Broncos banking on Mike McGlinchey to solve longtime right tackle woes

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Mike McGlinchey signed a five-year, $87.5 million free agency deal with the Denver Broncos, the team believed it had finally found the best available fix for a right tackle position that’s seen 14 different players in the last six seasons.

It’s also one of the many reasons the team hasn’t averaged more than 21 points per game since 2015.

“We need to upgrade at the offensive line,’’ general manager George Paton said as free agency was set to open. “ … Obviously, we need to upgrade there on the offensive line.’’

Since the start of the 2016 season, the Broncos have made 19 lineup changes at right tackle. Sometimes it’s been injuries, sometimes poor play, and in one case -- 2020 -- Ja’Wuan James sat out a season because of COVID-19 concerns.

The Broncos have tried big contracts, like James' four-year, $52 million deal and Menelik Watson's three-year $18.36 million deal. They’ve tried acquiring guys via trade (Allen Barbre and Jared Veldheer) and they’ve drafted players like Ty Sambrailo and Michael Schofield.

Still, the Broncos were one of the league’s worst rushing teams off right tackle (29th at 3.24 yards per carry) and right guard (32nd at 2.35 yards per carry) in 2022.

With quarterback Russell Wilson coming off his worst season as a pro -- career-low 16 touchdown passes to go with career-high and league-leading 55 sacks -- McGlinchey shouldn’t have been surprised the Broncos called him 10 minutes after free agency opened.

“I didn't even really field another offer because Denver's was so good right off the bat,” McGlinchey told ESPN. “They were direct. We're going to have the best offer to get you. If you want it, it's yours.’’

In Sean Payton’s 16-season tenure as the New Orleans Saints head coach his offense finished among the league’s top six in passing yards 11 times and passing touchdowns nine times. But in his first free agency foray with the Broncos, his focus was clearly on the physical side of that equation.

This is evident in the team’s two biggest contracts being awarded to McGlinchey and expected starting left guard – Ben Powers (four years, $51.5 million). Toss in the 6-foot-6 255-pound tight end Chris Manhertz, a physically-imposing running back Samaje Perine as well as a fullback Michael Burton and the Broncos have muscled up their protection of Wilson.

“They are smart, tough guys that we feel like are good football players,’’ Payton said of McGlinchey and Powers during league meetings in Phoenix. “ … We felt like it was an area we need to address.’’

The four coaches who preceded Payton -- Gary Kubiak, Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio and Nathaniel Hackett -- echoed the same sentiment about right tackle during their tenures but couldn’t find stability.

Demar Dotson, Elijah Wilkinson and Calvin Anderson split up right tackle starts in 2020, Bobby Massie and Fleming in 2021, and last year Cam Fleming and Billy Turner.

But Payton doesn’t have his attention on too much of the past in search of a way to escape it.

“I think you evaluate these players,’’ Payton said of the Broncos’ approach in free agency. “You look at all the tape, then you look at the makeup and the intelligence. We felt like they were really good fits for what we want to do. There was a consistency that you saw, that you felt like you were getting each week. Health, makeup -- all of that gets factored in.’’