LT Ryan Clady, Broncos break off contract talks until end of 2012 season

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com
Clady will play for $3.5 million in 2012. (US PRESSWIRE)

Earlier this summer, we listed Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady as one of our top-10 comeback candidates for 2012. He suffered through injuries and, to put it kindly, uneven quarterback play in recent seasons and now, with the precision and timing that accompany a Peyton Manning-led offense, Clady is poised to return to the form that made him one of the league's best at his position.

Except it looks like he'll have to do it on the $3.5 million he's due on the final year of the rookie deal he signed in 2008. Clady and the Broncos broke off contract talks Monday until after the 2012 season.

"Although we want to reach an extension with Ryan, we are unable to do so at this time," said team executive vice president John Elway, via the Denver Post's Mike Klis. "Now, our complete focus as an organization must turn toward having a successful 2012 season. We're looking forward to Ryan playing a key role on our team this year and hope he will be a Bronco for many seasons to come."

We'll just have to wait until January for it to become a reality. CBSSports.com's Will Brinson wrote last week that the Broncos reportedly offered Clady a five-year, $50 million deal which, as Klis points out, would've made the left tackle the third-highest paid offensive tackle, tied with the Jets' D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

Assuming how this year goes, the organization will be under some pressure to re-sign him before he hits free agency where he could command top dollar, perhaps something in the neighbor of the $11.5 million per season the Browns' Joe Thomas pulls down. Alternatively, the Broncos could choose to use the franchise tag, which would guarantee Clady a 2013 salary of roughly $9.6 million.

The former first-rounder out of Boise State had his worst professional season in 2011 when he allowed a career-high nine sacks and was flagged 12 times. We'll repeat here what we wrote in June about why 2011 was an anomaly: "It's one thing to block for a traditional pocket passer like Kyle Orton (or even the relatively mobile Jay Cutler before him, whose quick release made up for holding the ball too long). It's something else entirely when you're asked to pass-block for Tim Tebow who a) struggled to read defenses, b) held the ball in the pocket for what felt like days, and c) and had a wind-up that even Byron Leftwich thought was protracted. With Peyton Manning ... now running the show in Denver, Clady should return to his old dominating self."

We've mentioned before that players rarely hold the leverage when it comes to negotiating long-term contracts. While Clady's situation isn't a contentious one, the Steelers and Mike Wallace immediately comes to mind as a perfect example of where the organization has virtually all the power. In fact, we'd argue that Drew Brees is the exception to this rule because without him, the 2012 Saints would effectively become the 2011 Colts: playing for the first-overall pick. Clady isn't quite that important to the Broncos, but he means more to Denver than Wallace does to the Steelers.

Ironically, we wouldn't have been able to say that about Clady had Tim Tebow remained the starter, but that all changed when Denver signed Peyton Manning. Clearly, the team is better off in a more conventional offense with a future Hall of Fame quarterback -- even one who's 36 years old and coming off multiple neck surgeries. And it's the age and fragility that makes Clady more integral now than ever.

Manning told Sports Illustrated's Peter King over the weekend that not only is he operating at less than 100 percent, he hates hearing people say he's back to normal -- because he's not. Upside: a former coach told King "If I were a Denver fan, I wouldn't be worried about Peyton physically, because if he can't zing the ball the way he used to, he'll figure out a way. He always does.'' But this only holds if Manning stays upright, which brings us back to Clady.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.

 
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