ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Ryan Clady has been one of the NFL’s most dependable players, quickest healers and best risk assessors.
One year after rejecting a $50 million offer and playing last season for a relative bargain price of $3.5 million, Peyton Manning’s blindside protector cashed in on his gamble by signing a five-year deal worth up to $57.5 million over the weekend.
Clady is one of just four offensive linemen in league history to start every game in each of his first five seasons and also earn three Pro Bowl berths. He skipped last year’s trip to Hawaii with a torn right labrum that required surgery.
He hopes to be cleared by early August and the Broncos are confident he’ll be in the lineup Sept. 5 to face former teammate Elvis Dumervil when the Baltimore Ravens visit Denver to kick off the 2013 season.
Clady’s proven healing power was on display in 2010 when he blew out his left knee on the basketball court in April. He returned from major surgery to start all 16 games and reached his previous form the last two seasons.
Although Clady stayed away from the team’s off-season program, the Broncos were able to have head athletic trainer Steve Antonopulos directly evaluate his shoulder this summer. Clady said that visit and a positive report from noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews helped speed resolution on the contract that netted him $33 million in guaranteed money.
Had the sides not agreed to a deal by Monday’s deadline, Clady would have had to play this season for $9.823 million because of the franchise tag.
While that’s nothing to scoff at, it wouldn’t have provided him the long-term security he sought. It also could have led to a training camp holdout and maybe to his eventual departure from Denver in the next year or two.
Now, Clady’s in a good place both fiscally and physically.
“Yes, I’m definitely glad to have the process over. Early in the off-season I thought it would get done. But there were times where I thought it possibly couldn’t get done, especially with the market being where it is, and other franchise players not really getting deals done,” Clady said Monday.
Clady’s deal puts him among the best-paid offensive linemen in the NFL, just behind Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, who averages $11.5 million on an eight-year, $92 million extension that includes $44 million in guarantees.
“It definitely puts me with some good company up there with Joe Thomas. I’ve been working hard to try to get on that level,” Clady said. “The Broncos have showed great respect in getting this deal done, considering what some of the other tackles, like (Houston’s) Duane Brown, have signed for ($56.2 million over seven years).
“So it’s good. I think this is a big year for us as a team. We definitely have a lot of expectations: Super Bowl or bust, for the most part. It’s a lot of pressure, unlike last year where we kind of just rolled in and tried to get things together.”
The Broncos have gone on an off-season spending spree and added several free agents as they try to parlay last year’s 13-3 season — and their playoff pratfall — into a Super Bowl run.
Their only weak spot appears to be the banged-up offensive line.
Clady is one of four starters along the line coming off surgeries that eliminated or limited their off-season on-field work.
Left guard Zane Beadles was the only starting offensive lineman to come out of last season unscathed. Orlando Franklin (toe, shoulder), Chris Kuper (ankle) and J.D. Walton (knee) also needed operations, and of the three, only Franklin was at full health during minicamps this spring.
The Broncos signed Dan Koppen to fill in at centre for Walton, who isn’t expected back until midseason at best. Their biggest free-agency signing outside of Wes Welker was right guard Louis Vasquez. If Kuper recovers from his second surgery in as many years, he’ll likely compete for a backup spot.
Chris Clark has filled in at left tackle for Clady all off-season and will get plenty of work during camp while Clady gets up to speed on Adam Gase’s new pick-up-the-pace offence. Clady said offensive line coach Dave Magazu sent him the playbook “so I have been digging through that trying to find out some of the new stuff,” he said, “just trying to get on the same page so I can hit the ground running when I get back.”