Since the Denver Broncos disappointing home loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, there have been seismic changes in and around Dove Valley. Gone are John Fox, Adam Gase and Jack Del Rio – in are Gary Kubiak, Rick Dennison and Wade Phillips.
Often, with a new coaching staff comes changes to a team’s systems and schemes. Such is the case with the Broncos. On offense, the team will likely eschew the high-flying aerial attack and power running scheme of the Gase and Peyton Manning era and in its place, install a version of Kubiak’s West Coast zone running scheme.
At the NFL level, while some players have the versatility to fit into any scheme, many are dependent on one specific system. On defense, the Broncos are switching to a 3-4 base scheme, which means they’ll have to find a good nose guard or two and inside linebackers who can take on big offensive linemen through the duration of a 16-game season.
On offense, the Broncos will be looking for linemen who fit the zone blocking mold – players with great vision and technique, athleticism and quick feet. This brings a guy like Manuel Ramirez into question, who on the surface, doesn’t project as a fit in the zone blocking system.
Ramirez, a 2007 fourth round pick of the Detroit Lions, first came to the Broncos in 2011. As an interior offensive lineman, he served as a depth option for the team his first year. However, when starting right guard Kris Kuper went down late in the 2011 season, it opened the door for Ramirez in 2012.
Kuper’s injury was gruesome and severe. Not only did it take him a long time to rehab and recover from, but it eventually cost him his career. For Ramirez, he won the starting right guard job in training camp and started 11 games in 2012.
In 852 snaps, Ramirez earned a +3.6 cumulative grade via Pro Football Focus. It was a solid, if inconsistent campaign but it endeared him to Fox’s offensive staff. When the 2013 off-season rolled around, the Broncos were still waiting on J.D. Walton to recover from his ankle issues, which gave Ramirez some reps at center in organized team activities. Walton was eventually waived later in the season.
But with Manning at quarterback, the Broncos wanted someone more seasoned at center, so they brought Dan Koppen back in time for training camp, but his tenure lasted less than a week before he tore his ACL. The Broncos were dangerously thin at center.
Enter Manny Ramirez.
Ramirez took over at center and went on to have a very productive year for the Broncos. When he was officially promoted to the first team, the Broncos also rewarded him with a three-year $3.15M contract extension, with $500,000 guaranteed.
He earned it in 2013, having started every game and finishing as PFF’s No. 5 rated center, with a +17.2 cumulative grade. Unfortunately, his breakout year ended on the sourest of notes when on the opening down of Super Bowl XLVIII, Ramirez infamously snapped the ball over Manning’s head, leading to a safety.
Going into 2014’s training camp, Ramirez competed with Will Montgomery, a free agent signed to a one-year deal, and ultimately won the job as Manning’s center. But when things went awry along the offensive line, despite having Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady back in the lineup, John Fox and company shuffled the offensive line mid-season, replacing Ramirez with Montgomery at center, moving Ramirez over to right guard and Louis Vasquez out to right tackle.
The move was a failure, but even still, Ramirez worked hard. Ultimately, his 2014 season can be summed up as one of inconsistency. In some games, he played like the best guy on the O-line, and in others, he’d make bone-headed mistakes that would lead to disaster. He finished with a -5.1 cumulative grade via PFF.
Moving forward, Ramirez has one year left on his deal with the Broncos. His salary is $1.4M but his cap hit is $3,166,668, with only $166,668 as dead cap. The Broncos are in pretty good shape cap-wise, but if they did part ways with Ramirez, they’d save about $3M on the cap, making him a very possible cap casualty, especially as they makeover the entire O-line.
However, for an experienced starter along the O-line, Ramirez represents good value, relative to his cap hit. The question is whether he fits into the zone blocking scheme. Ramirez is strong and has a bit of a mean streak, but isn’t particularly light on his feet or ultra-athletic.
Could he be coached up to be effective in the zone blocking scheme? I think he could and at the very least, he would be a solid, experienced depth option. The Broncos could do worse than Manny Ramirez. However, they are reportedly looking for at least two new starters along the O-line, with the common consensus being that the only starters Kubiak and company want back on the first team are Clady and Vasquez.
This likely leaves Ramirez on the outside looking in, especially with Montgomery reportedly being a guy the Broncos want to re-sign. Montgomery is a great fit at center, and not only has experience in the zone blocking scheme, but also in being Peyton Manning’s center, should the 38-year old return for 2015.
When you consider these reports, scheme fit and Ramirez’s cap hit, he emerges as a strong candidate to be released. More than likely, we’ll see him playing for another team in 2015.