The Denver Broncos have struggled for several years to concoct an offensive line that has played with any level of consistency. Injuries have played a big part in the unit’s lack of performance the past few seasons, but the coaching and development of younger players has also been worrisome.
Sticking true to his belief and investment in the trenches, Sean Payton zeroed in on two prized free agent targets by signing right tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Ben Powers. By doing so, the Broncos eliminated two major needs heading into the 2023 season.
But how does the rest of the offensive line look? Let’s take a closer look at those on the roster and what we can expect from them this coming season.
Garret Bolles, Mike McGlinchey, Cam Fleming
It seems like forever ago that the Denver Broncos selected Garret Bolles out of Utah in the 2017 NFL Draft. After playing in only five games in 2022, he is set to embark on his seventh season in the NFL at the age of 31.
Fans are definitely rooting for Bolles to return with a clean bill of health and endure success this coming season. If the Broncos offensive line is going to catapult into a Top 10 unit in the league—consistency from #72 is critical.
In my eyes, he has been an average performer most of his career outside of being recognized as an All-Pro in 2020. He has one more year left on his contract after this season, but the Broncos could save $16 million in cap (with only $4 million in dead money) if they cut or trade him after the season is over.
Unless he has a very good season, I would guess that the Broncos will choose to move on from him.
Starting opposite of Bolles is prized free agent Mike McGlinchey. The Broncos signed him to a five-year deal on the first day of free agency. Everyone across Broncos Country hopes he can be the solution to a revolving door that has existed at the position for ages. If not, his contract is essentially a two-year guarantee with minimal dead money incurred in ‘25 and beyond if things didn’t work out.
McGlinchey has graded out consistently as a Top 10 run-blocking tackle, but has hovered around average as a pass blocker. I’m hoping to see some major improvement on the latter, but if he performs consistently with years past, that will still be better than what Denver has fielded for most of the past decade.
Denver’s swing tackle is long-time veteran Cam Fleming. Bringing him on a one-year deal for the Broncos was a smart move. He played well when given the chance last season and has experience at both spots over the course of his career. It’s hard to ask for much more than that with your starting swing tackle, so I’m really glad he is back in the fold.
Reserve players fighting for the final tackle spot include Isaiah Prince, Christian DiLauro, Demontrey Jacobs, and Alex Palczewksi. I don’t like the idea of having any of them on the final 53-man roster due to lack of experience. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s an area the Broncos look to address when final cuts are being made. Perhaps a better player with more experience will be available then.
"In the five years that I’ve been tracking this data, no team has spent more in an offseason than the Denver Broncos did this year. The net +$23.6 million was slightly more than the net +$23.1 million that the Bills spent in 2019."https://t.co/6tNkphdhO3— John Paulsen (@4for4_John) May 30, 2023
Ben Powers, Quinn Meinerz
The Broncos signed Ben Powers to replace Dalton Risner. He earned a four-year deal and is a quality run and pass blocker known for being a tenacious brawler on the interior. That’s a significant upgrade to Risner at left guard, who had failed to impress after having a good rookie season and still hasn’t signed with another team.
Opposite of Powers and entering his third season in the pros is Quinn Meinerz. Meinerz impressed fans immediately due to his penchant for bulldozing opposing linemen and has steadily improved with more reps and playing time. ProFootballFocus had him graded out as a Top 5 guard in the NFL, who was a brute in run blocking and a player who was coming into his own as a pass blocker as well.
In my opinion, the starting guard tandem of Powers and Meinerz is great on paper, but he also has a chance to be one of the best duos in the league. Great play by those two will certainly help whoever wins the starting job at center.
For depth, the Broncos have Kyle Fuller and Quinn Bailey slated as the incumbent backups. Henry Byrd and Will Sherman are two other players who will have a chance to earn a spot on the final roster. In my opinion, those two would be better served for continued development on the practice squad.
Overall, I’m not impressed with the depth at guard. If Powers or Meinerz would get hurt and miss time, relying on Fuller or Bailey to start games seems a bit problematic.
Lloyd Cushenberry, Luke Wattenberg, Alex Forsyth
Fans who were expecting the Broncos to spend big in free agency and replace Lloyd Cushenberry were a bit frustrated and perplexed when that never came to fruition.
For now, it appears Denver’s new coaching staff is going to give the former third-round pick every opportunity to earn the starting job again—a role he has had since a rookie. That seems logical to me considering who they have behind him, but there is no doubt Cushenberry has to be more consistent if he wants to see a second contract with the Broncos.
Battling for a backup role are second-year player Luke Wattenberg and 2023 seventh-round selection Alex Forsyth. I wasn’t a big fan of Wattenberg coming out of the draft for a variety of reasons and he didn’t look too good in the limited reps he saw last season. I honestly don’t think there is much developmental upside there.
However, I do think that Forsyth was a good selection at the end of the draft for Denver. He has starting potential, but I think he is going to need at least a season of development before he is ready to truly challenge for the top role at the pivot.
Hart’s Position Group Grade: B
By adding McGlinchey and Powers, the floor of the Broncos’ offensive line increased dramatically compared to last season. Both are absolute maulers in the run game and Denver should have no problems improving their consistency in that regard when the bright lights turn on this upcoming season.
I’m optimistic Bolles will have a good season, but his status with the team beyond 2023 remains uncertain. Additionally, I believe that competent guard play will help Lloyd Cushenberry become a more consistent player, but whether or not he plays well enough to merit a contract extension after this season remains to be seen.
My biggest concern for the Broncos’ OL unit isn’t their starters—it’s their lack of depth, especially on the interior line. Maybe they find a way to snag some depth before their 53-man roster is solidified during the cutdown process. We will just have to wait and see.