It's nearly unfathomable to think that Garett Bolles was extremely close to never being in the position he now finds himself in.
Prior to the start of the season, the Denver Broncos elected to not pick up the fifth-year option on the contract of Bolles. This meant that the former first-round pick (No. 20 overall) in the 2017 draft was left with an extremely uncertain future.
The decision came as no shock through his first three years in the league as he had largely underperformed. A massive amount of holding penalties combined with inconsistent play had the Broncos considering taking a tackle in the first round of last years NFL draft.
Ultimately, GM John Elway bet on Bolles and took Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy in the first round, clearing the way for Bolles to start at left tackle this past season.
Now at the conclusion of the season and it's extremely safe to say that Elway made the right choice to hang onto Bolles. He delivered one of the best seasons by a tackle in Denver history en route to being named a 2nd team all-Pro by the Associated Press.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bolles did not allow a single sack all season. Among all tackles who played at least 800 snaps, no one finished with a better pass-blocking grade.
But just how far did Bolles come from the struggles early on in his career? After three consecutive seasons where there were at least 10 accepted penalties against him, Bolles was only whistled for four in 2020.
“Nobody likes to get booed, and so I took that upon myself to get better,” Bolles said. “I do whatever I can, you know, I worked hard, I put on 20 extra pounds, I did whatever I could to make myself better, the best version of me, moving forward because I know this is a very important season not just for me but for my family. This organization is counting on me to be the best version of myself and I knew whatever I had to do this offseason to get myself ready I did.”
A lot of Bolles' turnaround isn't completely out of the blue.
He came on strong towards the end of last season under the tutelage of offensive line coach Mike Munchak. With Munchak returning for this previous season, the first time Bolles has had the same position coach in back-to-back seasons, it was expected that he would take a step forward. Albeit, nobody saw this much progress being made.
"That’s huge for me. Me and Coach Munchak have a really great relationship. We talk regularly during practice, before the game, after the game, just trying to get me better,” Bolles said. ”I’m just looking forward to our relationship continuing to get better. I trust him, I believe in him, I know he believes in me and I’ve just got to do everything that I can to make him know that he can trust me.”
Combine the tutelage of Munchak and all of the hard work Bolles put in during the offseason, not using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse, he entered camp in the phenomenal shape.
It all paid off when he signed a massive contract extension worth as part of a 4-year, $68 million deal.
Now at $17 million annually, Bolles will be the fourth-highest paid left tackle in the NFL, behind Green Bay's David Bakhtiari ($23 million per year), Houston's Laremy Tunsil ($22 million) and Baltimore's Ronnie Stanley ($19.75 million). It should also be noted that each of those players protects some of the top quarterbacks in the game, while it differs on a week-to-week basis regarding who Bolles protects.
"I just think it was keeping him in there and just letting him play," Denver head coach Vic Fangio said. "I think that's the key decision and the key moment was letting him play through, letting him continuously improve. He did improve last year as the season wore on and he had a great offseason this year, albeit under duress with the situation. He did come back in great shape, great mindset. I would think too probably that with it being his contract year that helped him get motivated. We're trusting him that he's going to keep that same mindset moving forward.”
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