Broncos sign offensive tackle Menelik Watson as line overhaul continues

Posted at 3:25 PM, Mar 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-10 18:16:21-05

DENVER -- They should have played one-on-one. Or at least  a game of horse at the Broncos' facility. 

After ditching soccer at the age of 12, Menelik Watson pursued a basketball career in England. He played semi-pro and later at Marist college as a forward. New Broncos guard Ronald Leary wanted to be like Michael Jordan. The two crossed paths in the hallway. They didn't square off, but they will be asked to providing a bruising presence in the paint if you will. 

The Broncos signed the tackle to a three-year, $18 million deal Friday, continuing the overhaul of the offensive line. A common thread connects Leary and Watson -- they play with a nasty edge. Anyone who watched the Broncos last season knows that was missing upfront. The Broncos were regularly pushed around at the point of attack.

Watson, 28, brings physicality, but his potential has been clouded by injuries. An NFL analyst summed up Watson thusly to Denver7: "Great athlete. Good feet and hands. Can't lineup every week because he's hurt."

"I have done a lot of learning the last four years," explained Watson, who has missed games because of calf, Achilles and knee injuries. "I am new to the game. We have a plan. If I can stay healthy, it can be scary."

He started 14 of the Raiders' past 32 regular season games. He plays primarily right tackle, and Denver's glaring need is on the left side. Watson played left tackle in the playoffs and struggled against the Houston Texans. Denver lost Russell Okung in free agency to the Los Angeles Chargers after declining his four-year, $48 million option. Watson could replace him. The Broncos must decide by Monday whether to guarantee right tackle Donald Stephenson's $4 million salary or absorb $2 million in dead money by cutting him. It would not be a surprised if he's released after he was benched twice last season.

"They just wanted me in the building. They wanted my energy," said Watson. "The key is to be able to mesh on the offensive line. If they are getting into something, I am getting into something. If they are throwing a punch, I am throwing a punch."

There's room for growth in Watson's game given his lack of football experience. After a hoops career at Marist College, Watson began playing football in junior college at Saddleback Community College that resulted in a scholarship at Florida State. He switched to offensive line at the behest of teammate Kyle Long in the juco ranks.

"I loved it," said Watson, who learned pass protection from Long by treating the "quarterback as the basket."

A second-round draft pick in 2013, Watson represented only the second British player ever selected. He battled injuries, but won his right tackle job back two times in three seasons. What he told the BBC two years ago resonated on a Friday when the Broncos want to toughen up their line.

"Football is a man's game, and if anyone thinks that me being from England means I am soft, then they are truly, truly, truly mistaken," Watson said. "I'm from Manchester. I am from a working family, and we were fighting on school buses and fighting to get anything we wanted."