The offensive line had to get better.
For far too long, it's been the "other kind" of offensive. Yet somehow, the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl with that offensive offensive line.
That shows you how special the defense was this season. With no help from the offense, the Broncos still won the Lombardi Trophy.
In order for Denver to repeat, it must rid itself of the offensiveness. The offense must improve. The best way to make that happen is to make the line better.
John Elway succeeded in a major way.
With the addition of left tackle Russell Okung, the Denver line is far superior to what it was a season ago. The makeover started around a week ago with the signing of Donald Stephenson. Add the return of Ty Sambrailo from injury and Broncos Country should feel excited about this unit and what it's capable of.
John Elway, 2/25, re: OL: "Obviously, that’s an area where we need to get better. That’s going to be a focal point for us this year."— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) March 17, 2016
As it stands now, the Broncos' line looks like this:
Russell Okung, left tackle
Max Garcia, left guard
Matt Paradis, center
Ty Sambrailo, right guard
Donald Stephenson, right tackle
For those who claim "Elway overspent," Okung's deal is actually structured as a one-year, $5 million deal, with a team option for the final four years at $12 million per year. That means this is all on Okung. If he performs, he gets paid. If he doesn't, Denver moves on.
Since last offseason, Elway and Gary Kubiak have said they want guys to compete. If you want to get on the field, you earn it. If you want to stay on the field, you earn it. Nothing is given when you play in Denver.
This deal is more proof of that.
Of course, now the inevitable debate ensues: Is Okung worth it?
Based on this deal, duh. Elway and the Broncos got him for less than Ryan Clady, even if Okung earns his $3 million in incentives to push the first year to $8 million. Clady's cap hit for 2016, according to overthecap.com, is $10.1 million.
In terms of play, there's no doubt Okung is an upgrade over Clady. Yes, Okung is coming off of a shoulder injury that will limit what he can do until June. That's far better than Clady, who has missed 30 games over the last three years due to season-ending injuries. And the one year he did play, Clady was awful.
Okung, meanwhile, started all 72 regular-season games played, as well as 12 playoff contests at left tackle during his first six NFL seasons with Seattle, according to a news release from the Broncos. A Pro Bowl selection in 2012, Okung has allowed the fewest sacks (20.0) in the NFL among tackles who have started at least half of their team's games in each season since 2010.
The main reason he will make the Broncos offense better is what he does in the running game.
According to the Broncos' news release, Okung anchored the Seahawks offensive line that helped the team rank second in the NFL with 135.2 rushing yards per game from 2010-15. During that stretch, the Seahawks won three NFC West titles, two NFC Championships and one Super Bowl.
Okung also is familiar with the zone-blocking scheme that Denver uses. When he was drafted by Seattle in 2010, Alex Gibbs was the offensive line coach. So needless to say, Gibbs had a say in the pick, even though he retired a few months later. Not to mention Okung is a year younger than Clady.
#Broncos getting Okung for $5 million in first year, only year guaranteed, is close to number wanted Clady. Shrewd move at position of need— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) March 17, 2016
At this point, Clady is a liability. He's been hit with the injury bug, and you have no idea what you will get out of him. Even with the shoulder injury, Okung has proven to be more durable and valuable, and if he can shake this shoulder injury without setbacks and remain healthy, there is no doubt. He thrives at what the Broncos need at this point: Shut down the left-side of that line. Paired with Garcia, those two will be fun to watch. Going into his second year, Garcia has serious potential. Now is the time to turn that into reality.
As a whole, the Denver line is far superior to what it was last season.
With only two pieces gone from the best defense in the NFL, the move for Okung makes that unit better, too. No way could the defense pull what it did last year with no help from the offense.
This addition now takes the pressure off the defense to be perfect. To do everything.
It's nice to see a Broncos offensive line not so offensive.