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Broncos' free agent wishlist figures to include right tackle

McGary, Taylor, McGlinchey among tops available. Or should Denver re-sign Anderson?
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Posted at 2:19 PM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-07 17:54:56-05

DENVER — From Interstate 25, a wandering eye can see the massive project on the south side of the Empower Field at Mile High. As part of $100 million in upgrades, the Broncos are building the fourth-largest scoreboard in the NFL. The new scoreboard will measure 72 feet tall by 225 feet wide, and it will be 31 feet taller than the previous model.

The construction extends to the on-field roster as well.

The Broncos have suffered through six straight losing seasons — their longest skid since 1963-72 — and own a 5-16 record in their last 21 games. Even with a proven coach in Sean Payton and a better staff, realism must be part of the conversation. The Broncos were not very good for reasons that went beyond a head coach over his skies and a nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback experiencing a stunning regression.

The Broncos need better players. I do this drill when writing my Friday game preview stories, asking how many of the Broncos starters would the opposing team take. The number remains remarkably small after All-Pro cornerback Pat Surtain II, safety Justin Simmons, defensive end Dre'Mont Jones, when healthy, running back Javonte Williams, receiver Jerry Jeudy if considered a No. 2 target and for the COVID-season left tackle Garett Bolles.

The Broncos, as expected, did not franchise tag Jones on Tuesday. The likelihood of Jones leaving increases as soon as he hits free agency on Monday, where NFL combine buzz predicted he could receive $19 to $20 million per season as a rare interior pass rusher. Could Arizona's Zach Allen become his replacement?

This drives home my point. The Broncos require upgrades, perhaps as many as five new starters offensively and likely two on defense. This can be done in multiple ways through the draft and free agency. Free agency hits first on Monday at 10 a.m. mountain time with the NFL's legal negotiating window opening. Signings can become official at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Broncos have $9.5 million in cap space, but could create more with the release of center Graham Glasgow ($3 million in dead money), cornerback Ronald Darby ($3 million in dead money), running back Chase Edmonds (0 in dead money) and nose tackle Mike Purcell ($300K in dead money). This could create roughly $30 million in additional space under the $224.8 million cap. And, as I have said multiple times on my podcast and on Denver7, the team could explore — if it isn't already — trading receiver Courtland Sutton with Tim Patrick, a similar player, expected to return healthy from ACL surgery.

There is a possibility the Broncos will look to restructure the contracts of Simmons, Bolles, outside linebacker Randy Gregory and nose tackle D.J. Jones.

The point? The Broncos will have money to maneuver, though they might not be involved in the first-wave signings, the NFL equivalent of overpaying for a car on the showroom floor.

For today's exercise, I look at the options at right tackle in free agency:

Right tackle
The Broncos' opening day lineup could feature three new starters from a year ago with left guard Dalton Risner potentially exiting in free agency — there's been no movement on a new contract with Denver — Glasgow cut (he beat out Lloyd Cushenberry, who was not activated when healthy) and no right tackle on the roster. I would consider keeping Calvin Anderson. He is open to returning to Denver and believes he could contribute, but the Broncos have not prioritized keeping him, leaving it more likely he signs elsewhere as a free agent. The Broncos should monitor Cam Fleming's market, and bring him back if he remains lonely on the market. But he profiles better as a swing tackle.

So that leaves the Broncos needing their eighth new Game 1 starter in eight years.

Who are the top free agents?

Jawaan Taylor, Jaguars, 6-5, 312, 25 years old
Taylor is appealing for many reasons. At 25, he is five years younger than Bolles. He hasn't missed a start in four years, and showed improvement as a pass blocker last season for a Broncos team that allowed an NFL-worst 63 sacks last season. Taylor, however, is not a strong run blocker, consistently graded down. Pass protection is valued more at this position, but you need functionality in the ground game. The Broncos desperately need stability at this position. But Taylor will get well paid on the market as is so often the case. Spotrac projects a four-year, $56 million deal, and typically more than half is guaranteed. He is not a polished product, but offers a potential long-term solution to finally stop the carousel of madness.

Kaleb McGary, Falcons, 6-6, 306, 28 years old
McGary had his fifth-year option declined as a first-round draft choice and responded with a career year. There was some speculation that the Falcons might place the franchise tag on him Tuesday, but they declined. Few tackles in the game grade better in the run game. He is physical and nasty. And it is notable how much he improved in pass protection last season, though part of that is likely the result of a run-heavy offense. McGary will command a similar contract to Taylor. However, he makes the strongest case as the most complete right tackle when I talk to former NFL linemen who have evaluated the film.

Mike McGlinchey, 49ers, 6-8, 310, 28 years old
McClinchey has experienced highs and lows with the 49ers, criticized for some forgettable sacks, but also consistent in the run game as a five-year starter. He missed eight games in 2021, though durability has not been a question. There are those that believe he has benefitted from playing for the 49ers, whose run scheme is elite and puts players in the best position to succeed. So does he have more value in San Francisco than elsewhere? It's a fair question when the market demands you pay solid players top-of-the-market money.

Others to consider:
Calvin Anderson, Kelvin Beachum and Cam Fleming.
Anderson, who turns 27 this month, should have played more last season so the team would have a good read on the talented player with great feet. Instead, the Broncos got caught up in the Nathaniel Hackett-Billy Turner experiment, which would have made sense if he were healthy. Anderson started seven games and could provide a low-cost solution to allow the Broncos to spend more for interior linemen, which are critical in Payton's offense.

Kelvin Beachum, who turns 34 in June, is a solid pass blocker. Has been for a decade. But is that what Payton wants at a reasonable price? Or does he want a mover in the ground game?

Fleming played well for the Broncos, especially given how much he played. He is a solid swing tackle. Keeping him makes sense, but as a backup.