The rumor mill is cranking out buzz by the second with the NFL Draft only three days away. The Denver Broncos have been tied to multiple rumors over the last two weeks, most of which include a trade-up of some sort in the draft.
The question in any prospective trade-up would be — who's the target? Some rumors have it as one of the 'Big Three' wide receivers, while others have it as one of the 'Big Four' offensive tackles.
Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer floated the rumor a week ago that the Broncos are one of a handful of teams trying to move up to land an OT. Breer provided additional context in a Monday column.
I think Garrett Bolles is on the way out in Denver. We’ve mentioned the last two weeks that the Broncos could be looking at trading up—and that it might be for a lineman, even though they’d like to address their receiver need as well. And a big part of that, again, is the likelihood that the team could move on from 2017 first-round pick Garrett Bolles, who started 48 straight games for Denver at left tackle. Bolles, who turns 28 in May, has fought through issues with penalties, and hasn’t lived up to expectations over three seasons, and it probably doesn’t help that he was drafted three offensive coordinators ago. It’s possible he becomes a reclamation project for one on the seemingly endless list of teams that go into this week’s draft looking for offensive line help.
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Undoubtedly, Bolles' future in Denver currently hangs in the balance — it just depends on how you look at it. Entering his fourth season, he's waiting to find out whether the Broncos will exercise his fifth-year option, which would keep him around through the 2021 season.
GM John Elway has said that he plans on waiting until after the draft to make that decision. And there's a reason why.
If the Broncos land an OT, especially in round one, Bolles' fifth-year will not be picked up by the team. Breer's 'on the way out of town' comment offers intrigue but little by way of insight.
Are the Broncos using Bolles as a bargaining chip in their pre-draft negotiations to trade up? Is the ex-first-rounder in danger of being straight released? The latter is obviously highly implausible, not only because of his draft pedigree but also because he finished off his third season with momentum.
One of the reasons the Broncos pursued Mike Munchak, first as a head coach candidate, and finally as the O-Line Coach was to salvage Bolles' development. From Week 9 on last season, there is empirical evidence that Munchak's influence on Bolles finally had a galvanizing effect on his performance.
That doesn't remove Bolles as an option to be traded but he's almost certainly not going to be released. So, if Breer is hearing Bolles is on his way out, the only plausible explanation is that the Broncos are shopping him.
Will Elway find any takers? Maybe. At the right price? Almost certainly.
The question will come down to what value Elway is willing to take in order to trade Bolles. Bottom line, though, without a sure-fire starting option to plug in Bolles' place, procured of course via the draft, it's a moot point.
The Broncos don't have another starting-caliber OT on the roster, outside of Ja'Wuan James, and he'll be needed on the right side of the line. Elijah Wilkinson believes he will be afforded the opportunity to compete for the left tackle spot this year, and even if true, competing and winning that job are two different things entirely.
Wilkinson was terrible at right tackle last year, relinquishing 10 sacks while being penalized six times. What evidence is there that he'd fare any better on the left side? None.
If Elway's wide receiver machinations have indeed been a smokescreen to camouflage an intent to land one of the top OTs in the class, Bolles could very well be on his way out as Breer predicts. However, I'm more inclined to believe the WR hype than the OT hype, based on what I've been told.
Never say never, but I'll be surprised if Thursday night's first round ends without the Broncos landing a top WR. And if that's how it shakes out, odds are, Bolles survives another year as the starter, though it by no means guarantees the Broncos pick up his fifth-year option.
If it's a WR in round one and an OT like Boise State's Ezra Cleveland, USC's Austin Jackson, or UConn's Matt Peart in round two? That might give Elway the courage needed to officially pass on Bolles' fifth-year, giving the team all of 2020 to get that rookie OT developed with an eye toward succeeding Bolles at left tackle in 2021.
Only time will tell.