’s a squatty, strong, athletic player at the center position who could be tasked with snapping the ball to Drew Lock for the foreseeable future.
His contract is extremely favorable to the Broncos with a salary of $585,000 in 2020 and exclusive free agent rights in 2021. If the Broncos and Morris get that far, he would then be a restricted free agent in 2022 and would not hit unrestricted free agency until 2023.
In that regard, he’s sort of the ideal option if it works, because the Broncos would get a starting center for pennies on the dollar.
It’s not unprecedented for John Elway to put faith in his coaching staff regarding a player the coaches really like. As a matter of fact, Elway made a move like this in the championship 2015 season just five years ago.
Back then, it was 2014 sixth-round pick Matt Paradis, an unheralded prospect who came into the NFL not athletic enough and too small to cut it at the NFL level. The only problem with the pre-draft evaluations of Paradis were, the knocks on him had little to do with football.
Paradis went from the Broncos’ practice squad in 2014 to the starting center for Peyton Manning’s final season in the NFL in 2015.
Is Morris the same as Paradis? Not necessarily. Could his situation be similar? Absolutely. Especially if Mike Munchak has great trust in him.
Interior offensive line and depth there will remain a need for the Broncos even if the team puts trust in Morris behind the scenes, but they might be able to adjust their strategy in free agency and the NFL Draft a bit if they can say that this guy is penciled in as a starter they really like.
If the Broncos draw a line in the sand with Connor McGovern as they did (and should) with Matt Paradis, Morris should be considered a viable alternative based on the number of nuggets about the team being high on him (translating to the coaches being high on him, translating to Munchak being high on him) which could help them address another area in free agency with valuable cash.