In 2019, the Denver Broncos had $30.8MM of cap space invested in the offensive line. The vast majority of that was tied up in two players: Ja’Wuan James and Ronald Leary. James had a cap number of 8 million in 2019 and Leary had a cap number of 9.3 million. The Broncos were 24th in OL spend in 2019. That was 22nd as a percentage of offensive cap spend.
At some point before May the Broncos will have decide what to do with Garett Bolles. The team could pick up his fifth year option since he was a first round pick. The team could also sign him to an extension if they feel like he should be the starting LT for three, four or five more seasons in Denver. Has his play warranted his retention by the Broncos? Let’s look at his performance in 2019 relative to other starting offensive tackles. All of this data is freely available from Elias (sacks allowed - through the Washington Post website), www.nflpenalties.com and www.pro-football-reference.com (penalties and snap counts).
This is just pass blocking (although many of these holding penalties could have been incurred on running plays). While I would have liked to use total pressures allowed by offensive lineman, that data is still not freely available. PFF has it behind a pay-wall. So if you really want to dig more deeply into this, feel free to pay their membership fee and have a look at total pressures allowed. Just don’t publicly share that data - they don’t like that.
This analysis will be a rate-based performance analysis: Snaps divided by the sum of holding penalties and sacks allowed. So a higher value is better. There were 67 players who started at least eight games at offensive tackle in the NFL in 2019.
|Rank||Offensive Tackle||Team||Which Side||G||GS||Offensive Snaps||Holding Penalties Called||Sacks Allowed||Snaps/(Sacks + Holds)||Snaps/sack|
Elijah Wilkinson and Garett Bolles were two of the worst in the league by this analysis. If you go only by snaps/sack, Bolles was 31st and Wilkinson was 64th. There were four starting offensive tackles who did not allow a sack in 2019 and two of them played for the Saints: Ryan Ramczyk, Terron Armstead, Mitchell Schwartz, and Ronnie Stanley. It should be noted that two played LT (Stanley and Armstead) and the other two played RT - the differentiation between RT and LT is much less than it used to be. For those players who allowed zero sacks, I used 2000 as the snaps per sack value since you can’t divide by zero.
Of the OT’s in the top 10, the Broncos could have obtained the services of four of them. Ramcyzk was the second OT drafted in 2017 when we drafted Bolles. Duane Brown was obtained in a trade by the Seahawks.
October 31, 2017: Traded by Texans with 2018 5th round pick (141st overall, Shaquem Griffin) to Seahawks for 2018 3rd round pick (80th overall, Martinas Rankin) and 2019 2nd round pick (54th overall, Lonnie Johnson)
The Seahawks did not have to give up too much in draft capital to obtain Brown. Schwartz was signed as a free agent by the Chiefs in the same off-season that we signed Donald Stephenson to play RT. Trent Brown was signed by the Raiders as a free agent during the off-season last year. He got a four-year deal worth 66 million with 36 guaranteed from the team that used to reside in Oakland. Brown’s cap hit for the Faiders will be 21 million in 2020, which will make him the highest paid RT in the NFL. James’ cap hit for 2020 is 13 million for the Broncos. Both James and Brown are in the top five in terms of highest paid RT’s in the NFL.
Garett Bolles will be the Broncos starting LT in 2020 barring injury, but that does not mean that Broncos should not plan for the future. Should the Broncos pick up his 2021 option? I say no. Let’s see how he has progressed (or not) during his three NFL seasons.
Bolles has played almost every offensive snap for the Broncos over the past three seasons, starting all 48 games. There are not many offensive tackles who can say that. Being able to avoid injuries is a skill that Bolles undeniably has.
Bolles was called for holding ten times in 2017, nine times in 2018 and thirteen times in 2019. That does not look like progress to me. He allowed 8.5 sacks as a rookie, 3.0 sacks in his second year and 4.0 sacks in 2019. Among just LT’s Bolles snaps/(sacks+holds) value of 59.7 was 33rd out of 35 in 2019. Looking at snaps/sack allowed and comparing him to other starting LT’s he was 19th out of 35. That means he was average in terms of sack rate allowed, but if you factor in holding penalties he was one of the worst starting LT’s in the league. So he has only progressed to average if he has progressed at all.
Can the Broncos do better? Sure, there will be a premium offensive tackles available at 15 in the 2020 draft, but does it make sense to use that pick on a LT when Bolles and James should be the starting LT and RT for the Broncos in 2020 (health-permitting)? I am going to say no, it doesn’t make sense. There are other needs on offense and one of them is wide receiver. This draft is loaded with talent at wide receiver and Drew Lock will be helped much more by getting another talented WR for him to throw to, than by using our first round pick on an offensive tackle that most likely will sit in 2020.
There is an argument that can be made to draft an offensive tackle in the first and play him at guard in 2020 with an eye to moving him to LT in 2021. I fully expect that Broncos to decline Bolles option for 2021. If Bolles makes a quantum leap in 2020 and starts playing like a top-tier LT, which could happen, then the Broncos will look really stupid for having NOT picked up his 2021 option. Bolles will then make a large sum of money as a free agent LT. Teams tend to overpay for mediocre free agent talent at premium positions like LT. If Bolles plays like a top-tier LT in 2020, he deserves to make a load of cash. I just hope it’s another team that gives him that cash, not Denver since I would be worried about him regressing after his free agent season (once he got paid).
I don’t think Bolles will make that quantum leap in 2020 - but I’m sure that someone in Vegas is willing to take a prop bet on it, if you want to waste some money.
FWIW there are some highly talented LT’s who could be free agents in 2021: Alejandro Villanueva (who Munchak trained in PIT), Ronnie Stanley, David Bahktiari (who played at UC), Trent Williams (who will be fairly old at that point), Cam Robinson, Taylor Decker and our old friend Russell Okung (who will also be old at that point)
What should the Broncos do about LT for 2021 and beyond?
This poll is closed
pick up Bolles’ 5th year option, then re-sign him and keep him in Denver
pick up Bolles’ 5th year option, but let him walk after that
Do not pick up his 5th year option and draft his 2021 LT replacement in the 2020 draft
Do not pick up his 5th year option, but do not spend a day one or day two pick on OT in 2020
Do not pick up his 2021 option and then sign a not-Bolles free agent to play LT in 2021 and beyond.
some other option