Broncos Offensive Line Ready to Show and Prove

Getty DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 15: Garett Bolles #72 of the Denver Broncos walks off the field prior to taking on the Chicago Bears at Empower Field at Mile High on September 15, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Once upon a time, the Denver Broncos had an offensive line that was simply offensive to Broncos Country.

There were too many times when boos would drown out the public address announcer at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium after yet anther holding penalty was called on left tackle Garett Bolles, nullifying a big-yardage gain.

Penalties, Penalties, Penalties 

During his first three seasons, Bolles’s inconsistent play on the blindside was a hot topic among the faithful. Each holding penalty announced was followed by groans and consternation. And the fans’ ire, wasn’t just about the penalties, but it was the timing of the flags, usually after the inept Broncos offense executed a rare big-yardage play.

The word ‘bust’ was beginning to get bandied about, as the former 2017 first-round pick was playing his way out of Denver. Bolles had tallied 45 total penalties over his first three seasons, including 10 accepted holding calls in 2019 alone. The egregious penalties were piling up so high that the Broncos’ brass decided not to exercise Bolles’s fifth-year option prior to the 2020 season.

Paid in Full  

Instead of sulking, though, Bolles went to work. He flipped his penchant for penalties upside down, trimming his totals down to almost nil, while becoming nearly impenetrable in pass blocking. Bolles was called for just four penalties (one holding) in 2020, and yielded just a half-sack. With such drastic improvement and, hopeful signs of ascension, the Broncos handsomely rewarded him with a new lucrative long-term deal.

Bolles signed a four-year, $68 million contract extension in December 2020. His signing bonus will be prorated over the next four years with $4 million bonus-related salary cap hits from 2021-2024. His 2020 contract features a low base salary of $1 million and a cap hit of just $5 million, but in 2022, Bolles’s base salary will jump to $17 million and he’ll have a cap hit of $21 million. The following season, the Broncos will have the option to opt-out of the final two years of his contract, with an $8 million dead-money cap hit. And if the Broncos pick up the option, Bolles will have a cap hit of $18 million in 2023 and a cap hit of $20 million in 2024. Those numbers may sound daunting, but for a guy who was just named a 2020 Second Team All-Pro, and appears to be on the ascend, it’s the right price to pay.

Building and Gelling 

Bolles is now considered a top-tier left tackle, and as the leader in the offensive line room, he’ll need to raise all boats, as former general manager John Elway likens to say. The line is still a work in progress, but no longer seen as the weakest link.

Flanking the franchise left tackle is left guard Dalton Risner, followed by second-year center Lloyd Cushenberry, who played every snap during his 2020 rookie campaign. Right guard Graham Glasgow is a steady veteran presence who lines up next to 2021 free-agent signee Bobby Massie, who comes over from the Chicago Bears. Broncos Country hopes Massie finally solidifies the right tackle position following the Ja’Wuan James era. And if Massie disappoints, the Broncos have Calvin Anderson waiting. Anderson, who has been a solid fill-in over the past couple seasons as the Broncos’ swing tackle (able to play either left or right), had a spirited training camp battle with Massie for the starting spot.

There’s actually depth on the interior line, too, as Denver has been grooming two promising players in second-year guard Netane Muti and rookie Quinn Meinerz. The former has been getting rave reviews since he came to Denver, as Bolles is a fan of the former Fresno State University star. The latter, a guard/center combo, has his own following and fan base, due to the Canadian’s humble beginnings as a Division-III product, his viral pre-draft workout videos, and his nickname, “The Gut.”

A Lot to Prove 

Not everyone is sold on the Broncos’ offensive line cracking elite status just yet, however. Pro Football Focus says the Broncos’ line isn’t there yet. Although the site was bullish on Denver’s O-line this preseason, PFF still ranked the Broncos’ offensive line 21st entering this season.

PFF said “the Broncos look solid across the board, and they should improve upon their 2020 ranking with better play in one or two spots.”

And should that come to fruition, Denver’s O-line will finally be considered among the league’s elite.

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