Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 1/29/13
Part 5 of 9Position Breakdown and Off-Season Analysis: Offensive lineTackles:Ryan Clady, 2013 base salary: Unrestricted Free Agent: He could potentially be the biggest re-sign in the history of Broncos football.He will obviously command more than the eight years and $92 million given to Cleveland Browns' tackle Joe Thomas in 2011.It is in Denver’s best interest to sign him to a long-term deal if they wish to have stability in pass protection for Peyton Manning.Clady is consistent, but maybe not as elite as many had thought earlier.Consider this, in 2011 Clady ranked 63rd in the league in overall play, according to Pro Football Focus who factor in everything: sacks given up, pressure allowed, screen blocking, and run blocking effectiveness.His ranking two years ago is concerning, but you have to consider he was protecting an erratic mobile quarterback named Tim Tebow. Tebow was poor moving around in the pocket and was difficult to block for as he would occasionally step up into the pressure.So we can write off Clady’s issues in 2011. In 2010 he graded out as ninth best tackle in football, in 2009 he was 15th.Luckily, 2012 was Clady’s best year as a pro; great for him considering he was in a contract year. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the fourth in pass protection efficiency and fifth overall with run blocking factored in in 2012. He gave up one sack all year, which is tops in the league. He also just gave up 15 QB hurries and seven QB hits, which is very low for a left tackle.His eight penalties committed is average and his run blocking isn’t elite, but it’s enough.However, in the playoff tragedy against the Ravens he gave up two sacks, doubling his regular season total.Joe Thomas is the definition of consistent as he grades out in the top five every single season and is tremendous in the run game.Yes, Clady can still be called elite but he isn’t the best left tackle in football. Joe Thomas is year after year. The question is, do the Broncos offer the $100 million over eight years with over $50 million guaranteed that Clady will command? Is it worth it? Should they just franchise him and have him play for another contract in 2013?John Elway and staff will have to think long and hard about it. Signs point to Clady returning in 2013, but you never know when this much money is commanded. Future: Will be franchised if a long-term extension isn’t agreed upon. The tag number for offensive linemen in 2013 is $9.2 million, which is reasonable. Hopefully a holdout doesn’t occur if he is franchised. Should return to protect Manning’s blindside next season. Orlando Franklin, 2013 base salary: $771, 000: Franklin has quietly been a pillar of stability the last two seasons. He has a nasty demeanor in the run game and holds up well when the defense blitzes on the non-Ryan Clady side.He significantly improved in his second year and graded out as the 18th best tackle in 2012. On the year he gave up five sacks, five QB hits, and 17 hurries. All below average numbers for a right tackle.He did however commit ten penalties on the season which was seventh in the league for tackles. Franklin is a John Fox type player who has a very bright future. He has two more years left on his rookie contact which is priced very reasonably. The Broncos have the opportunity to secure both bookends for the next decade if they choose. Future: Starting right tackle. Chris Clark, 2013 base salary: Restricted Free Agent: Josh McDaniels claimed the former undrafted free agent off of waivers from Atlanta before the 2010 season. Clark has stuck around as the backup tackle for the last three seasons. The coaching staff of both regimes liked him enough to keep him around.McDaniels definitely wanted to develop him over time which ended up happening. Clark is very athletic, but still is a little raw. The 6-5, 300-pounder would enter the game occasionally as a sixth lineman in the power running game.And 57 times he came into the game as an extra lineman. He knows the system but hasn’t fully been tested. John Fox trusted him enough that if Ryan Clady went down, Clark would be protecting the franchise’s blind side. He should return on a one year $1.323 million original round tender. Future: Swing tackle should return to provide depth in 2013. Paul Cornick, 2013 base salary: $405,000: The 6-6, 310-pounder, former undrafted free agent out of North Dakota State spent some time with the Jets before being signed to the Broncos practice squad in December. He will strictly compete for a roster spot in 2013. Future: Camp body. Could return to practice squad if they see enough in him. Guards:Zane Beadles, 2013 base salary: $575,000: He had a Pro Bowl year and it was deserved as he was a staple in the running game. With the injury to right guard and team captain Chris Kuper, the Broncos favored the left side of the line running the ball behind Beadles.He gave up only one sack, seven QB hits, and 13 hurries all season. Good numbers for a guard in pass protection. He is another pillar of stability on the Broncos’ offensive line.The concern is how much money will he command after his contract expires at the end of 2013. Likely, at this rate, it would be top-dollar that other teams would be willing to pay.With Eric Decker, Wesley Woodyard, and Chirs Harris’s contacts expiring also, money will be short.Denver needs to think about preparing for a possible departure of Beadles after 2013. Future: Unquestioned started at left guard.Chris Kuper, 2013 base salary: $4.5 million: Kuper is a team captain and seasoned veteran who missed 11 games last year due to injuries. In the five games he did start, the Broncos were noticeably better in every aspect of offensive line play.No offense to Manual Ramirez, but Kuper plays at a much higher level. He didn’t give up a sack in the five regular season games he started or in the tragedy in the playoffs.However, he struggled mightily against the Ravens, being called for three penalties and allowing his man to disrupt Manning. He couldn’t get a push to save his life against Halota Ngata.He wasn’t the same Chris Kuper that the Broncos know. This was mostly because Kuper hadn’t played in six weeks up until the game. The rust was noticeable. Another off season to heal is vital to Kuper, who just turned 30. The Broncos need him healthy to stabilize the interior. Status: Starting right guard. Manual Ramirez, 2013 base salary: $715,000: Manny Ramirez was a luxury that the Broncos were fortunate to have. He stepped in to start 11 games for an injured Chris Kuper and played exceptionally. He stepped up and didn’t look overwhelmed at any point during the season.His pass protection was solid considering opposing defensive coordinators sent blitzes his way. He did give up six sacks on the season-tops on Denver’s line, but only allowed one QB hit and six hurries. His run blocking wasn’t very good and was obviously the weak link on the line.But for a backup he patched the hole in the line nicely and can be trusted. Ramirez could start for a number of teams but luckily he is under contract for one more year, giving the Broncos a reliable backup that can play all three interior line positions. Future: Main backup and good insurance. Justin Boren, 2013 base salary: $405,000: Boren started 26 games at Ohio State and has a lot of experience playing guard. He spent the last two seasons on the practice squads of the Lions and Ravens. Future: Will compete for a backup spot.Centers:Dan Koppen, 2013 base salary: Unrestricted Free Agent: Koppen was the unsung hero of the offensive line in 2012, bringing a veteran presence that Peyton Manning could trust, and experience. The 33-year-old who had played with Tom Brady for nine seasons, stepped in after JD Walton when down with a season ending injury and anchored the line.He started 12 games and had a good relationship with Manning. It was speculated that the signal-caller preferred Koppen to Walton because Koppen had more experience with the no huddle offense.He ended up giving up only one sack, one QB hit, and six pressures. Had Koppen not been brought in, the Broncos' line would have struggled mightily and Manning would have been frustrated with an inexperienced center.It is up in the air if the Broncos bring him back or give the younger JD Walton the reins back. Another team such as Green Bay could be in the market for an experienced center. Future: 50/50 chance of him coming back to Denver. The Broncos might want a younger guy like Walton to take over but Manning might wish for the team to resign Koppen. JD Walton, 2013 base salary: $575,000: The fourth-year pro started from day one of his rookie year until going down with a major leg injury in week four.He and Zane Beadles were seen as the future of the Broncos' interior line and both played well together as rookies. He helped the Broncos rush for a franchise record in 2011 with Tim Tebow, but those numbers are misleading.According to Pro Football Focus Walton graded out as the 31st best center in the NFL his rookie year in 2010. In 2011 he graded out as the 35th best overall center in the league.According to them he was the worst run blocker out of all centers that started in 2011, which contradicts his leadership with a team that broke the franchise’s record in rushing yards. He gave up four sacks and 15 pressures in 2011.Last year in four games he just gave up one pressure. Obviously he didn’t appeal to Manning running the no huddle and after looking at his numbers, Walton might not be the guy the Broncos thought they would have starting for them for a while.If Koppen is re-signed than Walton’s days in Denver might be coming to a close. Future: Can range anywhere from starting at center to being on another team in 2013. Phillip Blake, 2013 base salary: $405,000: The 27-year-old Canadian didn’t see the field at all last year after injuring his thumb in practice. He was the Broncos’ fourth round pick in 2012 and can play both guard and center. The former Baylor Bear was good enough that John Fox took him in the fourth round even though young center JD Walton was seen as the starter for now and the future.It’s always good to have a decent player developing and Blake has extra value because he can play both guard and center. Future: Should make team as the backup center. Could wind up being the center of the future for the Broncos. Overview: Denver has a major financial decision to make pertaining to make Ryan Clady the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. Losing him would be crippling and a major risk for the team. Clady is consistent enough but the question is; is that worth $100 million plus?Chances are the Broncos franchise him and go from there. Orlando Franklin is one of the best young tackles in the game and should remain so. Beadles and Kuper are set at both guards positions for at least another season.The center situation will be interesting and should dictate how much Peyton Manning trusts or does not trust JD Walton. If it is the latter and Koppen is resigned, Walton might as well be done in Denver. Phillip Blake might be the Broncos future at center.Denver is unlikely to sign anyone in free agency if they retain Clady and Koppen. There would be a mad scramble if Clady left because Chris Clark isn’t the answer you want to give Peyton Manning.The Broncos should at least draft a young tackle to compete with Clark for the backup spot and to prepare for a possible departure of Orlando Franklin in 2014. It’s a small investment with little risk. The team could very well have their offensive line set for the next five years if Clady returns. It is a definite strength for the orange and blue moving forward.  
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