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Broncos 2021 Free Agency Preview: Centers

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

When the NFL free agency kicks off on March 17, the Broncos figure to be very active. For one, they have a lot of holes to fill, so there are plenty of reasons to go shopping. In addition, Denver has a new general manager, as George Paton will want to put an immediate stamp on his new team.

Currently, the Broncos are $39 million under the 2021 salary cap, but that number could grow a ton, depending on what Paton decides to do with high-priced veterans. Von Miller, Jurrell Casey and Bryce Callahan are just some of the names who could be let go to free up space to sign new faces, with more than $60 million potentially available.

How should the Broncos put all of those dollars to use? In the weeks leading up to the start of free agency, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the best players projected to be on the open market, as well as analysis of who would be a realistic fit in Denver.

It continues today with a position where the Broncos could use some help – center. Last year, rookie Lloyd Cushenberry started all 16 games at that spot for Denver. He started all 16 games, playing 1,076 snaps, which is a solid effort in season one. That said, he only graded out at a 40.6 by Pro Football Focus, meaning the rookie struggled at times. Thus, this is place where the Broncos could upgrade if they so choose, with a veteran provide more stability.

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Top Five Available

1. Austin Reiter – Everyone likes to look at the best teams in the NFL when it comes time to find free agents, hoping to capture some of their magic by raiding their roster. Thus, the Chiefs center will certainly get plenty of attention. After coming over the Kansas City from Cleveland prior to the 2019 campaign, Reiter has made 28 starts and appeared in 31 games, anchoring an offensive line that played in back-to-back Super Bowls. At 29 years old, he’ll command a hefty contract on the open market.

2. Ted Karras – The sixth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft has blossomed from a spot player to a bona fide starter, just in time to cash in via free agency. After playing relatively little during his first three seasons in New England, Karras became a full-time starter in 2019. Then, he moved on to Miami, where he started all 16 games for the Dolphins in 2020. He’ll only turn 28 in March, so Karras is a long-term solution in the middle for any team willing to pony up.

3. David Andrews – Andrews is a classic example of the Patriots finding diamonds in the rough. He signed in 2015 as an undrafted free agent, jumping into the mix right away. During the first seasons that he’s played in New England – he missed the entire 2019 campaign due to injury – Andrews has started 69 games and appeared in 72. Now, he’ll hit the open market and likely attract a multi-year deal worth just south of $10 million per season.

4. Corey Linsley – Linsley has been a fixture in Green Bay ever since the Packers selected him the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Ohio State product made an immediate impact, starting all 16 games as a rookie. He’s done that three more times in the six seasons that have followed, starting 99 total games in the middle of the Packers o-line. On the open market, Spotrac.com projects Linsley will ink a deal worth roughly $10 million per season.

5. Matt Skura – An undrafted free agent out of Duke, Skura has proven to be a versatile interior offensive lineman during his four seasons in Baltimore. First, he started 12 games at right guard during his rookie campaign. Since then, he’s started 39 more at center for the Ravens. That’s a lot of time in the trenches, providing the 28-year-old veteran with a wealth of experience. He’s a long-term starter for whoever signs him this offseason.

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Realistic Options for the Broncos

1. Alex Mack – Once upon a time, Mack was regarded as the best center in football. During his 12 seasons in Cleveland and Atlanta, the center earned six Pro Bowl invites. He’s not quite the player he once was, however, and he’ll turn 36 in November. That said, Mack would provide a great veteran presence for the Broncos, able to provide all sorts of insight and on-field coaching for Cushenberry. And he most likely will come much cheaper than many of the players listed above.

2. James Ferentz – Ferentz doesn’t come with near the resume that Mack boasts, but he does have experience, having played a season in Houston, two in Denver and three in New England. Plus, he’s the son of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, so it stands to reason that he’s a student of the game. That’d be beneficial, as he can also help Cushenberry learn the craft. Ferentz has mostly been a backup during his six-year career, so he’ll come cheaper and won’t mind sitting behind a younger player.

3. Ben Garland – This is a name familiar to Broncos Country, as Garland played college football at Air Force and spent the early part of his pro career in Denver, bouncing back and forth between the practice squad and the active roster. After moving on to Atlanta prior to the 2016 campaign, Garland got more playing time, something that has carried over to his past two seasons in San Francisco. The veteran can play center or guard, so he’d be a good addition for his versatility.