Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles fifth-year option still on the table

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 24: Offensive tackle Garett Bolles #72 of the Denver Broncos looks on against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 24, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 24: Offensive tackle Garett Bolles #72 of the Denver Broncos looks on against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 24, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Denver Broncos have time to make their decision on Garett Bolles’ fifth-year contract option. Should they exercise it?

Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles is coming into an absolutely critical season in 2020.

The Broncos have been patient with Bolles, who has been called for a whopping 46 penalties in three seasons with the team, nearly averaging one per game he’s played with the team.

Although Bolles’ propensity for penalties has been infuriating at times, the Broncos undoubtedly see the whole picture with Bolles, which shows a player who has made some improvements since coming into the league in 2017.

Bolles has not entrenched himself as a top-tier or even above average left tackle at this point, but he’s a developing player and former first-round pick who is going to be given every opportunity to prove he can be the player the team drafted him to be.

As with all first-round picks under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Broncos have a decision to make regarding Bolles’ potential fifth year with the team. All first-round picks have a club option for a fifth year at a pre-determined price, but the option has to be exercised a year in advance.

The Broncos have to decide by May 2020 if they want Bolles to be under contract for the 2021 season, and John Elway stated that the team is still undecided at this point.

What is the upside to not picking up the option? First of all, it’s important to know how much it’s worth. For an offensive lineman taken between picks 11-32 in the first round (Bolles was the 20th overall pick) the price tag for the fifth-year option is $10.35 million.

That price tag seems really high, but it would put Bolles 18th on the list for current left tackles in the league for average annual salary.

Because such a salary would keep Bolles in the middle of the rest of the NFL pack, the only upside to declining the option would be to protect the Broncos from paying a salary to someone that is guaranteed for injury.

That means if Bolles is injured in 2020 and is not healthy by the start of the 2021 league year, the Broncos would have to pay him that $10.35 million no matter what.

Fortunately for teams exercising these fifth-year options, the salary is only guaranteed for injury. If the Broncos exercise Bolles’ option and he doesn’t play well in 2020 but stays healthy, they are under no obligation to pay the $10.35 million and can cut Bolles or trade him with zero cap penalty.

The pros for keeping Bolles on the fifth-year option vastly outweigh the cons from a couple of perspectives.

First, the $10.35 million salary isn’t going to be much of an issue for the Broncos, who are anything but cap strapped for the foreseeable future.

Second, the salary is only guaranteed for injury.

Third, Bolles is a starting player on this team and despite his sloppy habit of racking up penalties, he’s played solid football for the team. The team is obviously holding out hope that Mike Munchak can develop him into the player they hoped he could become.

Down the stretch of the 2019 season, Drew Lock was sacked just five times in five games, including a pair of starts in which he wasn’t sacked at all.

Although Bolles is not directly responsible for Lock not getting sacked, he is partly responsible for it and having a quarterback that is mobile and able to avoid pressure really helped everyone out.

If we’re being blunt, Bolles has barely been “OK” since he came to the Broncos, and a lot of the time he’s been less than. With that said, he’s shown progression from year one to year three, and banking on that fifth-year option to have a starter at well under market value for another season guaranteed only for injury seems like the wisest move for the Broncos.

If they don’t exercise the option, they run the risk of Bolles playing great in 2020 and then having to pay him market value. That might seem like a longshot but the team can’t approach it as a longshot, not when it’s the difference of $5 or $6 million on the salary cap.

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The Broncos should exercise the 2021 option on Bolles and bank on him doing well enough this season to remain the starter next year.