In the first 48 hours of free agency, the Broncos addressed their biggest weakness and need: offensive line.
John Elway went on a mini spending spree, dropping more than $16 million for the 2017 season on the additions of guard Ronald Leary and tackle Menelik Watson. To put that in perspective, the other ten offensive line players currently on the payroll for next season are set to make a total of $12 million.
This mini “shopping” spree had Vance Joseph go as far as to place his confidence in the newly built offensive line.
“Our goal was to fortify our offensive line and defensive line in free agency, and that’s been done, guys,” he said after the signings of Leary and Watson and defensive lineman Domata Peko and Zach Kerr.
However, while the line may be fortified and stronger than it was before free agency, the largest hole remains vacant: left tackle. The Broncos’ brass didn’t back down to this, in fact addressing the blind side hole openly.
“Well [the left tackle position is] still open and we’re not done,” Elway said. “Watson’s played some left tackle. We are going to take a peak at Stephenson there. We feel like we have some different options. We aren’t done yet. Last time I heard we don’t go to camp until July, so we don’t have to have that fixed just yet. We will figure out how to get that done.”
Although Stephenson and Watson are classified as right tackles—and have played on the right side for the majority of their career—they will both get a shot to earn the starting role on the opposite side.
“Watson has played some left and so has Stephenson, so we got some options there,” Joseph said.
After a disappointing first season with Denver at right tackle, Joseph sees the potential that Stephenson has. So much so that Joseph believes Stephenson has what it takes to play at a more crucial, difficult position on the left side.
“He’s an athletic guy that’s played some left tackle in the past,” he said. “Maybe a new system, maybe a new coach that he can go out and play for. He's a guy, when you watch his tape, he does flash great ability and that’s left tackle. That’s the basketball footwork guy; he’s got those skills to play left tackle.”
However, while the idea of Stephenson at left tackle may leave Broncos Country uneasy, Denver isn’t only going to look at options that are currently on the roster, and there’s plenty of time left according to Joseph. When asked if there was still time to find someone in free agency, Joseph responded, “Absolutely.”
“There are going to be guys released from their football teams from now up until the season,” he said. “It’s a work in progress, but there’s still time between free agency and the draft.”
If Elway and Joseph don’t find their left tackle before the end of April, they could turn to the draft. However, with a weak tackle class, Joseph wants to use caution taking that approach.
“[The left tackle draft class is] not as deep as it has been in the past,” he said. “There are three guys that are probably surefire first-round picks. After that it’s going to be flaky, so we got to be careful there.”
With four months left until the start of training camp, there is still plenty of time for Elway and Joseph to find their next left tackle. While the starting quarterback may not be known until preseason, there is no guarantee that the left tackle will be any different.