Denver, CO- Today was a sad scene in the Denver Broncos locker room, as the players cleaned out their lockers and personal possessions for the year. Many of them will not be back in orange and blue in 2015.
Among the players, just as with the fans, there is a feeling of finality in Denver. As if the team the fans have come to know and love, will never be the same. And in one sense, no matter what happens with the coaches and Peyton Manning, it's true.
The Broncos have many players who are unrestricted free agents in 2015. Not all of them will return to Denver. One of those players is left guard, Orlando Franklin. Drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Miami (FL), Franklin quickly became a mainstay at right tackle for the Broncos.
In his first three seasons, he started every game at right tackle for the Broncos, averaging a cumulative grade per year of +11.4 via Pro Football Focus. But following Super Bowl XLVIII, where Franklin struggled to contain the potent Seattle Seahawks explosive edge rushers, the Broncos chose to move him inside to left guard.
Franklin struggled a bit at first in his new role on the left interior of the Broncos offensive line, but he soon became their best player in the trenches. He started every game for the Broncos at left guard in 2014, earning a +12.0 cumulative grade via PFF; the highest among all Broncos O-linemen.
It's one thing for a journalist to proclaim Franklin the team's best lineman in 2014, but how did he perceive his performance in his new position?
“No one’s individual effort is going to outshine the team," Franklin said today. "The fact of the matter is, we lost that game but I definitely believe that I was able to play left guard at a high level. I feel like—hopefully I’m back here. That is all I’m thinking about right now. I’m not really sure what’s going to happen, what the future holds. It seems like it was yesterday that I got drafted here. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I definitely feel like I showed that I can play left guard. I definitely think that I can still play right tackle.”
With his fourth NFL season officially in the books, Franklin must turn his attention to free agency and the question marks surrounding his future employment. Who knows what the open market holds for him, but he can't imagine playing for any team but the Broncos.
“Yeah, absolutely," Franklin said today. "I don’t know anything else. I’m a Bronco; I would love to be a Bronco for the rest of my life.”
Franklin and the Broncos season did not end the way they envisioned, losing at home yesterday to the Indianapolis Colts 24-13. Following a bye.
Franklin was reportedly very emotional in the locker room, as he cleaned out his affects, speaking to the media with tears in his eyes.
“You definitely want to be around the same group of guys," Franklin said. "I feel like we created a lot of chemistry this past year. Unfortunately we weren’t able to make it back to the Super Bowl, which we all had plans and had intentions of doing. It’s a sad way to end the season, but I definitely think we were able to accomplish a lot of great things this year.”
With the departure of John Fox today, the ambiance in Denver feels like the end of an era. The business side of playing in the NFL could take Franklin elsewhere, but as arguably the Broncos best offensive lineman, the Broncos will likely make a strong effort to re-sign him. They need his physical presence up front in future.
Were it up to Big O, he'd stay in Denver forever.