The latest Denver Broncos news after the 2020 NFL Draft is that Garett Bolles’ 2021 contract option is not being picked up. John Elway had select words.
The Denver Broncos didn’t use any picks in the 2020 NFL Draft on the offensive tackle position. No free agent offensive tackles were signed. Based on some of the wild contracts that have been handed out to offensive tackles, it made some sense that one particular piece of Broncos news coming in after the 2020 NFL Draft would be the team deciding to accept their club option on Garett Bolles’ rookie contract, which expires after the 2020 season.
That did not happen.
The Broncos decided to decline Bolles’ fifth-year option which will make him a free agent after the 2020 season.
That is unless the team decides to give him a contract extension before that time.
The Broncos’ decision to decline Bolles’ option was first reported by Mike Klis of 9News in Denver:
The Broncos later confirmed the decision, which is a lose-lose for both parties in a variety of ways.
How is this a loss for the Broncos? Bolles hasn’t earned that fifth year!
That is a fair point and likely the driving force behind the decision. Bolles, aside from being ‘available’ every game of his career to this point, has not proven to be a very capable left tackle. He has struggled with technique issues and penalties, the former often leading to the latter.
Everyone expected a solid jump from Bolles in 2019 with Mike Munchak on the coaching staff, but Munchak’s coaching can only do so much. Bolles has to do what he’s being taught.
Over the course of the final five games of the season, Bolles showed improvements, but the Broncos must not have liked what they saw in Bolles’ post-season film review. In Klis’ article reporting on the fifth-year option decision, John Elway said:
"“Obviously, everyone’s frustrated with Garett. He’s got to stop with his penalties but he did some good things later in the year. He got better. I think Mike Munchak did a heckuva job and Chris Kuper — they did a heckuva job with him. He still has the ability. He’s got to learn – he’s got to stop the penalties. Those are unacceptable anymore. He’s going into his fourth year. They have to stop. But Garett is going to come in and compete. And Vic will tell you that, too. He’ll come in and compete with Eli at left tackle and for Garett to go on with his career he’s going to have to correct those problems he’s had in the past as far as when it comes down to penalties.”John Elway (via Mike Klis)"
Despite some of Elway’s optimism that Bolles got better and that the coaches did a ‘heckuva’ job with him, the Broncos aren’t projecting that into a fully guaranteed $11 million-plus payday for Bolles in 2021.
This raises huge questions about the left tackle spot in Denver beyond this season and makes you wonder why the team didn’t use a single one of their 10 picks on offensive tackle if they knew they weren’t going to be accepting Bolles’ contract option.
It’s always difficult to deal with the unknown, but John Elway also said before the 2020 NFL Draft that Bolles was going to be competing for his job in 2020 with backup Elijah Wilkinson. He reiterated that to Klis right there. The Broncos also have some other developmental players like Calvin Anderson to consider for the job if they play well enough.
What’s clear from this is that Bolles failed to meet the Broncos’ expectations through three seasons with the team, enough that the team wasn’t confident in paying him what would be a top 20 average annual salary at over $11 million per season.
Had the Broncos accepted Bolles’ option, he would have been tied for the 21st highest cap hit (with Saints OT Ryan Ramczyk) in the league at tackle in 2021. Considering there are 64 starting tackles in the league, the Broncos essentially decided that Bolles was not worthy of being in the top third of the highest-paid players next season.
When you think about it that way, it’s not unreasonable from the Broncos’ perspective.
From Bolles’ perspective, this is a brutal situation.
He’s going to be fighting for his job in 2020 with no assurance of pay heading into his age 29 season in 2021. There is a chance, though, that Bolles could wind up making a lot more than just $11 million next season.
The Arizona Cardinals waited on paying former first-round pick DJ Humphries until this offseason, and he cost them around $15 million per season. If Bolles waits to sign a contract extension, he could end up making a lot more money than the Broncos just declined to pay him.
The unfortunate part of that scenario for the Broncos is you would end up having to pay Bolles more money and for a longer contract than just one season. If he improves in 2020, are you going to consider that a legit step forward or just fool’s gold?
There are other free agent tackles in 2021 the Broncos could consider, notably players like Taylor Decker of Detroit, Alejandro Villanueva of Pittsburgh, David Bakhtiari of Green Bay (likely to be franchise tagged), Ronnie Stanley of Baltimore, Trent Williams of San Francisco, and others including players who could be released.
There are also always trade options.
The Broncos won’t be suck with Bolles or nothing beyond this season, but it’s unfortunate that things have not worked out to this point. Hopefully, Bolles can prove himself worthy of another contract this season, and the Broncos might be wise to try and get him signed to an extension — if even just a short-term one — prior to the end of the year if he proves he’s capable of starting from now on.