If the Denver Broncos’ offensive tackles seemed like a mess on the field last year, just wait for the wild ride that the position will most likely take this offseason. After a season in which the entire offensive line struggled mightily, yet again, general manager John Elway may have another big shakeup in store in the coming months.
With two to three tackles currently on the roster for 2017—depending on how Michael Schofield and Ty Sambrailo are classified—there is a chance that the starting tackles on opening day will be among those that are on the roster now. However, there is nearly an equally good chance that neither, or at least one of the two, isn’t a member of the team now.
The most difficult part in figuring out what the tackle situation could look like for the 2017 season is that none of the options are straight forward. To make the messy situation a little more clear, here is a look at each individual player.
After playing the 2016 season for an underwhelming contract number—in the perspective of an NFL left tackle—the Broncos denied Okung a hefty pay raise after declining to exercise the option in his contract, thus making him a free agent come March 9.
While it is possible that Okung could be back in Denver under a new contract, it seems less and less likely that the two sides will agree to a new deal. If Okung is not back, then that guarantees at least one of the two tackle positions will change in the offseason.
Stephenson, along with Okung, is another one of Elway’s offensive line signings during the 2016 offseason that the Broncos could decide to move on from after just one year with the organization. After a very disappointing season in which he was benched from the right tackle position—he later earned it back due to the poor performance of Ty Sambrailo—the Broncos could cut Stephenson before March 13, the fifth day of the new year, and now owe him anything, however, he would have $3 million in dead money over the next two seasons.
The only problem with cutting Stephenson is it could leave Denver with little depth along the offensive line, specifically if Okung doesn’t return either. Additionally, Stephenson has played guard in the past, so his versatility is a nice option to have when the rosters are narrowed to 53 players.
On the field, the former Colorado State product may be the biggest question mark, not just on the offensive line, but on the entire team. After starting the first three games of his career in 2015 at left tackle, and playing well, Sambrailo has been a massive disappointment, in large part due to injury.
During the 2016 offseason, as he was still recovering from shoulder surgery from the previous season, the Broncos coaching staff tried moving him to guard, the position many draft experts thought he would be best fit at the NFL level. However, after another injury during training camp, and continuous struggles at both guard and tackle, Sambrailo never settled into one position during the 2016 season. Whether Denver decides to keep Stephenson, or pick up a tackle in free agency or the draft, could very well depend on if they believe that Sambrailo can live up to his second round status as a tackle.
The most straight forward player of this group, Schofield seemed to have found his best position in the NFL during the 2016 at guard. After starting 13 games at right tackle during the 2015 season, and struggling greatly, Schofield started all 16 games of the 2016 at right guard and actually did an average, to above average job.
Due to the success that Schofield had at guard last season, there would be no reason for him to move back to tackle, unless the new offensive coaching staff decides to give it a go.
Biggest question for all of this:
Does the new, experienced coaching staff think they can successfully work with this group or will they suggest a new group of big men?