ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Over and over, Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph said that the team’s offensive woes last season were “not just about the quarterback.’’
And now that the Broncos have agreed to a $36 million deal with Case Keenum to be their quarterback, they’ll have to turn their attention to some of those other details -- namely, their plan to protect Keenum.
No doubt, Denver's offensive line has been a weak link the past two seasons. It’s no wonder Trevor Siemian had his second consecutive offseason shoulder surgery and the Broncos cycled through three different starting quarterbacks on the way to a turnover-filled 5-11 finish.
The Broncos were one of six teams to surrender at least 50 sacks last season -- they were tied for third most in the NFL with 52 -- and none of those six teams made the postseason. The eight teams that surrendered at least 40 sacks last season didn't fare much better, with only the Bills, who were outscored by 57 points overall in 2017, making the playoffs.
In short, the Broncos' offensive line still needs attention in the second wave of free agency and during the NFL draft.
“That’s a work in progress,’’ Joseph said. “We’re still searching free agency for help at tackle, and we’ve got 10 draft picks. ... We’ve got a long way to go.’’
At the moment, the only starting positions that appear set up front are Garett Bolles at left tackle to go with Matt Paradis at center. Paradis is a restricted free agent, but the Broncos have tendered him at a second-round level, which should deter offers from elsewhere.
Ron Leary will start at a guard spot, but neither Joseph nor president of football operations/general manager John Elway has said if Leary will play left guard -- the position Leary played much of the time before the Broncos signed him a year ago -- or right guard, where he was moved last season to try and smooth out some of the Broncos’ issues up front.
Connor McGovern, a fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft, will get a long look as a starting guard this offseason. If he can be the solution at right guard, Leary could be moved back to the left side to help settle Bolles in after a choppy rookie season for last year's first-round pick.
Menelik Watson would be the right tackle at the moment, but the Broncos are still on the hunt there given that he has never played more than 12 games in any season due to injuries. He missed nine games last season.
“We're looking everywhere,’’ Elway said. “We're turning over every rock. The thing is we might have to do it free agency, but also knowing that we have 10 picks. We've got a high one and a two. We've got two threes, two fours and three fives. We'll do the best we can in free agency and try to fit everything in. We'll try and put that together knowing that we also have the draft.’’
But it may be difficult to find immediate help at tackle in this draft, with many personnel executives in the league calling it one of the leanest years at the position in recent memory. The draft is far deeper at guard, and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson leads the way as a player who is graded highly enough for the Broncos to consider with the No. 5 pick of the opening round.
Asked if he would take the unusual step of selecting a guard in the first round of the draft -- the Broncos haven’t used a first-round pick on a guard since 1977 (Steve Schindler) -- Elway quipped: “I can't tell you that. I'd have to kill you.’’
In recent days, the Broncos re-signed Billy Turner, who has worked at both guard and tackle with the team. But they still have work to do in free agency as some potential right tackles remain unsigned (Austin Howard and Byron Bell are among the most experienced).
“It’s March,’’ Joseph said. “I’ve said before, we have time and we have the draft.’’