Broncos' failures along the offensive line affecting everything

Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles has led the league in holding penalties in each of his three seasons and finished second, tied for fourth and second in penalties overall among all players. Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There might be more lineup consistency these days among former Denver Broncos offensive linemen talking over the radio airwaves than on the current offensive line.

That needs to change if the Broncos really want to see whether quarterback Drew Lock is the guy to lead them moving forward.

Former Broncos linemen and current radio personalities Mark Schlereth, Ryan Harris, Orlando Franklin and Tyler Polumbus are among the many who want to see some consistency, some attention and some success along the line.

As Schlereth put it: "They have had a lot of success a lot of places on the depth chart, but [offensive line] hasn't been one of them, and it's affecting their ability to score, to win and to help their quarterbacks succeed."

Consider: The last time the Broncos finished among the league's top 10 in total offense or scoring or passing offense or rushing was 2014. That was the last season a healthy Peyton Manning was behind center for the Broncos, and it was also the last season the Broncos had an offensive lineman selected for the Pro Bowl (Ryan Clady).

Injuries are certainly part of NFL life, but in recent years, the Broncos have been particularly affected by health issues along the offensive line. The last time the Broncos had five offensive linemen start 16 games in a season was 2011, and the last time the Broncos had even four start 16 games was 2016, their most recent winning season.

While much of the attention since that last playoff appearance in 2015 has been focused on the quarterback position, what's in front of the signal-caller has also been a problem.

Now the team is looking -- yet again -- at a makeover on the offensive line.

"We'll see where we're at. We'll evaluate it," said Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway. " ... We'll see what [offensive line coach] Mike [Munchak] and the coaches think. Hopefully Ja'Wuan [James] comes back and can be the player we think he can be. But we'll look at everything."

The team must start by addressing left tackle Garett Bolles. The Broncos have until late May to pick up or decline the fifth-year option on his deal for the 2021 season. The 20th pick of the 2017 draft hasn't missed a start in three seasons, but he also hasn't played like a top-20 player. He has led the league in holding penalties in each of his three seasons and finished second, tied for fourth and second in penalties overall among all players.

James, at right tackle, was the Broncos' biggest investment in free agency last March (four years, $51 million), but like Menelik Watson and Donald Stephenson before him, he has seen injuries derail the beginning of his Broncos career. The Broncos are hopeful that James, who participated in just 63 plays because of a knee injury in 2019, can rebound next season.

The most recent player to start 16 games at right tackle for the Broncos was Franklin, and that was in 2012.

Left guard Dalton Risner was one of the league's best rookies this past season, and he has the look of a future team captain. Ron Leary battled injuries at the other guard spot all of last season and then missed the last four games because of a concussion. The Broncos also hold an option on the last year of his contract.

Center Connor McGovern is slated to be an unrestricted free agent, but the Broncos have the largest combination of salary-cap room -- just more than $60 million before they've made a move -- and draft picks, with a projected 12 picks.

The Broncos can certainly do more in the draft at offensive line than they have in the past. In Elway's previous nine drafts, the Broncos selected more than one offensive lineman in a draft just twice (2014 and 2015). The Broncos haven't selected three offensive linemen in a draft since 2010.

"We want to get better across the board," Elway said. " ... I've said we have to get better in a lot of spots. But we do feel good about where we are with our locker room. Our guys feel like they have a chance to win. But [the offensive line] is always going to be a spot you want to make sure you're as good as you can be."