When the Denver Broncos selected Ryan Clady with the 12th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the team knew they were getting a player who had all the upside in the world. Though a little bit raw and with concerns in his demeanor in the run game, he drew comparisons to long-time offensive lineman Chris Samuels and became the highest drafted player from Boise State and earliest investment the franchise had made in an offensive lineman since Chris Hinton in 1983.
His career started out magnificently, starting every game as a rookie in 2008 and only allowing a half sack and being charged with only three penalties. That success continued into 2009, where he had started 20 games consecutively in a two year span without giving up a full sack which was an NFL record. In 2010, he inured his patella tendon during an off-season basketball game and though he started every game that season, he did not play as well as years past but did not miss a game. The 2011 and 2012 seasons rolled on, with the latter arguably being his best since his first two in the league, but ended with a torn labrum which required surgery in the off-season.
Clady was franchised in 2013, but agreed to a five year deal worth $52.5 million dollars. A whopping total of $33 million was guaranteed over the three first years of that contract. However, the Broncos large investment didn't pay off right away, as a lisfranc injury sidelined Clady for 14 of the 16 games in 2013. In 2014, he started every game again at left tackle for the Broncos, but struggled in comparison to prior years, likely due to lingering complications from lisfranc injuries which have become the injury bane of many players in the NFL.
Then Thursday, news broke that Clady suffered another horrendous injury. His ACL is reportedly torn, meaning he will likely be sidelined for the entire 2015 campaign. His 10 million dollar salary for this season is fully guaranteed (due to injury), as well as a $1.5 million dollar roster bonus that was earned on the fifth day of the league year.
The unfortunate injury to Clady is troubling for Denver who already had a myriad of concerns on the offensive line. Now, their longest tenured player with the franchise and one of only two "sure bets" going into the off-season on the line will be shelved for the entire year.
Sadly, the slough of injuries amassed over the past several years and lack of return on their 2013 investment will likely signal the end of Clady's career in Denver after this season. The Broncos can save $9.5 million dollars in 2016 if Clady is designated as a June 1st cut and only $8.9 million dollars if he is released prior. The only saving grace for his career to continue in Denver is if if he agrees to an enormous paycut and restructure, but at this point in time, it is unknown whether or not that will be a realistic possibility.
It is plausible, but the honest assessment is that the Broncos will rid themselves of one of their most significant investments that turned out poorly due to injury in order to save cash that can be invested on potential free agent lineman in 2016. Names highlighting the 2016 free agency class at tackle are Trent Williams, Anthony Castonzo, Nate Solder and Russell Okung. However, the Broncos may be more inclined to draft a tackle early next year, given the enormous contracts the four above will likely garner.
In his seven year career with the Broncos, Clady has made the Pro-Bowl four times (2009, 2011, 2012, 2014), named an All-Pro thrice (2008, 2009, 2012) and a recepient of the Ed Block Courage Award in 2010.
If 2015 is indeed Clady's last ride with the team, I would like to thank him for all the memories and the high level of play he gave Denver during his time here. Once a Bronco, always a Bronco. All the bests to him during this time and here is to hoping he has a speedy recovery.