DENVER — In a draft class viewed as weak on offensive linemen, the Broncos selected left tackle Garett Bolles with their first-round pick on Thursday.
Know what that looks like to me?
It looks like a general manager — one who has yet to sign a long-term contract — trying to slide a 2X4 under a championship window before it closes. It looks like “win now,” with a wait-and-see in place of “from now on.” It looks like the Broncos believe they are closer to another Super Bowl title than the AFC standings and their miserable finish to last season would suggest.
“He was, in our minds, the best left tackle in the draft,” John Elway said.
He’s that general manager we were talking about. He hasn’t signed a new contract yet, even after working on a deal since last October, according to team president Joe Ellis back in January. I've said a bunch of times in this space the Broncos will always be competitive and title contenders as long as Elway has an office at Dove Valley.
“We’re going to be fine,” Elway said of his contract situation, a situation that ranks much higher in importance than Denver’s draft this year, next year or any year. “I’m not worried about that.”
But when you combine the lack of a long-term contract with a first-round pick on a lineman who played one season of Division I ball, at Utah — when a gameplan-altering tight end and some bad defensive dudes were still on the board, ready to be scooped up and added to the baddest defense in the NFL — it looks like the time is now.
Better be. The comparison game follows every draft. Happened with Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, or Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas. Now Broncos Country has a new one to track. Or three.
Michigan man-eater Jabrill Peppers was there. Adding Peppers, the most disruptive defensive player I saw in college football last season, to a defense with Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib? Sign me up.
Alabama thumper Reuben Foster was there. He went to the San Francisco 49ers at 31, a draft-day slider reportedly due to a medical issue. If it turns out the Butkus Award winner is healthy, well, see above.
Alabama tight end O.J. Howard was there, kind of. He went to the Tampa Bay Bucs at 19, one spot ahead of the Broncos, and you’d think a team with 10 picks could have moved up to add a tight end when it desperately needs one.
“If Garett turns out to be what we think he is, he solves a problem for us for a long time,” Elway said.
Again, it won’t take long before we know if Bolles was heady or a headscratcher. Bolles will hopefully play his first game at the age of 25 — two months older than Ty Sambrailo, his competition at tackle, and Sambrailo enters next season as a third-year veteran. Bolles better play. And fast.
“No,” head coach Vance Joseph said when asked if he would be disappointed if Bolles isn’t the starting left tackle from Day One. “The best players should play. Obviously he’s a first-round pick so he’s going to come in and compete for the job.”
Howard, especially, wouldn't have competed for a job. You could scribble him in at tight end right now, and the running and passing games would get a lift.
It’s easy to see what the Broncos love about Bolles. When Elway acknowledged that Bolles was “one of the most-penalized offensive linemen” in college football, he said so with a smile, as if the Broncos appreciate a nasty edge in their players. Look around the locker room. They do. It's no Boy Scout convention.
Here’s the hard part when you disagree with a draft pick: This isn’t meant to crush the guy. Give Bolles a high-five if you see him around. What a story.
His someday could make a whale of a documentary on ESPN’s “30 for 30,” if ESPN is still around: Kicked out of the house by a dysfunctional family as a high schooler, young man turns his life around, serves a Mormon mission (in Colorado Springs, no less) and finds NFL fame, riches and a sweet life for his own adorable son, Kingston. Hollywood made a blockbuster from that kind of story. “The Blind Side” was pretty good, don’t you think?
“He brings a great mentality to an offensive line that needs a jolt,” Elway said.
“When we looked at his ability and our need, we felt like it was a good fit,” Elway added.
That’s what this looked like, the latter, a draft pick based in need, not on the best player available. It looks like a franchise that desperately wants to win now, before a championship window closes on the Von Miller-"No Fly Zone" heyday. It's a rare and special combination, so you can't blame them for that.
We won’t have to wait long to find out. If Bolles is the starting left tackle when the Broncos open the season against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sept. 11, Elway and the front office made the correct decision with the 20th pick. That's how badly the Broncos needed a left tackle to protect Trevor Siemian and/or Paxton Lynch. It's not crazy to think Bolles could save their season.
If not, well, the championship window they apparently see will shut a little bit faster.