ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Whether Manny Ramirez is a long-term starter or not, he has tangible value in the construction of the offensive line, and signing him to a two-year extension removes an item from the Broncos' draft-and-free-agent shopping lists for the near future.
Head Coach John Fox likes to cite the importance of "swing backups" who can play multiple positions on the offensive line, and Ramirez has shown the intelligence and flexibility to grasp the nuances of the guard and center positions, while also emerging as a quiet leader. How he fares in his starting gig at center is to be determined -- one game is not a large enough sample size for judgment -- although his improvement through three games of the preseason and his performance against the Ravens justifies optimism.
Ramirez also offers stability, which is crucial to the overall composition of the line, both on the first and second units. Here, it's important to note the contract situations along the offensive line, particularly at the three interior spots.
While right guard Louis Vasquez is the short- and long-term right guard with a four-year contract signed in March, left guard Zane Beadles has a contract that expires after the season. Chris Kuper is under contract through the 2015 season, but his future years aren't guaranteed, both in contract and as a result of his continued recovery from an ankle injury. Center J.D. Walton, currently on the physically-unable-to-perform list as he continues recovering from an ankle injury, is in the same situation as Beadles; as a 2010 draft pick outside of the first round, his contract expires after this season, as well. Guard John Moffitt, acquired via trade from Seattle last month, is under contract through next year.
That's a lot of uncertainty with injuries and contracts for a key area of the team. But in the last six months, the Broncos have signed Vasquez, re-signed left tackle Ryan Clady and added two years to Ramirez's contract. Right tackle Orlando Franklin is under contract through the 2014 season, which leaves only left guard unsettled for the medium term -- something that could be crossed off the list if the Broncos retain Beadles.
Should Ramirez blossom with further experience at center, the Broncos have found a bargain that brings them a step closer to long-term offensive-line stability, while also preventing a need from arising for next year's draft. If Ramirez struggles and eventually returns to the second team, the Broncos still have a swing backup who has starting experience at two spots on their offensive line.
Either way, the Broncos have a valuable commodity.