Mile High Roundtable: Identifying Broncos' Best Option at RT to Overcome Ja'Wuan James Opt-Out

MHH Staff

The Denver Broncos have to fix the offensive tackle position. Some media and many fans pounded the table for the Broncos to do anything possible to secure one of the top tackles in the 2020 draft. 

Others were asking the Broncos to go to the free-agent market and secure a player like Jack Conklin or trade for a player like Trent Williams. None of those things happened, leaving the Broncos with three starting options — Garett Bolles, Ja’Wuan James, and Elijah Wilkinson. 

With James deciding to opt-out of the 2020 season, alarm bells are sounding at Broncos HQ as the team's decision to virtually ignore the offensive tackle position this past offseason is now coming back to bite them and could derail the season.

The Broncos are not completely out of options, as crazy as that might seem. None of the potential solutions to the glaring right tackle hole are going to bring in an All-Pro-caliber type talent, but the team could put a band-aid on the problem and hope it holds together for one season. Today, the Mile High Huddle crew goes around the table to find the right solution to the Broncos right tackle woes and preserve the 2020 season's prospects. 

Keith Cummings (@KeithC_NFL)

The Broncos have been blindsided by the developments with the costly James decision. Band-aid-caliber help is out there but will not be particularly youthful or cost-effective. 

Donald Penn could be an option to perform swing tackle duties, even at 37 years old. Oh, what John Elway wouldn't do to secure Jason Peters right now.

Carl Dumler (@CarlDumlerMHH)

The one option that I can't get behind for the Broncos as the team moves forward at the tackle position and that is doing nothing. Even if the Broncos are banking on Wilkinson and Bolles to start, the team still needs a quality swing tackle. Looking at the options inhouse, there is no one that brings any kind of confidence that they could accomplish much if called upon for game action. 

When it comes to the current free-agent pool, there is one name that really sticks out to me — Demar Dotson. He started 15 games last year in Tampa Bay on one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Dotson was not perfect by any means, but I've watched a few of his games and he holds his own better than anything the Broncos fielded at the right tackle position last season. He's unlikely to cost much and brings a veteran presence to a young offensive unit.

The other option is the Broncos calling up the Pittsburgh Steelers to see what Chukwuma Okorafor would cost. He spent his rookie year working with Broncos O-Line Coch Mike Munchak when he was in Pittsburgh and showed some real promise in college, even though Okorafor didn't pick up the game of football until his junior year of high school. 

Adding Okorafor would be a huge risk, but at one point, Munchak told his former team to pull the trigger on this kid so he must see something in him. I'm not sure what it would cost to acquire him via trade, but I'm also not sure what the 2021 draft will offer up with so many college players opting out of the 2020 season. Draft picks might not be as valuable as years past and Okorafor could offer some future upside with him only being 22-years old.

Thomas Hall (@ThomasHallNFL)

In dire straits, the Broncos may decide to fill the void in-house with hopes that the team will hit pay dirt with one of the young options on the roster. It's slim pickings on the street with signs pointing to possible aging vets like Donald Penn or Jared Veldheer. 

Either way, a once-promising O-line just took a staggering body blow. Elway is probably not going to take a huge chance on a young unproven player and go with a familiar face. Veldheer recently retired and based on social media posts, he has already lost a lot of his playing weight.

Chad Jensen (@ChadNJensen)

What a pickle. Unlike the cornerback position, relying on the unproven youth on the offensive tackle depth chart to rise to the occasion does not feel like a winning solution. Necessity is the mother of invention, which means the Broncos are going to have to get creative because outside of Cordy Glenn, there aren't any quick-fix solutions on the free-agent market. And even Glenn is less-than-ideal. 

Although I doubt it happens, if I were in those coaches meetings, I'd be advocating to kick Dalton Risner over from left guard to right tackle. Risner was a stud at right tackle for multiple years at Kansas State and meets all the size/measurement requirements to hang at the NFL level. 

Two downside risks present themselves when it comes to moving Risner. One, any team is loathe to risk upsetting the apple cart by risking derailing the momentum of a promising young player. Risner had his ups and downs as a rookie but started all 16 games at left guard. He established an impressive foundation with which to springboard off of in Year 2. 

The other risk is upsetting the chemistry Risner has built playing next to Bolles. Bolles really showed improvement down the stretch last year and while I'm inclined to attribute it more to the insertion of Drew Lock at quarterback and the coaching impact of Munchak, having the steady presence of Risner playing next to him likely played some role in the turnaround. 

If Risner did get moved to right tackle, the Broncos have several in-house options to plug in at left guard, including Wilkinson, who started seven games at right tackle in 2018 where played the best ball of his career. Austin Schlottmann would also be an option. It's a pick your poison proposition. Would you rather your O-line weakness be inside at left guard or on the edge at right tackle? Based on the plague the right tackle position has been to the Broncos offense over the last few years, the answer is self-evident. 

Nick Kendell (@NickKendellMHH)

The Broncos seemed to gamble on the tackle position this offseason, failing to address it in free agency and the draft; and so far that decision is coming up snake eyes. Even with Wilkinson coming off the PUP list, Denver’s options at tackle are dire. 

Given the not-so-secret rumors that the team is in financial hardship, with plenty of cap space but lacking actual cash to spend, Denver might be most prudent to simply roll over the cap savings from James this year to cover his costs next year. If the Broncos can find a warm body to start at right tackle for no more than $4 million, the team should look, but the lack of cash and then thin market likely means no big moves are imminent.

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Bob Morris (@BobMorrisSports)

While there are several free-agent options available, none are that appealing. However, Jeffrey Essary of Mile High Report had an interesting suggestion. Chris Hubbard lost his starting right tackle job after the Browns signed Jack Conklin and he renegotiated his contract. Hubbard wasn’t particularly good in 2019, but he has played for offensive line coach Mike Munchak before, so he wouldn’t have much of a learning curve. 

The Broncos should certainly talk to the Browns to see if they are interested in dealing Hubbard. If not, Cordy Glenn may be the best free-agent option, because he's just 28 years old and has had experience at multiple positions. Otherwise, the Broncos are likely to ride it out with Wilkinson and hope for the best.

Luke Patterson (@LukePattersonLP)

Is anyone in Broncos Country really surprised that James will not be available in 2020? While nobody could have predicted a global pandemic, I respect James' right as a man to opt-out of the season under the newly-amended CBA. My biggest frustration comes with Wilkinson moving back to right tackle. 

Much like last year, Wilkinson will be playing an unnatural position. The NFL is anything but fair or forgiving. The biggest miss in the rear-view mirror must be that Denver decided not to draft an offensive tackle this past spring. I'm not a fan of moving Dalton Risner at all. Risner at left and Graham Glasgow at right guard will assist rookie Lloyd Cushenberry as the projected starting center. 

The interior of the O-line is intelligent and strong.  Bolles is the incumbent left tackle and for this season, is not going anywhere. There are many questions surrounding James' heart and the love of football. However, this is a decision James had to make as a man with a family and that should be respected.

Lance Sanderson (@SandersonMHH)

I've said it multiple times over the past several months, and it especially bears repeating after the news today: the right tackle position is the biggest liability on Denver's offensive line, not Bolles. Whether that was the unknown health condition of James or the inconsistency of Wilkinson, right tackle was a massive question mark heading into 2020. 

This is certainly a much different scenario than James having the injury bug strike yet again and while I don't blame him for his decision, Denver desperately needed James on the field this year. It sounds like the Broncos are looking in-house first when it comes to plugging this hole. 

Wilkinson, Jake Rodgers, and Quinn Bailey are going to have to battle to sort it out. I'd rather see Elway utilize some of the cap space that was freed up by James opting out, but options are thin. The aforementioned Dotson and Glenn look to be the best options available, possibly even Veldheer, the former Bronco.

Erick Trickel (@ErickTrickel)

While this isn't my favorite option due to moving so many pieces, moving Risner may be the best road for Denver to put their best five out there on the O-line. He played the position at a high level in college and is frankly better than the depth pieces the Broncos currently have. He possesses natural tackle traits, unlike Wilkinson. 

To fill in at left guard, Denver can look to Wilkinson, a natural guard, Schlottmann, Patrick Morris, or even the rookie sixth-rounder Netane Muti, if he is cleared medically to play. Simply put, the Broncos have more options to replace Risner at left guard than they do at right tackle without plugging in a natural guard at right tackle, who was terrible there in 2019. 

Signing an outside player is an option, but with the salary cap poised to be reduced in 2021, it might be better to save the money to help limit that impact. It's about getting the best five out there, but also in putting players in the best position to succeed and moving Risner is the best way to achieve that. It's not ideal, but it's the best solution available to the Broncos.

• Carl Dumler organized this article. 

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Comments (15)
No. 1-14
BuckinBronco
BuckinBronco

It's not ideal but I agree with Chad and Erik. Move Risner over to RT, plug Wilkinson in at LG.

broncofan55555
broncofan55555

Have to agree Buckin. Risner's the man.

Sinceiwasalilboy
Sinceiwasalilboy

Is Zimmerman an option ?

orangeNbluethroughx2
orangeNbluethroughx2

While its not ideal for Risner to move, it's what is best for the team. Interior depth is good. I will feel good with Wilkenson or Muti at Left guard for one season.

Brew77
Brew77

This right here is why most everyone out there was left scratching their heads at why the Broncos didn’t take a Tackle in this past draft. The position was already thin and now with Mr Quitter enjoying his free money the Broncos are left with a decision that so far none sound that great. We already know Wilkinson shouldn’t be a consideration it was already tried with less than stellar results. Moving Risner over only weakens the interior line because they don’t really have anyone to replace him and I’m sure they are wanting Risner and Glasgow to help in Cushenberry’ progress in learning Center. Maybe Jake Rodgers or one of the other lesser known guys can step up but here we are once again just like the past 4 years scrambling looking for an answer at RT so far none of the solutions has worked so I’m not too optimistic they will find one this year.

Tommy108
Tommy108

Preparing for Elway's presser saying they are excited about some of the young guys on the roster, Wilk played well last year, and there will be an open competition with Jake Rodger and the stunt double for Grizzly Adams.

broncoseer
broncoseer

A second year under Munchak's guidance will be good for every one of these linemen and greatly help Cushenberry and Muti's development. Don't rule out Wilkinson et al being much improved this year. I think it's highly beneficial to keep Risner next to Bolles. Cush between two strong,established guards. There is a reason why interior DL pressure is so coveted, it wrecks an offense(see Chris Jones). We have a great interior line developing, I say keep it going and leave the T situation to Munch.

Studlee14
Studlee14

Move Glascow over to LG to help both Bolles and Cushenberry, move Risner to RT, and have Schlottman/Wilkinson/everyone else battle it out for RG

Denverkewl
Denverkewl

Why move people all over and have many more new folks at new or unnatural fits or positions. Too many moving parts. I think they will set the line Bolles Risner Cush Glasgow and work on one position not a bunch. Then they can shop from team cuts to bolster as we go if they don't now go ahead and sign someone. It would be nice to know what Munchak wants....

TurkeyBronco
TurkeyBronco

Wilkinson said earlier in the season, he was training as if he was the starter. He's just been given the position on a plate. He has all off-season to work with the team on improving on his performance from last year and the best OL coach that believes in him.

He also has a great defense to practice with. I'm sure Von and Chubb will be happy to give their starting RT some extra tips to help him with his holds and penalties.

Onwards and upwards. Good luck Wilkinson.

Chilly303
Chilly303

If the theory Lock doesn't do as well with pressure up the middle, in comparison to solid blocking in the middle with less stability outside, is true, then moving Risner is a mistake. I also can't forget the result of moving Orlando Franklin from tackle to guard, to get the 5 best linemen out there, and play at both spots were lessened by it.

I doubt Muti is a serious option to play guard if Risner's moved out. Muti has played 5 games total the last few seasons and has had 2 major injuries to overcome. It's more likely he has a year or 2 to catch back up.

Lawp76
Lawp76

I think Patrick Morris will be a great option at left gaurd cause he's strong and has years under Munchack.

dabomb
dabomb

I agree. Risner was a RT in college and a darned good one. Let him be center stage.

Scottydog123
Scottydog123

"However, this is a decision James had to make as a man with a family and that should be respected."

I'm trying REALLY HARD to respect the decision and give him the benefit of the doubt. But considering what happened last year, so far I'm not succeeding. I'll probably take some hate for saying so, but the guy doesn't seem that interested in playing football.


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