Against the Cleveland Browns in Week 12, Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles put on a pass-blocking clinic.
Early in the fourth quarter, Denver faced a third-and-goal when edge rusher Myles Garrett tried to charge at quarterback Russell Wilson. Bolles had good leverage and hand placement as he stood in front of Garrett, preventing the All-Pro defensive end from changing direction and sacking Wilson, who had time to throw a touchdown pass to tight end Adam Trautman.
After a broken leg held Bolles to five games in 2022, he returned to be a stable presence on Denver’s offensive line this past season. He started in all 17 games, allowing only three sacks and 32 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He even had a stretch where he didn’t allow a sack in eight games and ended the year with a pass-block efficiency rating of 97.1.
Still, Bolles’ future in Denver remains in question.
Denver is projected to be $23.9 million over the salary cap in 2024, according to Over The Cap. That means the franchise will have to make some tough decisions regarding key veteran players on the roster, including Bolles, who will earn $20 million in the final year of his deal.
All eyes are on the state of the quarterback position and how the Broncos will handle the future of Wilson, who will cost the team $85 million in dead cap space if released. At the same time, the Broncos are at a point where they will soon be forced to address the future of the left tackle position.
A decision on what to do with Bolles will not come easy. A first-round selection in 2017, Bolles has started 99 games for the Broncos and was named second team All-Pro by the Associated Press in 2020. He was also named the team’s nominee for the 2023 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
The Broncos could let Bolles play out the rest of his contract, especially if they lose center Lloyd Cushenberry III in free agency.
But Bolles is about to turn 32 in May, and the Broncos need as much cap flexibility as possible. If the Broncos decided to cut or trade Bolles, they would save $16 million while digesting $4 million in dead money.
“It’s always difficult when you have to make decisions relative to players you’ve coached,” Broncos head coach Sean Payton said last month. “There was a time when the coach at this press conference would say, ‘I’ll see you guys after the draft,’ and he’d head to Palm Springs. It’d be four new players on the roster — three rookies and one (free agent). It’s much different now. It’s year-to-year, and the fortunes can quickly change or go the other way. It’s a new puzzle every year.”
If the Broncos decide to move on from Bolles, it might be wise to get younger at the position. Denver has in-house options such as offensive tackles Alex Palczewski, 24, and Demontrey Jacobs, 25, who were undrafted rookies in 2023.
Before last year’s draft, Payton spoke on how his mentor, former Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells, called the offensive line one of the most important position groups on the roster. But the Broncos haven’t drafted an offensive tackle since selecting Bolles back in 2017.
The Broncos could target a starting-caliber left tackle with their first-round pick, like Notre Dame’s Joe Alt or Penn State’s Olumuyiwa Fashanu, the Big Ten’s Offensive Lineman of the Year. Fashanu didn’t allow a sack in 681 pass block snaps over the past two seasons, according to PFF. Alabama’s JC Latham started two seasons at right tackle for the Crimson Tide but played left in high school at IMG Academy in 2020.
Arizona left tackle Jordan Morgan, who allowed two sacks in 787 offensive snaps in 2023, could be an option if Denver considers trading down in the first round. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah has Morgan going to the Cowboys at 24th overall.
“You need to draft depth and develop depth,” Broncos general manager George Paton said. “We’re always looking for young depth. They’re cheaper, and they are typically healthier.”
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