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By releasing Russell Okung, are the Denver Broncos crazy smart or just plain crazy?

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My No Bull thoughts on the Broncos offensive line personnel and how the front office is managing / mismanaging it.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve all heard the news at this point that the Denver Broncos aren’t going to pick up the option on Russell Okung’s contract and keep him. I’ve read the comments yesterday at MHR and saw everything from “he sucked” to “the Broncos blew it.”

It really is worth talking about all the angles of this move as I think this is the move that for 2017 is going to speak the most truth about the direction of the Broncos as set by GM John Elway and what their plan is in the short term. Are we still chasing a trophy in 2017, or is this a “reloading” season?

What kind of player are we talking about?

While Okung did stay healthy for all of 2016, he wasn’t what anyone would consider a dominant force at Left Tackle. I’m all about tying up big money in a stud Left Tackle, but that’s not what I saw out of Okung in 2016. He was a middle-of-the-pack talent as far as starting LTs in the NFL go.

But let’s not get carried away with downplaying his work, Broncos Country. I saw a few community members straight up dogging him in the comments and I don’t think that’s fair, accurate, or reasonable at all.

The guy was one of our best run blockers consistently. I would consider him average at pass blocking, and that is a pretty darn good thing in today’s NFL for a left tackle out on an island much of the time.

I do think Okung will be playing left tackle in 2017. He’s a decent NFL player who seems likely to have a number of years left in the tank.

Always Consider the Cap

The first big thing to point out is this: the cap hit over the next two years on Okung’s contract was significant. To keep him on the team, the Broncos would have been tying up ~$8 million per year over the next couple of seasons in guaranteed money.

That is a significant investment for a team with an absolute mess on their hands as far as offensive productivity goes. Also, the team only had about $30 million in cap space to begin with. A lot of teams have that much money and if Denver is going to bring in some key free agents, they will need the room made by this move in order to compete with the rest of the NFL and the current market for free agents.

There are two possibilities in play here

Either Elway and Co are clueless about O-Line personnel or they know something we don’t. Let’s dig into both of those, check out our crystal ball, and take a look at what we’ve seen in the past few years from our current GM.

Elway and Company are clueless about O-Line personnel

There’s significant reason to think that this is a valid line of thinking. Denver’s drafting of offensive linemen has left much to be desired outside of Matt Paradis in recent years. Let’s list them out here:

  • 2012 4th round: Phillip Blake (scrub)
  • 2013 6th round: Vinston Painter (scrub)
  • 2014 3rd round: Michael Schofield (may be a serviceable guard, but was drafted as a tackle)
  • 2014 6th round: Matt Paradis (top 3 center in the NFL)
  • 2015 2nd round: Ty Sambrailo (injury prone)
  • 2015 4th round: Max Garcia (jury is out)
  • 2016 5th round: Connor McGovern (jury is out)

The jury may be out on McGovern, but the rest of this draft history is fairly depressing as far as actual results go. We won the lottery with Paradis, but outside of that, we don’t have a lot to speak of as far as starting NFL talent goes with these picks.

Part of me thinks that Elway and his staff just don’t value talented offensive linemen. Maybe they think you can just rotate some guys through year in and year out and win on offense with a superb QB who either gets the ball out crazy fast (Peyton Manning) or will use a big arm and athleticism to protect the ball (Paxton Lynch maybe?).

The other angle that has me scratching my head here is the lack of depth on the team today for tackles. Take a peek at what we have right now on the roster. Donald Stephenson, ladies and gentleman and Ty Sambrailo aka “The Fence Post Tackle.”

Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot, Over?

Are we planning to kick Michael Schofield back out to tackle? I mean he technically can play the position. Maybe Elway lost a bet with Khalil Mack that we don’t know about?

With a draft that looks very thin at left tackle talent and a free agent pool loaded with aging overpriced veterans, why in the world would we cut Okung loose?

Elway and Company know something we don’t

This is partially my Broncos hope scratching and clawing at something to hold onto, but maybe Elway and Vance Joseph have a plan for our horrendous tackle situation.

Maybe the new and modern offense we will run will make the difference.

Maybe there’s a trade in the works just waiting to drop.

Maybe Denver has a couple of tackles in this draft that they really like and think they can get at good spots in the draft.

Maybe Ty Sambrailo is the future and we just don’t understand how seriously injured he was last year in the midst of all his experimentation with a double-dip derriere blocking technique he’s been perfecting for years.

But seriously, Elway has been one of the most spectacular GMs of the past 5 years. He’s had far more hits than misses with his moves in comparison with other GMs. The one thing you can bet on is that he isn’t making this move without solid plans behind it.

So what do you guys think?

I personally have to think that Elway has a few plans he can execute on that will help make our offensive line great again. But what does this move say about us rebuilding vs going for the ring? Is there a guy on the team we’re not talking about that is going to provide a big answer for the Broncos? Hit up the comments and tell me what your take is what I think is one of the most significant moves of the Denver offseason.