The Denver Broncos are now Sean Payton’s team, and he spent his first NFL offseason with the franchise remaking it in his image. That means upgrading along the lines and adding weapons on offense. Payton accomplished these goals via the NFL draft and in free agency. But what was the riskiest move they made? The Mike McGlinchey Broncos’ free agent signing is the biggest risk the team took in the 2023 NFL offseason.

Why the Mike McGlinchey Broncos’ free agent signing is the riskiest move of the 2023 NFL offseason

Sean Payton started his career under former Philadelphia Eagles coach Ray Rhodes, who coached under the father of the West Coast offense, Bill Walsh. And the West Coast offense is, foundationally, what Payton runs.

This means quick, short passes to receivers, backs, and tight ends are what drive the offensive game. However, during his time with Drew Brees in New Orleans, Payton tweaked his offense to include an aggressive downfield passing component as well. And while a true West Coast system uses short passes in lieu of the run game, Payton likes to have a traditional power run game, too, in order to exploit matchups when he can.

All this requires a strong offensive line that can both pass protect and run over defenses when necessary to execute his varied play calls.

With this as the Broncos’ needs this NFL offseason, Payton and general manager George Paton made a major commitment to the position group.

The team brought in former Baltimore Ravens guard Ben Powers, former Seattle Seahawks center Kyle Fuller, and former San Francisco 49ers tackle Mike McGlinchey.

Fuller got a one-year deal, Powers got four years with an out after two, and McGlinchey got the biggest deal of all. The Mike McGlinchey Broncos’ free agent signing included a five-year, $87.5 million deal a $17.5 million signing bonus, and $52.5 million guaranteed, for an average annual value of $17.5 million per season.

The deal does have an out after three years at the guaranteed $52.5 million, which will leave $7 million in dead cap, but the Broncos are now locked into McGlinchey at right tackle for the next three seasons.

The good news about this is that Payton loves continuity along the offensive line, and if McGlinchey works out, the new head coach will have that on the right side for the next three to five years at least, as the tackle is just 28 years old.

However, the reason the Mike McGlinchey Broncos’ free agent signing is such a risk is that it’s questionable how good a starting right tackle he is.

McGlinchey is a big, smart tackle who is best as a run blocker. At 6-foot-8, 310 pounds, the 2019 No. 9 overall pick out of Notre Dame can hold down the backside on a run play or lead the charge, flattening anyone in his path.

The problem is when it comes to pass protection. As NFL pass rushers get faster and more athletic, an old-school road grader like McGlinchey just can’t hold up. In fact, his pass blocking was so bad at times last season he became the target of 49ers fans’ ire and even took some of the blame for the team losing Trey Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Brock Purdy to injuries last season.

Russell Wilson also wasn’t protected well last season, and that was one of the reasons he struggled so mightily in his first year in Denver. Protecting him and giving him time to properly execute Payton’s offense is a cornerstone of the Broncos’ 2023 offseason, and McGlinchey is a (or the) crucial piece of that.

In fairness to the Broncos, there weren’t a ton of top tackles on the market this offseason, and despite his flaws, McGlinchey was one of the best available, along with Orlando Brown Jr., Jawaan Taylor, Kaleb McGary, and Andre Dillard. Denver did pay their new RT the most of any of these players, though.

Now it’s time to find out whether this risk will pay off for the Broncos. Sean Payton does have a history of taking unheralded or lightly-regarded linemen and turning them into longtime starters. McGlinchey isn’t exactly that, but he was much-maligned in San Francisco. Maybe Payton can turn that around.

If he does, then there is no problem with the fact that McGlinchey is the 13th-highest-paid tackle and sixth-highest-paid right tackle in the league. That said, if McGlinchey fails to protect Wilson as he struggled at times to do for Lance, Garoppolo, and Purdy, then that will be a major strain on the cap for the next few years, and the Mike McGlinchey Broncos’ free agent signing will look bad.