The Denver Broncos have been one of the most active teams in free agency. They’ve made several moves to add talent and depth to both sides of the ball.
After losing starting left guard Zane Beadles to the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency, the Broncos were not quick to sign a replacement. Even though they examined several different options, nothing was decided.
However, earlier this week the Broncos made a free-agent addition to their offensive line. Veteran center Will Montgomery was signed to a one-year deal worth around $1.3 million. With Montgomery in the fold, the Broncos added another talented player that gives them more options for the offensive line.
Let’s go through the offensive linemen on the roster to decipher what their roles could be in 2014. Included are a few offensive line combinations we could see Denver try in camp in an effort to find the best group to begin the regular season.
The Broncos will get a huge boost on the offensive line with the return of All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady. He was fantastic in 2012 blocking for Peyton Manning. Clady only allowed one sack as a 16-game starter.
He started out the season strong with a standout performance against the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener in Week 1. The next week against the New York Giants, Clady suffered a Lisfranc injury. This foot injury forced him to injured reserve, and Clady missed the rest of the season.
At the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, general manager John Elway gave a positive report about Clady’s recovery. "Ryan's good. I saw him the other day," Elway said. "He finally got all of the hardware out of his foot and he's really on the mend now."
It sounds like Clady should get back to being the same outstanding player he’s always been in 2014. Even though Manning was only sacked 18 times in 2013, the line should be able to protect him even better with Clady back on the field.
Last year, Manny Ramirez played well as the team’s starting center. He started all 16 games of the 2013 season for the first time in his career.
Ramirez is a seventh-year player who has started 42-of-51 regular-season games played in his first seven NFL seasons with Detroit (2007-10) and Denver (2011-13).
He has the strength to anchor in the middle of the line. In fact, Ramirez does a fine job holding up against larger, stronger defensive tackles. Lateral movement isn’t his strong suit, so playing against more athletic defensive linemen can give him problems.
Ramirez has position versatility and can play center or guard. He came into the league as a guard out of Texas Tech. The Lions selected him in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL draft. He signed with the Broncos early in 2011, and Ramirez has worked hard to move up the depth chart.
The Broncos rewarded Ramirez last year before the 2013 season started with a three-year, $3.15 million deal that included $500,000 guaranteed. With the way he played as the starting center, Ramirez certainly was a value at that price.
After Beadles was lost in free agency, moving Ramirez was a possibility. We’re likely to see Ramirez as a starter in 2014, but at which position is a mystery right now.
The new addition has plenty of experience and a prior working relationship with coach John Fox. Montgomery played both center and guard in college at Virginia Tech after walking on as a defensive tackle.
Montgomery was selected by the Fox-led Carolina Panthers in the seventh round (234th overall) of the 2006 NFL draft. Montgomery was then signed by the New York Jets in 2007. After spending time on the active rosters with the Jets and Washington in 2008, he went on to play 77-of-80 possible games for Washington from 2009-13.
During his career, Montgomery has started 46 games at center, 10 at right guard and seven at left guard. He opened every possible game for Washington during the last three seasons, competing at center in all but two of those contests. In those 49 total games, he participated in 3,387 of 3,393 (99.8 percent) possible snaps on offense.
We should see Montgomery and Ramirez compete for the starting center job in 2014. Depending on how the battle at left guard goes, Montgomery should win the job with Ramirez moving back to his more natural position of guard.
Simply put, Louis Vasquez is one of the best players at his position today. He was added last year in free agency, coming over from divisional rival the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos acquired Vasquez and gave him a four-year, $23.5 million contract with $10 million guaranteed.
He started every game for the Broncos at right guard in 2013. Vasquez strengthened the right side of the line as a pass-protector. He also helped blast open holes for the ground game.
Vasquez was selected to his first career Pro Bowl and All-Pro (first team) after allowing zero sacks in his first season with the Broncos. During his pro career Vasquez has started all 70 regular-season games played during his career, allowing only 11 sacks and committing just three penalties on offense.
Vasquez is still at the top of his game and will once again be a solid starter at right guard in 2014.
While some speculated Orlando Franklin would be moved inside to guard, at this time he could be staying put on the right side. The addition of Montgomery seemed to have squelched any notion the team was moving Franklin inside.
His passive/aggressive tweet showing his dismay might have been a small factor as well. With buzz building that Franklin would be moved, he took to the social networking website to air his frustration.
"They say it's business, never personal. OK well I'm pissed and it just became personal. I'm betting on me, 2014 will be a great year for me."
The tweet was later deleted from his Twitter account.
For the time being, Franklin has to be considered the front-runner to win the starting right tackle position.
With Clady back from his injury, Chris Clark returns as an incredibly valuable swing tackle for the Broncos. When Clady was lost for the year after a Week 2 Lisfranc injury against the Giants, Clark stepped into the starting lineup and the offense went on to put up record-setting numbers in 2013.
Clark originally came into the league as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi in 2008. He bounced around the league a bit from Tampa Bay to Minnesota before finding a home with Denver in 2010.
He worked hard to impress the Broncos coaching staff, and Clark was rewarded before training camp in 2013 with a two-year, $3.4 million contract with around $1.1 million guaranteed.
The Broncos got more than their money’s worth with the way Clark played as a starter in 2013. He’s arguably the most important backup player on the entire roster. Clark will have a chance to compete for the starting right tackle position in 2014.
Who starts at center for the Broncos in 2014?
Last year’s sixth-round pick failed to see the field in 2013. Vinston Painter came out of Virginia Tech with the ability to play inside at guard or outside at tackle.
During the pre-draft process Painter impressed scouts with his incredible athleticism. He ran a 4.95 40-yard dash and benched 32 reps of 225 pounds at the Hokies pro day. Some thought he would be overdrafted because of these numbers, but the Broncos instead got Painter at a cheap price in the sixth round.
Painter has the functional strength to be a quality run-blocker. However, he needs to start playing with more of a mean streak to get the most out of his natural talent. As a pass-blocker, Painter has the foot quickness to keep his base against edge-rushers.
He spent 18 weeks on the Broncos practice squad in 2013. Then, the San Francisco 49ers showed interest in Painter, according to the Denver Post’s Mike Klis. This interest prompted the Broncos to find a spot for Painter on the active roster back in January.
Painter will now get to prove himself worthy of a roster spot in training camp. He’s a developmental player with the upside to be a decent swing tackle at the pro level.
The Broncos recently re-signed Winston Justice to a one-year deal. The Broncos first brought Justice to the Mile High City when they signed him as an unrestricted free agent in September of 2013.
He was signed by the Broncos after Clady was lost for the season after a Week 2 Lisfranc injury suffered in the game against the Giants. Justice saw action in four games for the Broncos during the regular season, and he was in one playoff game too.
Justice (6’6”, 317 pounds) is a ninth-year player who has started 43 games in 63 career regular-season contests. He also has played in seven postseason contests, and Justice started three of those games.
He was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles with a second-round pick (39th overall) in the 2006 NFL draft. Justice then spent six seasons with the Eagles. They traded him to Indianapolis in 2012, and Justice started 12 regular-season games and one playoff contest for the Colts at right tackle.
Having Justice on the roster gives the team valuable veteran insurance. He’ll compete for a spot on the depth chart. There’s even a chance (however slim) that he could be the team’s starting right tackle in 2014.
The former defensive lineman made the switch to the offensive line last year. Garland was a three-year starter for the Air Force Falcons, and the Broncos decided to pick him up as an undrafted free agent in 2010.
After serving his two-year military commitment, Garland came back to the Broncos and found a spot on the practice squad in 2012. The team decided to try him at a different spot when the team opened up offseason training activities in 2013.
Garland has the athleticism and footwork to play inside at guard on the offensive line. He’s facing more competition for a spot on the roster, and we’ll see if Garland can continue to impress at his new position in 2014.
Coming out of the University of Colorado, Ryan Miller was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft. The former high school star at Columbine high school in Littleton, Colo. played both right tackle and right guard during his time in college.
His ability to play multiple positions made him an interesting prospect for the Browns. He played eight games as a rookie, and Miller was looking to earn even more playing time in 2013. However, a severe concussion knocked him out early in training camp.
Miller was out for most of camp, and the Browns released him in August. He was out of football until the Broncos gave signed him to a future contract at the end of December.
Like other developmental prospects, Miller is a strong player who can contribute at different positions. The hometown hero will have plenty of opportunities to prove himself in camp with the Broncos.
The Broncos picked up Mike Farrell on a futures deal in January. Farrell entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers after playing his college ball at Penn State.
Farrell is a position-versatile player who lined up at both left and right tackle during his time with the Nittany Lions. The Steelers let Farrell go near final roster cuts last year, and he was out of football in 2013.
He’s clearly a developmental player for the Broncos. Farrell will have a chance to prove himself when rookie minicamp opens up in May.
The Broncos have had Paul Cornick on the roster for a couple of years. He came out of North Dakota State in 2012, originally getting signed by the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent. A two-year college starter at both tackle and guard, Cornick has position versatility and upside.
Cornick came to Denver in December of 2012 as a practice squad addition to take the place of Darrion Weems. He was able to compete for a spot on the active roster in training camp of 2013, but instead was released and signed to the practice squad.
Since coming out of college he’s added much-needed strength, and Cornick is worth keeping around to see if he can improve his natural skill set.
Entering his fifth season, Ramon Harewood is competing for a spot on the roster with the Broncos. He was added to the roster in January, when the Broncos signed him (and seven other players) to future contracts.
Harewood was originally a sixth-round pick of the Ravens in 2010. Coming out of Morehouse, Harewood had only played three seasons of organized football—all in college. A native of Barbados, Harewood was still learning the nuances of the game when the Ravens took a chance on him in the draft.
Surgery on both knees cost him the entire 2010 season. An ankle problem that required surgery put him on injured reserve again in 2011. He finally was able to stay healthy, and Harewood won the starting left guard job for the Ravens in camp.
He failed to develop as the team had hoped, so the Ravens let Harewood go in 2013. The Broncos are wise to take a chance on Harewood as a reserve player with position versatility.
As you can see, the Broncos have a talented group of offensive linemen. They also have different line combinations they can try in camp.
Competition is the name of the game with the Broncos. They will have a few key battles up front to keep an eye on during training camp and preseason.
No matter who wins those battles, the Broncos are set up with a strong starting core, developmental depth and valuable veteran insurance on the offensive line.
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com. Contract information provided by Spotrac.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.