The Denver Broncos are preparing for their first game of the 2023 NFL season this week against the Las Vegas Raiders, and for the first time since 2018, they enter the season with someone starting at left guard other than Dalton Risner. Risner, a former second-round pick out of Kansas State, was a fan favorite early on in his NFL career mainly because of his Colorado ties. Risner calls the state of Colorado home and famously ran up to John Elway at the 2019 Senior Bowl to introduce himself and campaign for Elway to take him in the draft.
Which he did. The Broncos landed Risner in the second round after a lot of late-first round talk leading up to the Draft, and Risner seemingly had a strong rookie season. But things didn't go according to plan over the course of the next three seasons. The Broncos' offensive scheme changed a handful of times and Risner didn't progress as expected. He was supposed to be a 10-year starter for the team and a model of consistency, but we didn't really see that.
The Broncos let Risner walk in free agency despite being the team's nomination for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. They let him walk in free agency despite being a young former second-round pick and four-year starter. Part of the reason the Broncos let Risner walk was due to the fact that the level of play at left guard was simply not good enough. Another reason, although unconfirmed at this point, is the fact that Risner shoved former Broncos backup QB Brett Rypien on the sideline of the team's blowout loss to the LA Rams on Christmas Day last year.
Risner was projected to land a contract on the open market worth anywhere between $9-11 million per season. He and his wife Whitney were seemingly pretty open on social media about their excitement over a new venture in 2023, and Risner wasn't shy about talking about the Broncos in the past tense while he was still on the team.
Regardless, considering Risner's shove of Rypien was an isolated event as far as we know regarding him shoving teammates, the fact that he's available with just three days to go before the start of the 2023 regular season is staggering. This is an offensive lineman who was a second-round pick just four years ago who was a starter every year of his career. The league is starved for offensive line help. Teams can hold veterans on their practice squads.
Fair or not, it looks like the rest of the league has blacklisted Risner and it's wild that more people aren't discussing it. Risner is a starting-caliber offensive lineman in the NFL but that incident last year in Los Angeles has obviously lingered in the minds of NFL decision makers.
Will future injuries change the way teams approach his situation? Perhaps, but this has been a brutal offseason for Risner, who might have gotten at least $15-20 million in guaranteed money from some team in free agency were it not for his slip-up against the Rams.