In 2011, the Broncos offensive line had the remarkable fortune of staying healthy enough for all first-teamers to start all 16 games of the regular season.
Unfortunately, the finale of that regular-season slate kicked off a regression to the mean of sorts, as right guard Chris Kuper suffered a gruesome leg injury from which he still has not recovered. Kuper struggled mightily in the playoff loss to Baltimore, and it was announced last week that he would undergo further surgery which kept him from playing in Sunday's Pro Bowl.
Including the playoff game, Kuper started only six games for Denver this season, after having missed only two starts in the prior four seasons combined.
Center J.D. Walton only made four starts in 2012 before his own ankle injury ended his season, although from the team's vantage, it's not clear he would have performed better than Dan Koppen, the veteran who stepped in for him.
Like Kuper, left tackle Ryan Clady eschewed a free trip to Hawaii due to injury, but there was no indication prior to today that it was of a serious nature.
Now comes word that Clady is due to undergo shoulder surgery, although the report from Mike Klis gives no indication as to the type of injury. Ominously, Klis suggests that Clady could miss most of the team's offseason program, offering the start of the regular season as a potential target for his return.
If this is indeed a serious injury, it would figure to have a significant impact on contract negotiations between the Broncos and Clady, who has started every game since Denver drafted him 12th overall in 2008.
Even though Clady has been an iron man, and made a rapid recovery from a 2010 injury to his patella tendon, his track record is no guarantee he'll again be in top form for 2013.
As Ted had suggested was possible earlier in the day, the best decision for the Broncos may ultimately be to use its franchise tag on the left tackle, and that was the case prior to this latest injury news.
Then again, pushing off a long-term extension for Clady may put the team in an untenable position, as they already will have several large bills coming due together. Following the 2013 season, Von Miller is set to become eligible for a renegotation (but still under team control), and Eric Decker, Zane Beadles, Walton, and Wesley Woodyard are due to hit unrestricted free agency.
All of these factors should reinforce Ted's point that the team can ill afford to go after Darrelle Revis, or to make a big splash signing in free agency. Future cash and cap dollars are at stake, and draft choices will need to be used not only to fill current holes, but to add depth and future replacements for whichever players are allowed to depart for greener pa$ture$ in coming years (perhaps Decker).
It's going to be difficult enough (perhaps impossible) to keep the entire nucleus of this Denver team together for the long term, and that's only complicated by the statuses of Kuper, Walton, and now Clady, and the Broncos will have to hope their offensive line has another run of great health in them like they had in 2011.