ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Fixing the offensive line has become an annual rite of spring in Denver.
“My goal is to make it right,” Broncos general manager John Elway declared at the NFL scouting combine, where he saw a dearth of O-line prospects to choose from in next month’s draft.
In the first 24 hours of free agency Elway plucked two nasty-streak players from two of the top offensive lines in the league. He signed former Cowboys guard Ron Leary for $35 million over four years and former Raiders tackle Menelik Watson for $18 million over three years.
In introducing the 6-foot-3, 317-pound Leary on Friday, Elway said he was “the type of player that we’re looking for … physical and tough and plays with a demeanor that makes us tougher.”
Then Elway promptly retreated to his office and snared another player who fits that profile in Watson (6-5, 315), with the bonus of depleting his AFC West rival.
“They were my rivals and now they’re family,” Watson said. “I believe it’s a great opportunity to come here and win a Super Bowl.”
A year ago, Elway signed free agent tackles Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson, who proved big disappointments as the Broncos slipped from Super Bowl champions to 9-7 and out of the playoffs.
Elway declined an option on Okung, who signed a $53 million deal with the Chargers, and he might also soon part ways with Donaldson, whose $4 million salary for 2017 would be guaranteed if he’s on the roster Monday.
Leary went undrafted out of Memphis because of a degenerative knee condition, but he’s proven durable, starting 47 games in his career. He’s gone from afterthought to Dallas’ practice squad to starter and now priority free agent.
“I’ve just go to put in on the field, put it on film now,” he said. “That’s all behind me. Now, it’s all about football. I’ve got to come in and show them it wasn’t a mistake.”
Watson, who grew up in Manchester, England, and played basketball at Marist College before picking up football in 2011, was drafted by Oakland in 2013, but his career has been marked by injuries.
He said one of the biggest draws in Denver was strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson, who has a reputation for keeping players healthy through plyometrics and position-specific weight training.
“That’s why I’m here. They’ve got the best strength staff in the world,” Watson said. “We can put all those things in the past and move on and just focus on getting on the field and just smashing heads together.”
That mean streak is what drew the Broncos to Watson, who said in a BBC interview it’s a mistake to think he’s soft just because he grew up playing on the pitch.
“The biggest thing I know 100 percent I bring to the table is my guys know I got their backs,” Watson said. “That’s the type of person I am. The guys I’m in the trenches with I’m riding with, and they know if they’re throwing a punch, I’m throwing a punch.
Whatever they’re getting into, I’m getting into.”
Leary and Watson said Elway didn’t talk to them about whether they’d line up left or right of Pro Bowl center Matt Paradis.
“I view myself wherever I need to be at, that’s football,” Watson said. “If they need me to inside, I’m playing inside, man. If they need me to play DB, shoot, I’m going out there to backpedal. I just love to play football.”
NOT RECRUITING ROMO: A lot of people outside Broncos headquarters figured Elway would make a play for Dallas quarterback Tony Romo when free agency opened, but instead Elway stuck to his word and focused on fixing his O-line.
Elway has been saying that while he’d “kick the tires,” on any available veteran, he’s comfortable with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch at quarterback.
If Romo does become available, don’t expect Leary to put in a good word for Denver.
“Uh, no, I’m definitely not a recruiter, so I’m not going to get caught up in that at all,” Leary said. “Tony’s a great guy. He was a great teammate with me in Dallas, but I’m here in Denver now and we’ve got two great young quarterbacks in Trevor and Paxton. … They both have bright futures.”
Leary also demurred when asked if he thought Romo might retire rather than play outside Dallas.
“I haven’t talked to Tony personally, so I’m not sure how he’s feeling. But I definitely feel like he has some more game in him,” Leary said.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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