ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Optimism has finally became reality for the Broncos, Ryan Clady and the most crucial spot along their offensive line. But until now, there were no guarantees that the Broncos wouldn't face a gaping hole at a premium position that can rarely be filled at an elite level without a top-15 pick.
The franchise tag is not necessarily the precursor to a long-term relationship between player and team. In fact, Clady is at this point the only one of the eight players franchised this year to receive the tag and sign a contract of at least four years with the same team -- something that 11 of the 19 franchise players in 2012 did within a year of being franchised.
One of those 11 last year was Matt Prater, who signed a four-year deal after becoming the Broncos' first franchise tag in a decade. The previous one, Jason Elam, also signed a long-term deal (five years) a year after being tagged. But those were kickers, which mean their contracts are dwarfed by those of a player at one of the premium positions.
Therefore, the value of Clady's deal is two-fold. First, it secures one of the three foundational positions of a pass-driven league for the foreseeable future. Quarterback is set with Peyton Manning; what happens in the long run is up to Brock Osweiler and whether he grows into the eventual starter the Broncos have pegged him to be. The other leg of the triangle -- pass rusher -- could be next in the pipeline over the coming two years as Von Miller's rookie deal advances and eventually expires.
Second, it's a reminder to future players who are franchised that when the Broncos say they want to work on a long-term deal after the tag is applied, they mean it.
And few contracts can cost more than that of a 26-year-old who protects the blind side of a future Hall of Fame quarterback who had multiple neck surgeries, has never missed a game in five NFL seasons despite painful knee and shoulder injuries and has been a first-team All-Pro twice in the last four seasons.
The Broncos had to sign Clady to this deal because franchise left tackles like him don't land in your lap often. And it usually takes a forgettable season to make it possible to do so.
He's been one of the building blocks that accelerated the post-2010 rebuilding process, and keeping him for what should be his peak years gives the Broncos the best chance of ensuring that their reconstruction efforts lead to the ultimate payoff. A failure to reach an agreement would have hindered not only Manning's years, but the chances of Osweiler reaching his potential. Now Manning doesn't have to worry about his back side and Osweiler can eventually have the best chance to blossom.
Giving Clady a five-year deal wasn't simply a priority; it was essential, because the Broncos weren't going to find another Clady waiting for them after this year.