Broncos Should Trade for Vikings OT Riley Reiff | Here's Why
With a new child, Denver Broncos starting right tackle Ja'Wuan James is making the right decision for him and his family. Ultimately, I don't blame him for that.
As bad as it hurts losing James, can you imagine what it would be like if the Broncos were dealing with uncertainty at the left tackle position to go with the uncertainty at the right position? Say what you want about Garett Bolles, but he is available every game and has played over 1,000 snaps in each season he's been in the league.
It has allowed a flourishing partnership and consistency to develop on the left side of the Broncos O-line, with Dalton Risner, to such an extent that moving Risner could have a detrimental impact on two players, and have an overall negative impact, even if it benefits Elijah Wilkinson.
It's reasonable to expect some sort of jump from Wilkinson and Bolles in Year 2 under venerated O-line Coach Mike Munchak — though that is complicated by the offensive coordinator scheme change — and the fact that Wilkinson is best suited to play guard or the swing tackle role. If Wilkinson can focus his energies practicing at one spot during training camp with a view on playing mostly right tackle, there is some hope that he will able to play faster especially when it comes to recognizing his pre-snap keys which should limit some of the holds.
The hope is that as Wilkinson trusts what he sees more and trusts his technique, he can improve. Traits like poor foot speed will hinder him but Wilkinson is in a contract year as a restricted free-agent and will be unrestricted heading into the 2021 season and will surely have a point to prove.
On the other hand, the biggest issue isn't necessarily the starting play at tackle. Wilkinson is at this point something of a known quantity. It's the depth, which was an issue even before James opted out.
With the college football situation in flux, to say the least, trading for a known-quantity veteran might not be the worst approach to solving the Broncos tackle woes. One player that could make sense is Riley Reiff of the Minnesota Vikings.
Granted, Reiff doesn't seem like the most exciting candidate, but he has graded out at close to an average-level tackle, but the ninth-year veteran is a known quantity. The Vikings drafted Ezra Cleveland to be the tackle of the future, and in a normal offseason, he would probably have a great chance of competing for the left tackle spot.
Per Over The Cap, Reiff carries a $13.2 million cap charge in his age-32 season, and a $13.95M cap charge in 2021. If the Vikings were to trade him, it would cost the team $4.4M in prorated signing bonus still yet to hit the cap over the next two seasons but would free up $8.8M in cap space this season, and $11.75M in 2021.
It would represent another big increase in the resources that the Broncos are allocating to the tackle position, especially considering that the team is tied to James in 2021 to the tune of a $13M cap hit, but Reiff has had experience at right and left tackle, and Bolles will be a free agent following this season. Moreover, the NFLPA and the NFL reached an agreement that the cap will be a minimum of $175 million next year, which allows the teams to better plan for their free agency and offseason approach heading into next season.
The Broncos can look to restructure/extend Reiff's contract for maximum cap benefit in 2021, perhaps by tacking on an additional year, and converting some of his 2020 or 2021 base salary into a signing bonus that would then prorate over the remaining years of the contract. It does remain to be seen how chief negotiator Rich Hurtado will mesh with Elway when it comes to managing contracts and the cap over time, but a restructure for Reiff would make sense. Players want some sort of guaranteed money in their contracts.
One of the biggest reasons why I am an advocate of a move to acquire Reiff — and granted, there are a lot of moving parts — is that it does much to raise the floor of the tackle room moving forward. In a year where there is so much uncertainty, with the entire college game in a precarious situation — trading capital for known quantities might not be the worst idea.
Even a second-rounder might not be worth less than usual. I would happily trade a third and maybe a future fifth for Reiff. The Broncos could still open up their draft approach to focus on acquiring talent, and do what the team did in 2018, 2019, and 2020 and let the draft come to them.
Denver could prioritize its board to chase a tackle early, but with a veteran like Reiff, the team wouldn't have to. There are a few promising tackles with a good body of work in the college game.
Carl Dumler has made an excellent case for signing free-agent OT Demar Dotson, who wouldn't bring much to the running game, but is an excellent pass protector. He played in over 1,000 snaps for Tampa Bay last year, and brings that veteran presence that would be very useful for a young offense led by a young quarterback.
The Supporting Cast Behind Wilkinson
While draft pedigree isn't everything, the Broncos tackle room currently consists of Bolles in the final year of his contract, a soon-to-be 29-year-old former seventh-rounder in Jake Rodgers, and four UDFA guard/tackle types. This group would benefit from a veteran presence.
Another important concern is with the Broncos declining Bolles' fifth-year option, and with Wilkinson penciled in at right tackle, the 2021 tackle room now consists of James and three UDFA guard/tackle types. Calvin Anderson and Quinn Bailey do have some promise, though the guard room will have Austin Schlottmann hitting restricted free agency.
If there's one thing that GM John Elway has shown during his front-office tenure, it's that he does continue to address needs with a variety of methods, and that it isn't for a lac, of trying. In the draft, Elway has used increasing capital on the likes of Phillip Blake, Michael Schofield, Vinston Painter, Ty Sambrailo, and Bolles, which reveals the GM's approach of using the third day for developmental players, day-two picks for shorter-term needs, and a day-one pick where those second-day guys didn't work out.
Elway has tried the free-agent approach, and the results have been mixed at best. The big problem — especially in its first wave — is that veteran tackles who are allowed to hit the open market are overpaid compared to their talent level.
The better bargains come around roster cut-down time across the NFL, when the draft is long in the books and teams have started to fill out their rosters and make plans involving certain players. A veteran who knows what he is doing and can adapt to new situations very quickly has value, and the Broncos should move to get such a veteran now.
Of course, the best-laid plans of mice and men, often go awry. Elway has done a good job scouring the practice squad, utilizing the waiver wire, and he knows when to go for a trade. If an approach hasn't panned out, he will continue to explore different avenues, and isn't afraid of trading capital for the right price.
If the Broncos were to address tackle via trade, it would be a useful and prudent move. The Broncos No. 1 aim has to be fielding a competitive team while Drew Lock is on his rookie deal, and Elway must do what he can to build around him and give the young quarterback the resources he needs to be successful. That starts at right tackle.