The Denver Broncos are going to have two glaring holes along their offensive line if the unit isn't addressed during free agency. Ronald Leary is not being retained and it seems the Broncos are content with letting Connor McGovern test out the market.
In what will be the final article in our free-agency analytics series that started with the skill positions, then defensive backs, and lastly front seven players, the study on O-line indicates that the Leary decision is smart, but the McGovern decision is not.
This continuation of the analysis will answer the same two questions that were answered in the previous articles that included the skill positions and defensive backs.
Namely, at what age does a player’s performance rapidly decline? Does it vary by position?
The next series of graphs include running backs and wide receivers from a prior analysis to use as a comparison for the offensive linemen in this article.
The first graph depicts the average Performance Value by age. Offensive linemen peak at 28 years old, but they don’t rapidly decline the following season. OL have five consecutive years near their peak Performance Value starting at age 25.
(Note: only ages with at least 15 players who played at that age are included in the below graph)
The next graph is a scatter plot depicting every player in the data set, at every age they played and the difference from the mean (average) at their position for each of those ages. OL enjoy a longer and more productive career as they age and there are many examples of several players with a Performance Value greater than the position mean after age 30 and even a handful in their mid-30s.
The next part of the analysis compares a player to his own performance throughout his career. In this part of the analysis, each player is compared to his mean (average) performance over his entire career.
The following graph is another scatter plot that shows each player by his age and the difference in his Performance Value for that season versus his mean.
OL can have performance above their mean well into their 30s. At 30 and 31 years old, the number of blue dots on the graph is equal to the number of orange, which is more evidence that OL don’t have a rapid decline right after their peak.
The next graph depicts the difference in a player’s Performance Value versus his mean (average). OL may not have as high of a peak as the two skill positions shown, but they tend to have a more productive career over a longer time period.
It is interesting that OL is the first position group that returns to their mean performance at age 35. Meaning that OL who last into their mid-30s are usually still productive.
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What it Means for Broncos
Since OL typically maintain their performance until 30 or later, it isn’t as large of a risk to sign a free agent to a contract at 27 years old. That player will be a good investment over the next three years, the data reveals.
This is the issue with letting McGovern test the market. He is 26 years old (27 when the season starts) and his Performance Value has been above the average the past two seasons. He is a player on the rise, not decline.
It is more likely McGovern's performance will get better over the next three seasons than get worse. He was reliable last season and had no accepted penalties. As a 16-game starter who didn't miss a snap in 2019, letting him walk would be a mistake — based on the data.
Furthermore, who will replace McGovern? Austin Schlottmann is a potential replacement, but it is a significant risk to replace a quality starter with a player who has started only four games in his career.
Schlottmann may become a solid player, but it’s still a risk. Patrick Morris is another option, but he has even less experience.
There are a few options on the free-agent market, but they are going to command similar money to McGovern. Using the NFL Draft to replace McGovern is another risk. Based on the graphs above, it typically takes a season or two for an OL to become a productive player.
Re-signing McGovern makes sense and the Broncos will be rewarded for their investment.