Odds are Stacked Against Connor McGovern Re-Signing with Broncos, Despite Elway's Combine Remarks
As expected, the Denver Broncos have chosen to decline the team option on OG Ronald Leary's contract, which renders him a free agent and opens up an additional $8.5 million in cap space. It also exposes another hole on the offensive line.
When it comes to the projected starting five upfront, the Broncos have only three spots filled with incumbents under contract. The center position remains up in the air, along with right guard, with Connor McGovern set to be an unrestricted free agent.
However, with all the general managers and head coaches in the NFL descending on Indianapolis this past week for the Scouting Combine, John Elway gave us a hint on how the Broncos view McGovern.
"We're going through a plan now, and putting one together in free agency, and looking at different targets there," Elway said on Tuesday. "Hopefully, we'd like to get better there. Connor's still free, so we'll be talking to Connor, too."
What happens next for the Broncos in free agency and the draft? Don't miss out on any news and analysis! Take a second and sign up for our free newsletter and get breaking Broncos news delivered to your inbox daily!
The Broncos selected McGovern in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Missouri. He made the 53-man roster as a rookie but spent the season as a 16-game healthy scratch.
Fast forward to 2017, and McGovern was eventually worked into the rotation later in the year after Leary was injured. In 2018, the Broncos moved Leary back to left guard and opened the season with McGovern as the starting right guard, which lasted until then-head coach Vance Joseph needed a mid-season scapegoat. McGovern was temporarily benched, only to get reinserted at center after Matt Paradis went down with a season-ending injury.
Finally, in 2019, McGovern started all 16 games at center and played well. He had good command of the group and helped along three different starting quarterbacks while not being penalized once in 1,013 snaps.
Pro Football Focus gave McGovern a grade of 71.9, which was good for 11th-best in the NFL among centers. All this begs the question; what is McGovern worth on the open market?
The No. 11 highest-paid center in the NFL is a three-way tie between Seattle's Justin Britt, the Chargers' Mike Pouncey, and Atlanta's Alex Mack, all of whom make $9 million per season. The No. 10 highest-paid center is Dallas' Travis Frederick at $9.4M APY, while the No. 14 is Green Bay's Corey Linsley with an $8.5M APY.
That's what the Broncos are looking at if they want to re-sign McGovern. The issue is, since Elway has led the Broncos' front office, the team has never paid a center. It's always been either a player on a rookie contract or a one-year mercenary signed off the street.
Center is just not a highly-valued position by Elway and Director of Player Personnel Matt Russell. What that likely means in 2020 is that the Broncos will, as Elway said, 'talk' to McGovern but the player is going to test the market.
Even if he doesn't find a taker willing to pay him top-11 center money commensurate with his performance in 2019, he's still likely to command a new deal worth far more than the Broncos will be willing to pay. Get used to the idea of either Patrick Morris or Austin Schlottmann manning the center spot for Drew Lock in 2020.
Either one of those two (probably Morris), or a player drafted in the first five rounds in April's draft. McGovern deserves to get paid — maybe not elite money — but top-15 money at worst because he also brings guard versatility to the table. It'd be nice to have that versatility still on the Broncos' O-line but it comes at a premium.
And not a premium the Broncos are likely willing to pay, especially with one of the top O-line coaches in the league in the building in Mike Munchak.