COMMENTARY | Games are decided in the trenches. The battles up front on every play throughout the year often dictate which teams will find success and which will toil in relative mediocrity during the season.
And while the Denver Broncos offensive line has already proven to be one of the most talented groups in the league, a slew of injuries and a high-profile offseason contract issue had prevented the unit from working together this offseason as they prepare for training camp, which kicks off next week.
The team had until July 15 to ink starting left tackle Ryan Clady to an extension. With the sides working diligently in the days leading up to that deadline to work out a deal, an agreement was reached to bring the team's blind side protector of quarterback Peyton Manning back for another five seasons. The deal is for five years and $52.5 million dollars ($33 million guaranteed). An incentive within the contract could boost Clady's payday to $57.5 million if he's twice named an All-Pro. Clady has previously been named an All-Pro twice in four years.
With their starting left tackle back in the saddle in Denver, do the Broncos boast the best offensive line in the NFL?
In June, the team learned that Walton will miss at least half of the upcoming season dealing with an ankle injury that required another surgery this offseason. To address the void Walton's absence will have on the interior line at center, the team signed veteran Dan Koppen. Koppen was brought in last season when Walton was initially injured and the ten-year veteran filled in respectably in Walton's absence, playing in twelve games. But should Walton be ready to return to the gridiron at full health before the season ends, the starting job is likely his for the taking.
This season is also the last on Walton's contract, so the young center would have a strong motivation to play well, prove himself to be one-hundred percent healthy, and earn himself a long-term deal.
Beadles made dramatic improvements at left guard last season, elevating himself into a Pro Bowler. Franklin also took a big step forward into a more well-rounded blocker at right tackle, and Vasquez comes over from the San Diego Chargers after four seasons of strong guard play. In his career, Vasquez has been called for a penalty only once, and in the last two seasons he allowed only three sacks.
Last year's unit had the league's lowest percentage of quarterback sacks allowed (3.4%), but ranked near the bottom of the league in yards per rushing attempt (3.8 yards per carry). This offseason the team has released veteran running back Willis McGahee, the team's leading rusher in 2012, and expect Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, and Knowshon Moreno to split reps during the season. But the performance of the line will determine whether those three backs find success (and running lanes) during the campaign.
Andrew Majors lives in Denver and is an award-winning journalist who has previously worked as a sports editor, columnist, and freelance digital publisher. You can follow him on Twitter @AndrewMajors.
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