Keep or Cut? Ryan Clady

Ryan Clady was a bit of an enigma in 2014, arguably not playing up to his Pro Bowl election. As one of the team’s highest paid players, should the Broncos keep him or cut him? Chad Jensen examines.

Ryan Clady was the last first round pick that Mike Shanahan ever made as the head coach of the Denver Broncos back in 2008. Clady stepped in and started immediately at left tackle and for the next several years, he was one of the NFL’s premier blindside protectors.

This ultimately earned him a 5-year, $52.5M contract extension from the Broncos, right before the 2013 season began in earnest. He was finally being paid like one of the league’s elite left tackles, after playing out his rookie deal.

However, in Week 2 of the 2013 season, he injured his foot and would go on to miss the rest of the Broncos remarkable season with Lisfranc surgery. Going into training camp last July, all signs pointed to a revitalized Clady, having spent almost a year recovering and rehabbing his injured foot.

Unfortunately, for the first time in his career with the Broncos, Clady was not the best player on the offensive line. Although he earned his third career Pro Bowl selection in 2014, his performance in-season was marred by inconsistency.

Watching him in 2014, I often wondered if his foot was still bothering him, because he didn’t seem to have the same kind of explosion off the snap and his footwork (his specialty) was not up to the standards of the days of yore.

Once the season ended, Clady let it slip that he had indeed dealt with a lot of foot pain throughout the season, which makes sense, because he did not look like himself. He’s being paid like an elite left tackle, but he did not live up to it in 2014 and his 2013 season was cut short, due to injury. The Broncos are faced with an enigma.

Clady played 1,084 snaps in 2014 and earned a -2.8 cumulative grade via Pro Football Focus, ranking him as the No. 19 left tackle, based on players who saw at least 80% of their team’s offensive snaps. In his last full season with the Broncos (2012), he finished as the No. 5 overall LT, earning a +22.3 cumulative grade.

That’s quite a drop off. Some might attribute it to playing out of scheme, but Clady played in a power-run offense every year but his rookie season. His strength has always been as a pass blocker (he started every game as a rookie and did not give up a full sack), but he’s traditionally performed well in the run game, as well.

Until 2014, that is. The biggest reason for Clady’s poor cumulative grade via PFF was his inconsistent blocking in the run game (-4.2). He held up protecting Peyton Manning’s blindside, but was at times a liability run blocking.

With the departure of John Fox and Adam Gase and the hiring of Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison, the Broncos are expected to turn back to the zone blocking scheme, which is where Clady thrives. Although it is possible that we’ll see a renaissance from him, playing in Kubiak’s offensive scheme, the questions surrounding his foot still linger.

For a big guy such as Clady (6-foot-6, 315lbs), a Lisfranc injury has the potential to linger and be career-threatening. Now, I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but this has to be a concern for the Broncos, who are on the hook for $10.6M in 2015 for Clady’s services.

Sure, he went to the Pro Bowl again, but I would chalk that up to name recognition and a high team profile. He was not one of the NFL’s best left tackles in 2014, but the Broncos paid him like one.

Moving forward, do the Broncos keep or cut Clady? Notwithstanding his dead cap hit, it does not make sense, at this time, to cut him. Clady had an “off” year. But he came back from a major injury and battled to start all 16 games at LT for the Broncos.

Playing in Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme could be just what he needs to turn the ship around, along with some R and R. Clady was drafted to play left tackle in the zone scheme and he performed at a very high level as a rookie – the only year he played in the system as a pro.

If Manning does indeed return for 2015, like most expect him to, Clady’s value to the team increases tenfold. And the zone scheme plays to Clady’s strengths – excellent footwork, smarts/vision and quickness. If the Broncos can fill out their starting O-line with at least two new starters, it will take a lot of the pressure off of Clady’s shoulders.

My opinion is that Clady is far from washed up. He still has a several good seasons left in him. I expect to see him take his play to the next level in 2015, no matter who’s at quarterback. He has three years left on his contract with the Broncos (counting 2015). Hopefully, a little rest and time off that foot will go a long way towards making him right as rain.

Chad Jensen is the Publisher and Lead Analyst for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen and on Google+.

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