The Denver Broncos Should Start Over At Offensive Tackle In 2017

The Broncos have some big decisions to make in the coming weeks at the offensive tackle position. Would should they do?

Denver Broncos GM John Elway has found future Pro Bowl talent from the NFL Draft pool, unrestricted free agency, street free agency, and college free agency. He's the only NFL GM over the last five years to accomplish that feat.

Clearly, he's won on personnel acquisitions far more than he's lost. However, in 2016, Elway swung for the fences, signing two free agent offensive tackles, and missed on both. The Broncos invested heavily in Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson, but neither player lived up to expectations. Okung was immediately inserted at left tackle, where he struggled to find consistency, while Stephenson took the right.

The offensive line, as a unit, was arguably the biggest factor that kept the Broncos offense in the league doldrums. Much of those troubles could be laid at the feet of Okung and Stephenson.

Out of 61 qualifying offensive tackles, Stephenson finished the year 60th in pass blocking efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus. He was that bad

With a new league year imminent, Elway will soon be faced with a big decision on both players. The Broncos have until March 9 to pick up Russell Okung's option.

If they decide to keep him, they'll be on the hook for $19.5 million over two years. If they cut him loose, the Broncos would save $10.1 million on the 2017 salary cap.

As for Stephenson, the Broncos signed him to a three-year, $14 million dollar deal last spring, with $10 million in guarantees. They've already paid him $6 million upon signing, and the remaining $4 million will become fully guaranteed if they don't release him before March 9.

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But if the Broncos cut him, they'll save $7 million over the next two seasons. Elway swung twice on Denver's two free agent tackles, but when you factor in 2015 second round pick Ty Sambrailo, Elway struck out.

Purely a zone tackle, Sambrailo has struggled to stay healthy since the Broncos drafted him, and when he did see the field in 2016, he epitomized abject failure. With new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy returning to Denver, the expectation is that the Broncos will move to a predominantly power scheme, which eliminates Sambrailo as a viable starting option, regardless of his second round draft pedigree.

Okung and Stephenson are also poor fits for the incoming system. The good news? The free agent market is replete with tackle talent who could upgrade Denver's O-line.

Guys like Andrew Whitworth, Riley Reiff and Ricky Wagner could probably be had on relatively team-friendly deals. Plus, this year's NFL Draft class, while considered to be shallow for offensive tackles and top heavy, also offers some great options for the Broncos early, like Utah's Garett Bolles and Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk, among others.

With two young quarterbacks, the Broncos can't afford to roll the dice at tackle. It's painful, like ripping off a band-aid, and would signal John Elway admittedly failing of late at the position.

It might even be unprecedented in the NFL, but it would be best for the Broncos to cut their losses on all three tackles, and rebuild the position.

Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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