Did the Denver Broncos Get Free Agency's Biggest Steal in Guard Louis Vasquez?

Jon Heath@http://twitter.com/JonHeathNFLContributor IMarch 18, 2013

(Photo courtesy of the team/@DenverBroncos on Twitter)
(Photo courtesy of the team/@DenverBroncos on Twitter)

The Denver Broncos made headlines early in free agency by signing a handful of notable players, Pro-Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker among them.  But Denver's signing that has been talked about the least may have been the most important one by the team.

We've agreed to terms on a contract with guard Louis Vasquez. He is a big, powerful player who adds a physical presence to our OL.

— John Elway (@johnelway) March 12, 2013

The team's first order of business was locking up offensive guard Louis Vasquez (6'5", 335 pounds) to a four-year, $23.5 million deal that includes $5 million in guaranteed money, according to spotrac.com.  Paying him an average of $4.7 million per season, the Broncos may have secured the biggest steal of free agency.

Vasquez is only 25 and was ranked No. 24 among 70 guards in Matt Miller's B/R NFL 1,000 series.

According to @pff, Louis Vasquez ranked 13th among all NFL guards in overall productivity in 2012, including 9th in pass blocking.

— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) March 12, 2013

The Broncos brought in Vasquez to help protect quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver without overpaying him, something the Tennessee Titans failed to do with guard Andy Levitre.  The Titans will pay Levitre $46.8 million over a six year period—an average of $7.8 million per season (nearly double what Denver is paying Vasquez).

This is par for the course in Denver since John Elway took over as the team's executive vice president of football operations two years ago.  Elway's knack for bringing in top-tier players without breaking the bank already has him in the running for Executive of the Year for a second consecutive year.

Louis called it a "no-brainer" to sign with Denver, which could be considered a knock against his former employer, the San Diego Chargers.  The Broncos are obviously the team to beat in the AFC West after going 13-3 in 2012 and sweeping the AFC West, making them an attractive designation for free agents.

Denver's OL allowed 21 sacks last season (the second-fewest in the NFL), while Vasquez allowed 2.5 sacks as a Charger (fewer than any other of San Diego's starting offensive linemen).  The Chargers' four other offensive linemen allowed a combined 46.5 sacks in 2012, as Vasquez provided the best protection for quarterback Philip Rivers.

By signing Vasquez, Denver has bolstered their line while crippling rival San Diego's front five.

Elway: 2.

Tennessee and San Diego: 0.

Louis was in on 1,057 snaps last season and was one of just three starting guards in the league to play all of 2012 without being penalized, according to Denver's Patrick Smyth.  In Denver, he will likely replace the oft-injured Chris Kuper.

Kuper is Denver's starting right guard, but injuries caused him to miss all but five starts in 2012. Manny Ramirez started in his absence, allowing a team-high 6.5 sacks.  Expect Ramirez to be retained for depth, but with a $4.5 million 2013 salary, Kuper may be on his way out of Denver.

Upgrading their offensive line and stealing a rival's rising star without overpaying like Tennessee did, the Broncos' addition of Vasquez was arguably the team's most important signing since bringing in Manning a year ago.  Moving forward, Manning will continue to be well protected and the Broncos still have cap room to work with.

Elway strikes again, much to the delight of Broncos Country.


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