Reassessing the Broncos Offensive Line, where do PUP/IR come into play?

Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE

With the signings of both Steve Vallos and Ryan Lilja, along with the loss of Dan Koppen and the uncertainty of J.D. Walton/Chris Kuper, it's time to take stalk of the Broncos depth chart and make sense of all this new information.

How I think it will play out

POS

Starters

Utility Backup (G/C)

Backup Center

Swing Tackle

Practice Squad Bound

LT

Ryan Clady

Steve Vallos

Ryan Lilja

Chris Clark

C.J. Davis

LG

Zane Beadles

Vinston Painter

Quentin Saulsberry

C

Manny Ramirez

Phillip Blake

RG

Louis Vasquez

RT

Orlando Franklin

Before discussing the starting Center spot, you have to assume the Broncos will be taking at least 8 OL to the final 53 man active roster. Last year they took 9, so that is also a possibility. Originally I was of the opinion Vinston Painter could be stashed on the practice squad--I still think he can be. However a couple other staffers expressed concern that he may be snatched up off waivers. My position is that the physically gifted Painter is still a bit raw and more of a project player. Clark has been the one to take reps with the 1's as Clady gets eased back into action and should be the frontrunner for that role.

Regardless, I'm looking more at Steve Vallos eventually becoming that utility interior lineman that could easily pop in and play both center and guard. With Lilja, especially with the lateness of his signing and the lack of his bulk I fully expect him to either challenge for that starting center role or be the backup. He isn't brought in here to be the backup or utility Guard.

As far as the other three guys, it speaks volumes that the Broncos have gone to such lengths as to entice Lilja out of retirement. Multiple sources providing daily training camp updates thus far have failed to mention those players except when noting their struggles. Long way to go for sure, but those folks are on the bubble. Saulsberry and Blake will clear waivers to the practice squad, CJ Davis needs to earn a spot as his PS eligibility has expired.

Ryan Lilja Starter?

That raised a lot of collective eyebrows on twitter. The total value of that contract on a one year deal is definitely starter money. The vet minimum for someone in their 9th year in the NFL would be approximately 840K, about a third of what Lilja could make in 2013. Any incentives however are likely tied to snaps/playing time and possibly even performance which simultaneously gives Lilja some incentive to push for the starting job and provides the Broncos with flexibility. I'm going to speculate that his base salary is more than the minimum, perhaps in the 1.2-1.4 million range with the remainder available through playing time incentives and possibly even performance escalators.

Even if his base salary is in the range I suggest, I think it would be fine for him to remain on the roster as a backup player. Walton was plan A, Manny was plan B until he returned, Koppen was plan A when Walton suffered his setback, and Manny became plan B when Koppen went down. Lilja is now plan B to Manny. The biggest concern people should have with Lilja at this point is the dude was retired up until today. Is he even in shape? Probably not. Manny is going to get a good long look as the starter and Lilja will be ready by the time the Broncos figure out whether or not Manny is a viable option as the starter.

Where does that leave Walton and Kuper?

In my mind one would always be placed on the PUP list--perhaps Kuper, and Walton would be placed on the Injured Reserve/Designated to return list. Here is a quick primer on both procedures:

IR/Designated to Return

- A "major injury" is one that makes a player unable to practice or play football for at least six weeks.

- A player with a "major injury" who is placed on the IR list are eligible to be reactivated later in the season.

- The designated player is eligible to return to practice if he has been on IR for at least six weeks from the date he was placed on that list.

- The designated player is eligible to return to the active list if he has been on IR for at least eight weeks from the date he was placed on that list.

Via insidefootball.com

Players with fewer than four years of experience who suffer a season-ending injury are subject to waivers before they can be added to the injured reserve list. This was put into place to discourage teams from trying to stash young talent on injured reserve.

A good (or bad as was the outcome) example was the Giants' decision to try to slip tight end Jake Ballard through to the injured reserve list. Because Ballard had less than four years of accrued experience, he was subject to waivers. We know what happened when the Giants tried to slip him through.

Also worth noting is that no team can issue the temporary injured reserve designation until the first week of the season. So let's say a key starter suffers an injury in training camp that's going to keep him out for part of the year. The team can slap the "Designated to Return" or temporary injured reserve tag on him if there is a better than 99% chance he'll be better later in the year.

PUP List

There are two designations for the PUP list, Active, and Inactive.

Active

A player is placed on the active PUP when they can't pass the physical before the start of training camp. This player counts against the active TC roster, but that player also is allowed to attend meetings. A player placed on this can more easily be transitioned from active to inactive PUP and wouldn't have to face the possibility of being poached off waivers if placed on IR.

Inactive

A player is placed on the inactive PUP after the last roster cutdown date and DOES NOT count against the active roster. A player put on the inactive PUP must stay there for a minimum of six weeks.

There were some new changes in the Physically Unable to Perform rule this past spring (via ESPN):

Commencing on the day after the conclusion of the sixth regular season weekend (October 15) and continuing through the day after the conclusion of the 11th regular season weekend (November 19), clubs are permitted to begin practicing players on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform for a period not to exceed 21 calendar days. Pads and helmets are permitted during the 21-day period. At any time during the 21-day practice period, or prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the day after the conclusion of the 21-day period, clubs are permitted to restore such players on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform to their Active/Inactive List.


Before the change, players on PUP lists had until the ninth regular-season weekend instead of the 11th to resume practicing. The change means teams can now push back by two weeks the opening of the 21-day practice period. A player on the PUP list entering the regular season could make his regular-season debut as early as Week 7 or as late as Week 15 under the new rules.

There is no limit on how many players can be placed on the PUP or IR, but only one player placed on IR can be designated for return. The players placed on any of these lists (except for the pre-training camp active PUP) will NOT count against the active roster number.

Both Kuper and Walton were placed on the Active PUP prior to training camp, and both can be transitioned easily to the Inactive Pup once the final cutdown has occurred.

Basically what all this mumbo jumbo means is that the best course of action for the Broncos in regards to JD Walton and Chris Kuper would be to place both on the Inactive Pup to start the season. That would give the Broncos the flexibility to return either of them to the active roster between weeks 7 and 15. Once they return, the Broncos would have to make other moves on the roster to facilitate their return.

Wrap-Up

The 5-starters are pretty set in my mind. Lilja will have to be eased in physically before he can challenge Man Ram for the starting spot. Look for Vallos to be the utility interior lineman, Clark the swing T, and Blake/Saulsberry/Davis/Painter to be stashed on the practice squad.

Kuper and Walton will likely start the season on the PUP--eligible to return between weeks 7 and 15 of the regular season, and one could possibly put on the IR (designated to return).

Any questions?

No more injuries please.....GO BRONCOS!!!

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