Deadlines spur research.
After Mike Klis of 9News dug into Ronald Leary’s contract, it was deduced that the Broncos’ starting left guard is highly likely to return in 2019. The structure of Leary’s deal — including his guarantees — essentially precludes the team from parting ways.
Klis explains: “Leary had $5.35M of his $8.15M salary in ’19 guaranteed against injury. He is injured, finishing on IR with torn Achilles. If he can’t pass physical by March 17, and he won’t, his $5.35M becomes fully guaranteed. So Leary is back.”
The Denver Broncos are headed to the NFL Combine! Don’t miss out on any Broncos news and analysis, take a second to sign up for our FREE Broncos newsletter
It was reported last week that Denver will decide Leary’s fate by March 17, when $5.35 million of his $8.150 million base salary for 2019 becomes fully guaranteed. That it’s protected against injury, however, is a new wrinkle which means he’ll stick around to see his $100,000 workout bonus and $15,625 in per-game bonuses, totaling $250,000, to go along with his $9.218 million salary cap number.
The Broncos would have saved $7.468 million in cap space and absorbed $1.750 million in dead money by axing Leary, who has a 2020 team option that must be exercised no later than next March.
Leary, the ex-Dallas Cowboy, signed a four-year, $36 million contract with the Broncos in 2017. He was an immediate revelation at right guard, grading out among Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated blockers and bordering on Pro Bowl status, before a back injury sent him to IR after 11 games.
He returned healthy in 2018 and Denver smartly moved him back to his natural left guard spot. He again performed at a high level, ranking as PFF’s No. 38 OG among 77 qualifiers. Then he sustained a torn Achilles’ tendon, a devastating setback that ended his second Broncos campaign after just six games.
As a whole, the Broncos’ offensive line was decimated by the injury bug, with center Matt Paradis (fibula) and guard Max Garcia (ACL), who replaced Leary, lost for the season. Times were so desperate that two tackles (Billy Turner, Elijah Wilkinson) started at guard, and a guard (Connor McGovern) manned the pivot.
“It’s hard to replace guys like Matt, Ron Leary, guys up front like Max,” now-former starting quarterback Case Keenum remarked in December.
Paradis, Garcia, Turner and starting right tackle Jared Veldheer are slated to become free agents, making life difficult on new OL coach Mike Munchak. There’s little doubt Munchak prefers to retain a semblance of continuity, even though Denver should push to bring back Paradis and Veldheer, and he’ll have his work cut out keeping newly-arrived quarterback Joe Flacco — a human statue — off his back.
It stands to reason that Leary would’ve been retained regardless of money matters. The Broncos simply cannot afford a mass exodus after finally stumbling upon a successful combination.