Broncos brick, mortar, and scrap: Offensive line overview

In this edition of Brick, Mortar and Scrap, we take a look at the offensive line and see who can contribute to the Broncos in 2020.

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DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 15: Connor McGovern #60 of the Denver Broncos talks to teammates on the offensive line, including Garett Bolles #72, Elijah Wilkinson #68, and Dalton Risner #66 as they sit in the bench area during a game against the Chicago Bears at Empower Field at Mile High on September 15, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Football is a game of inches, or so they say. If any position group takes that saying literally, it would be the offensive line. The big guys up front live and die by the ground they give up on each play.  No group has to play with such a combination of intelligence and toughness like a lineman has to.

A receiver can be a few inches off of their initial route and still make a play. Running backs can miss an initial cut and still make a play. Offensive lineman, on the other hand, can't afford to miss their assignment on any play.

For that reason, I've always been a believer in building a team around the trenches and ensuring that you have strong line play.

In this edition of Brick, Mortar, and Scrap, we take a look at the offensive line and see who can contribute to the Broncos in 2020.

Let's begin.

Connor McGovern, Center

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DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 15: Connor McGovern #60 of the Denver Broncos hangs his head as he walks off the field after failing to convert a first down against the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter of a game at Empower Field at Mile High on September 15, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

If you were to ask me who I think was the most underrated pick of the 2016 draft class, I would easily choose Connor McGovern. Before I go into my explanation, let me make this clear. I don't think he was the best pick in his draft class. All I'm saying is that for where he was picked, he ended up being a great return on investment.

Since arriving in Denver as a 5th-round pick, McGovern has played in 47 games (36 starts). He split his playing time between right guard and center, the latter of which being the position he's manned for the last season and change.

If you had to pick one word to describe McGovern's play it would be solid. He's been a reliable and dependable starter with consistently average to above average play.  While those qualities are important to have in an offensive lineman, his position and contract status put him in a conflict with the Broncos going into the 2020 season.

With four years of service accumulated, McGovern is scheduled to be an Unrestricted Free Agent in March and considering where he's played the last two years, his asking price may be more than the Broncos are willing to pay.

According to Spotrac, the top 10 Centers in the league make an average salary of 9.4 million or more every year.  Has McGovern played at a top 10 level? No. Again, he's been a solid, but not spectacular anchor for the Broncos offensive line.

The problem is that McGovern is going to be asking for top 10 money and for the play he's put out on the field, it's hard to justify paying him as such.

If the Broncos weren't willing to pay top dollar for Matt Paradis, then why should they for Connor McGovern?

He's been a great pick for the Broncos and we appreciate his service in the Orange/Blue but unless he's willing to take a discount, I don't see the two sides seeing eye to eye on his 2nd contract.

2020 Status: Scrap

3 of 5

Ron Leary, Guard

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DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 13: Denver Broncos players including Ronald Leary #65 run onto the field to warm up before a game against the Tennessee Titans at Empower Field at Mile High on October 13, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Unlike Connor McGovern, Ron Leary's status with the Broncos appears to be more concrete. Since coming to Denver via Free Agency in 2017, Leary has battled injuries and ability to stay on the field.

With only 29 starts in 3 years, it's hard to justify keeping Leary with his current contract.

On the last year of his 4 year, $36 million deal, Leary is scheduled to make a salary of roughly $9.3 million. Unfortunately for Leary, the Broncos will only be responsible for $875,000 in dead cap if they release Leary this off-season.

When he's been on the field, he's been a good player for the Broncos. The problem is, the team can't afford to pay a guy who averages 10 games a year that kind of money.

Leary will be 31 in April. By no means is he a washed up player. I just think he's at a point in his career where the Broncos can afford to keep him at his current salary and with guys like Elijah Wilkinson on the roster, it makes sense to move on from Ron Leary.

2020 Status: Scrap 

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Garrett Bolles, Tackle

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I know. I can still hear the boos from his last holding call. Here's the thing, Broncos Country. As much as we don't want Bolles on the roster anymore, it just doesn't make much sense for the team to get rid of him right now.

For those of you that want to point to Bolles' flaws as a reason to cut him, let's keep these two things in mind.

  1. He was a first round pick and still on his rookie deal.
  2. He hasn't missed a game since coming to town.

While those reasons shouldn't be enough to keep him in the starting lineup, let's remember the Broncos' recent history regarding their first round picks.

With the exception of Paxton Lynch, every 1st-round pick in Elway's tenure has lasted at least four years with the team. Considering his ability to stay on the field and improvement towards the end of the season, it appears that Bolles will continue that trend and return to the team in 2020.

The two questions that hover over Bolles' future are what the Broncos will do with his potential fifth-year option and what kind of competition will they bring in for him?

The Broncos have until May 3rd to exercise Bolles' fifth-year option. The timing of which is very fortuitous for the Broncos. The date allows the team to see what's available to them in the draft and depending on what they can net from that group. From there, they can decide as to whether or not Bolles is worth keeping for a fifth year.

While we may not love his knack for boneheaded penalties, we should get used to the idea of Garrett Bolles being penciled in as the Broncos starting LT in 2020.

2020 Status: Mortar

5 of 5

The Other Guys

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SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - AUGUST 08: Dalton Risner #66 of the Denver Broncos warms up before the preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on August 08, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Dalton Risner, Guard

This is the easiest guy to predict. The former Kansas State player had a great rookie year at Left Guard for the Broncos in 2019 and considering his ties to Colorado, I don't see him going anywhere.

2020 Status: Brick

Elijah Wilkinson, Guard/Tackle

Like Risner, Wilkinson is another guy that's easy to project. For the last two seasons, Wilkinson has served as the unofficial Swiss army knife of the offensive line. With 19 starts between two positions, Wilkinson has shown to be a valuable depth piece on the offensive line. He's currently scheduled to be a Restricted Free Agent this off-season.

Considering his position versatility and inexpensive contract, it's hard to see Wilkinson elsewhere in 2020.

2020 Status: Mortar

Austin Schlottman, Guard

The second-year lineman out of TCU did a commendable job filling in for Ron Leary, starting the final four games of the season. Schlottman is a great example of what good development on the Practice Squad can do for a player. Whether he develops into a full time starter is unclear at this time, it's nice to see a player get called up and show that he's worth keeping on a roster.

2020 Status: Mortar

Patrick Morris, Center

This guy may be the most fascinating player of the entire group. As a late season waiver claim from Pittsburgh, Morris may already have a fan in the building in Mike Munchak. The Broncos OL coach spent the 2018 season with Morris and oversaw his rookie development.

There's no question that Munchak had a hand in picking this guy up off waivers. The real question is, what kind of potential do the Broncos think he has?

I could see him being anything from a camp cut to a surprise starter. So much of it will depend on how he fits in this offense and if Munchak's initial believe in him can come to fruition. For now, I think they have shown enough in him to keep him around for 2020.

2020 Status: Mortar

Jake Rodgers, Tackle

Another call up from the practice squad, Rodgers only started one game for the team in 2019 but was active for most of the season.

Unfortunately for Rodgers, he struggled in his only start of the season and didn't show enough in his limited action to warrant an automatic roster spot in 2020.

Perhaps he sticks around on the Practice Squad but at this time, it would appear that he may be an odd man out during camp this year.

2020 Status: Scrap

Conclusion

Unlike the other groups I've already profiled, the Offensive Line appears to be the one with the least amount of stability heading into 2020. Aside from a few promising young players, the line doesn't look to have a strong veteran presence heading into next season.

With Free Agency around the corner, I'm assuming that will change and the Broncos will have a nice blend of young/veteran talent in the trenches.

Next: 5 free agent moves to keep pace with KC

If the Broncos are going to get back to the top of the NFL food chain, they have to make sure their Offensive Line is playing top notch football.