ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- At the moment, the Denver Broncos' ability to block better on offense hinges on two items.
First, that Jared Veldheer can leave his past two injury-shorted seasons behind and be the steady, reliable presence at tackle he was for much of his first six seasons in the NFL; he played in 16 games in five of those years.
And second, Connor McGovern is ready to be a starter.
“We think we have some options," is how president of football operations/general manager John Elway has put it. "... We’re still working through some things, but we can get where we need to be."
The Broncos made a trade for Veldheer -- for a sixth-round pick -- late last week as a fairly shallow pool of tackles in free agency dried up quickly, led by Nate Solder’s $62 million deal with the New York Giants. While Veldheer has been a left tackle for 81 of his 91 career NFL starts, he can, and will almost certainly, play right tackle for the Broncos.
He has made nine career starts at right tackle and even one at center, but his arrival should help the Broncos settle what has been a difficult job for them to fill in recent seasons. Last March, the Broncos signed Menelik Watson, who had never played in more than 12 games in any of his NFL seasons, to be the right tackle.
The Broncos had hoped a plan to improve Watson’s flexibility in workouts would help him stay on the field, but he then missed nine games with a lower leg injury and put the Broncos on the hunt for a solution once again. Veldheer also could help left tackle Garett Bolles smooth out some of the roller coaster his rookie season was in 2017.
Bolles didn’t always rebound from mistakes and didn’t always take the advice some of his teammates tried to give him. Veldheer gives Bolles a veteran sounding board.
In the end, the projection that could mean the most for the Broncos is McGovern’s. If McGovern can be the solution at right guard -- and Elway has tossed Watson’s name out as a possibility there, as well -- it would allow the Broncos to move Ron Leary back to left guard.
Leary has done his best work at left guard, but the Broncos elected to move him to right guard last season when Max Garcia struggled there. McGovern spent the offseason at center last year because Matt Paradis was coming back from surgery on both hips, otherwise McGovern might have been able to win the right guard spot a year ago.
When Leary went on injured reserve in December, the Broncos got a preview of McGovern at right guard. And unless the Broncos add a high-profile guard in the draft or sign a veteran free agent, he would be projected into the offseason program as a starter.
In the season’s final weeks, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said McGovern had played “great, really good."
The Broncos do have nine draft picks -- all in the first five rounds -- and the offensive line figures to get some attention with some of those selections. In Elway’s tenure as the Broncos' chief football decision-maker, he has taken at least one offensive lineman in each draft class, with Bolles' selection in the first round last April to go with McGovern's selection in the fifth round in 2016.