Denver Broncos: Right tackle options if Ja’Wuan James is out

Denver Broncos free agent bust Ja'Wuan James. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Denver Broncos free agent bust Ja'Wuan James. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Before the 2020 season began, right tackle Ja’Wuan James opted out of the season, putting the position in an unknown circumstance.  In response, the Broncos signed Demar Dotson, the long-time Tampa Bay Buccaneer.

Dotson filled in well, starting eight games. Elijah Wilkinson was less than spectacular, but he was serviceable in the nine games he appeared in. Calvin Anderson also appeared in two games, and he was average at best.

Truth be told, the right tackle situation in 2020 was slightly better than we’d expect with an opt-out. But Dotson is well into his 30s, and Wilkinson, in my opinion, has shown little progression. Anderson is probably the biggest unknown, but can we really bank on a second year, undrafted player as the future?

To me, the Denver Broncos need to completely reshape their right tackle situation heading into the 2021 season. With the 9th overall pick, the Broncos will surely have one of the top tackles available to them, but, what if they go a different route?

Here, I will try to break down all of the options for the Denver Broncos’ right tackle situation heading into next year.

Scenario 1: Little changes

In this scenario, Ja’Wuan James, Elijah Wilkinson, and Calvin Anderson are all brought back, mostly for continuity. James would open the season as the RT1, while Wilkinson would be the swing tackle, and Anderson would probably be the RT3.

This allows for Mike Munchak to continue working with the backups in hopes they can develop, and allows for James to regain the trust of his teammates. James does have a lengthy injury history, but his injuries seem to happen every other year, so maybe that means he can be healthy for most of the season in 2021.

Either way, even if James is retained for 2021, I would expect him to be released or traded following the season, as his contract is massive and his performance thus far hasn’t come close to his pay.

Scenario 2:  Betting on the Backups

While I think this is the least likely scenario, I can see it happening. This would involve the Broncos ripping the bandaid off and moving on from James.

There is, roughly, a zero percent chance someone would trade for him, so his release is more likely.

Going into the season, the Broncos would be betting on Wilkinson or Anderson as the RT1, placing a lot of responsibility on them and Mike Munchak. I would not be overly surprised if one of them can develop, but I do not think it is likely, and I do not think the Broncos would make this scenario happen, but it is possible.

Scenario 3: Backups plus a draft pick

This scenario would involve the Broncos drafting a potential right tackle of the future, and retaining both Wilkinson and Anderson. Also, cutting ties with Ja’Wuan James.

I’m not sure who I would want starting in this situation, but I would imagine this would be settled during camp. Depending on how high the Broncos draft a tackle, or even if they find a diamond in the rough, the rookie could potentially win this.

If not, Wilkinson would most likely be our starting RT, with the draft pick waiting in the wings for his chance. I think the likelihood that the Denver Broncos draft a right tackle is fairly high.

General manager George Paton had said he believed in building teams from the inside out, so I would expect multiple linemen to get picked.

Scenario 4: Cleaning House

The Denver Broncos would start fresh here. How I would see this play out, is the Broncos would target a right tackle in free agency.  The free agent market for right tackles isn’t all that, but one name that intrigues me is former Packers right tackle Rick Wagner.

The Broncos would cut ties with Ja’Wuan James and Elijah Wilkinson, and pair Wagner, who has stayed rather healthy his entire career, with a draft pick.

This move would allow the Broncos to enjoy decent right tackle play, while Mike Munchak develops a draft pick into the future.

General manager George Paton has no ties to most players on the roster, so it would not surprise  me if he let certain ones go. If Paton thinks it’s better to start fresh on the right side, he won’t hesitate to make that happen.

Whatever situation ends up happening, I still believe that the Broncos will come away with at least one offensive lineman in the 2021 NFL Draft.

There are a few positions in the NFL where you cannot have too many good players, and the offensive line is one of them. The more the Broncos work with this situation, the more likely it is that it gets figured out.

If the Broncos stay at pick nine in round one, there is a very slim chance Penei Sewell is there, but it’s more likely that the Broncos would have their choice between Rashawn Slater or Christian Darrisaw, both wildly talented players.

This offensive line draft class appears to be very deep, so it is likely that the Broncos can find a stud in the mid-rounds.

So, Broncos Country, how do you think the right tackle situation will pan out?