Given that the Broncos' front five was completely dominated in SB 48, it’s no surprise that there’s talk about what to do with a pair of linemen - Zane Beadles and Chris Clark. It’s not hard to see that Denver’s line was overmatched by Seattle’s front four that ugly day.
A year after he was named a Pro Bowl alternate, Beadles was the least effective player on PFF's top line in the league, and now he's a pending unrestricted free agent. The question comes down to this: given the ups and downs in his level of play, is it worth keeping him? If not, what should Denver do to replace him? If so - what is he reasonably worth?
Whether you like Zane or not, it’s just reading his history to say that he has been extremely erratic in his NFL play.
There were some fair reasons for Zane's development to lag a bit: being moved to right tackle at times during his rookie season, losing what would have been his first real offseason workout program to the lockout, and the revolving door next to him at center. None of these were designed to maximize his career.
In 2011, the entire line played two different offenses in six months, including blocking for 10-second scrambles from Tim Tebow. It’s not an excuse for Zane's areas of weakness - it’s just a fact that must be considered.
He developed enough to have a good 2012, but didn’t maintain it the following season. In 2013, he played well in four of his last six games, but his play over the full season often wasn’t sharp.
The bottom dollar a team will pay will reflect his circumstances - he’s graded in the negatives for three of his four seasons. If a good season is followed by a reversion to a low mean, a new option is needed. If line coaches with the credentials of Dave Magazu and Alex Gibbs are convinced he’s salvageable, I wouldn’t argue with them. If they aren’t sure about him, though, Denver will need a new plan.
Consider Beadles’ PFF grades so far (including playoffs):
|Year||Snaps||Pass Block||Run Block||Penalty||Sacks||Hits||Hurries||Overall|
While Zane gave up only one sack in each of the past two seasons, he's allowed far too many hurries in three of his four years. He’s also not always the run blocker he should be, given his excellent footwork when pulling and combo blocking.
Given what I still believe that he’s capable of, I’d really like to see more consistency from Zane - and so would Denver. I do appreciate his relative lack of sacks and hits relative to many other guards, but he lets in too many hurries. There’s plenty of both good and bad.
In addition to his inconsistency, Beadles is the smallest lineman among the Broncos' starting five. I both like and believe in the bigger kind of lines that Denver has been building - each year, the line candidates at combine seem a little bigger, stronger, faster, and more agile, and I believe in keeping up. To me, the size issue with Beadles may not be minor if we look comparatively at who will be returning for 2014.
I have nothing but respect for Chris Clark, after his work in 2013. That doesn’t change the fact that Ryan Clady is a bigger, more technically proficient player - when you compare Clady around the league, there aren’t that many like him. His light feet, ability to hold up on an island, and his long, strong arms are rare to be found in one player.
Clark, on the other hand, is a different rare, but beautiful thing - a high quality backup. Clady also has an inch and 10 lb of muscle on him.
Manny Ramirez has 15+ lbs on former center J.D. Walton, and Louis Vasquez has about 30 lbs on Chris Kuper, the former right guard. If you add another 20-pound upgrade from Beadles to, say, Baylor guard Cyril Richardson, you’re looking at having around 75 additional pounds of mean power over Denver's 2011 line. It’s worth thinking about.
I’ll cover draftable guards in another piece, but I will say this: there are plenty of talented, large options.
Moving Franklin inside and Clark outside
One oft-speculated option is to move Orlando Franklin to left guard, with Clark kicking out to Franklin's right tackle spot. Others have suggested looking to the draft or considering Vinston Painter outside.
I think it’s a bad idea; for one, it’s usually harder to find good tackles than guards in the draft. I’m not comfortable moving a big, talented right tackle away from his familiar position to try Clark out there - I think it’s better to keep Clark as a backup and draft the size you need. Franklin has steadily improved each year; Denver first selected Orlando to increase the ‘mean factor’ along the line, which just isn’t Clark’s forte.
Adding Vasquez has helped them fulfill that goal, but it’s Franklin who was the top run blocker his first year, and who has helped them there ever since: all in all, he’s been everything that Denver needs at right tackle. I’m sure he’d be a very good left guard, too, but it isn’t broken, so let’s not fix it.
Generally, the right tackle is more of a bruiser; the right side is often called the strong side, and while the game is getting away from traditional designations, it’s still helpful to have some large beef on the right edge. Clark is small for a tackle, and although he did well in relief of Clady, he doesn’t belong on the right.
I was as impressed as anyone regarding Clark’s performance in 2013, but let’s also note that he was charged with eight sacks, 10 penalties, seven QB hits, and 27 hurries. That’s not the kind of production that Denver needs from their right tackle. I suspect the debacle that was SB 48 will influence Denver’s continuing to look for big, strong linemen with good movement skills.
If they really do move Franklin to left guard, they are going to have to either draft a right tackle very highly, or hope that Painter is ready come OTAs. (I find ‘hope’ to be a bad word in football - established backup plans are far more useful.)
In 2013, Franklin even scored more highly on pass blocking than he did on run blocking - he’s become an all-around top tackle. If you move him inside to guard, you leave an equally large need on the right corner. Since Franklin is an excellent right tackle and meshes perfectly with Vasquez, why make that change? It takes the biggest problem on the line (left guard) and moves it to right tackle. That’s just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The first free agent name that jumps out at me is Kansas City’s Geoff Schwartz. He’s someone I’ve liked for a couple of years now, although the Chiefs seem to prefer Jon Asamoah, who grades out less well than Geoff. Schwartz let in two sacks and nine hurries over 632 snaps in 2013; his cumulative grade was a whopping +18.3 for the year.
But as the top available guard heading into free agency, Schwartz won't be nearly the bargain he was in 2013, when his cap number was just $700K.
And with Vasquez already the fifth highest paid player on the team (fourth, once Champ Bailey's cap number is reduced or eliminated), and Franklin playing out the last year of his contract, it's not clear the Broncos could afford to sign Schwartz this time around.
In summary, I see these options:
1. Move Franklin to LG. Right now I don’t see it, but it’s an option that’s been getting a lot of press.
2. Draft a guard highly - big, fleet-footed, and mean. Stanford's David Yankey, Baylor's Cyril Richardson, and Xavier Su'a-Filo of UCLA are all good options - there are several others.
3. Consider a free agent - Schwartz is one such option.
4. Find a number that both sides can live with and keep Beadles. Keeping consistency on the line has its advantages.
Before OTAs, one of them is going to have to happen. I like Zane - but I like consistent play even better.