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2016 NFL Free Agency: Mitchell Schwartz would be a good fit with the Denver Broncos

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It is clear that the offensive line is seriously lacking depth, so that either gets fixed in free agency or the draft. My hope is that John Elway attacks the problem in both.

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, the offensive tackle position was maligned from almost day one when Ryan Clady went down for the season. From there, things only got worse as rookie Ty Sambrailo was also lost for the year leaving just Ryan Harris, Michael Schofield and Tyler Polumbus to hold the line.

Though it was a disaster, the Denver Broncos somehow emerged with a Super Bowl 50 victory due almost entirely to the play of their otherworldly defense. The tackle position is something John Elway is going to have to address in free agency and the 2016 NFL Draft. Let's take a look at one of the better options to bolster the offensive tackle position heading into the 2016 regular season.

Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz

Name: Mitchell Schwartz
Position: Offensive tackle
Height: 6'5"   Weight: 320
Age: 26   Experience: 5th 
College: California

Mitchell Schwartz was drafted in the second round by the Cleveland Browns in 2012 and has had himself a solid career so far, posting career high PFF grades in both pass blocking (+13.0) and run blocking (+3.7) in 2015. Overall, he has only put up a single negative grade in any of his four seasons with an impressive cumulative grade in pass blocking (+30.9) and a respectable grade in run blocking (+4.9).

Schwartz is the fifth best tackle as rated by Pro Football Focus is also the best rated right tackle in this free agent class. He is also remarkably durable having started all 64 games of his career.

One underrated quality is his intelligence, having even taken a few agents to task over player contracts on Twitter. All in all, Schwartz should command a large contract at the right tackle position. He should end up in the top five in the NFL in terms of pay at that position in a few weeks. At the right tackle position, the Broncos would be looking at a five year deal somewhere between $30-35 million according to Over the Cap.

Broncos offensive tackle situation

The situation is not as dire as it was a month ago, but it is clear that the team is still one injury away from disaster if they don't do something to improve the depth at the tackle position. In 2015, Ryan Harris was the 60th best tackle in the NFL as ranked by PFF. He was also the best tackle on the Broncos roster, even though he graded out a little lower than Michael Schofield.

That's right, every team in the NFL almost had two tackles that played better than the Broncos best tackle. To demonstrate how bad things were and why it probably played a huge part in the Broncos offensive woes, let's look at the PFF grades for the tackles who played a majority of the season for the Broncos in 2015.

PLAYER SNAPS TOTAL GRADE PASS BLOCK RUN BLOCK
Ryan Harris 1224 -31.0 -14.8 -17.3
Tyler Polumbus 158 -3.1 +1.3 -4.6
Michael Schofield 1085 -29.3 -20.5 -13.0
Mitchell Schwartz 1135 +18.7 +13.0 +3.7

Half of a Schwartz would have been enough to get the job done here. Wait, maybe more. I don't know, the point is the Broncos can ill afford to enter the season with any of the three guys in that table that started down the stretch.

Why Schwartz is a good fit for the Broncos

Two words: Ryan Clady. That's why. Clady has seen his play degrade over the last three seasons due to injuries, but with a full year to heal heading into 2016 he could be an interesting option at left tackle if he is willing to restructure as reports have suggested. If that happens, then the Broncos might have some wiggle room in the cap to target a guy like Schwartz who is projected to be one of the highest paid right tackles in the NFL.

For those of you who think Clady is done and should be discarded as soon as possible, let's compare his run blocking grades under the zone blocking scheme under Mike Shanahan to the power run scheme that John Fox implemented.

YEAR SNAPS TOTAL GRADE RUN BLOCK SCHEME
2014 1156 -6.5 -5.6 POWER
2013 146 -1.8 -2.5 POWER
2012 1235 +28.2 +5.6 POWER
2011 1213 -10.1 -9.9 POWER
2010 1073 +21.4 +12.6 ZBS
2009 1096 +24.4 +13.0 ZBS
2008 1078 +12.7 +8.3 ZBS

That's at least intriguing enough to me to want this contract restructure to work. It would also afford Ty Sambrailo some time as a backup to come in and learn the ropes. He definitely struggled as a rookie, though not nearly as much as those who filled in for him after Sambrailo was sent to injured reserve.

Final thoughts

What it comes down to for me is depth. Schwartz has proven durability and is still quite young. His teammates love him to the point where Joe Thomas thinks the Browns will be in dire straights if they let this guy go. Pairing him with Clady will afford the Broncos a bridge to a point in the future where Sambrailo can take over the starting left tackle position.

The only alternative would be to draft a left tackle in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. There is no way the Broncos could afford to go after one of the few quality left tackles on the free agent market, so they either roll with Clady and a top tier right tackle with Sambrailo backing them up or they roll the dice on a rookie left tackle in 2016.

Frankly, the safer bet would be the proven veteran.

So I say, may the Schwartz be with us.