Peyton Manning is officially a member of the Denver Broncos, to the tune of five years and $96 million. Now that the deal is done, Denver is getting down to addressing positions neglected during the pursuit of the coveted free agent quarterback.
With Denver having shelled out almost $20 million per year for the next half-decade, the organization needs to bring in personnel to protect that investment. Denver's offensive line is not known for being one of the better pass-blocking groups in the league and could be a roadblock to success for Manning in a Broncos jersey.
Where the issue starts is at the middle of the line with center J.D. Walton. Drafted in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Walton has been a disaster at center since day one.
Infamous for several poor snaps in his rookie season that led to turnovers, Walton graded out among the league's worst starting linemen in 2010. The organization hoped that the performance was simply growing pains for a young player adjusting to the NFL.
After a sophomore campaign that saw Walton grade out as the worst center in the league according to Pro Football Focus, the organization should be looking for alternatives if Denver's pass-blocking unit is to become more solid for the pocket-passing Manning.
The answer to the situation lies right in front of Denver executives' eyes: Jeff Saturday. Manning's longtime center with the Indianapolis Colts, Saturday has been one of the best centers in the league for much of his career.
Last season was no exception, as Pro Football Focus graded Saturday as the fifth best center in the league once again.
Were Denver to combine Saturday with a line that already features veterans Ryan Clady and Chris Kuper, third-year Zane Beadles and second-year Orlando Franklin the offensive line would be a much more efficient unit in the pass game.
All but Franklin are capable pass-blockers, and Franklin showed increasing ability to effectively pass-block as the 2011 season progressed. The weak link in 2011 was clearly Walton, evidenced by the defenders that would rush through the middle of the line towards the passing-challenged Tim Tebow and eliminate any sense of pocket presence that existed there.
The addition of Saturday would shore up the offensive line for the next several seasons until Saturday finally calls it quits. Until then, Denver would do well to work with Walton and determine whether he could ever develop into a viable starter in the NFL or whether they should move on without him.
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