Flashing that Walton-Penner checkbook, the Denver Broncos spent a historic amount of guaranteed money this past offseason, signing interior defensive lineman Zach Allen, left guard Ben Powers, and right tackle Mike McGlinchey.
Under the new direction of head coach Sean Payton, the Broncos obviously wanted to spend to overcome their lack of draft capital this last offseason and prioritize strengthening both lines of scrimmage.
Through 10 games of the 2024 season, the results of this free-agent class have been mixed. Allen has been Denver’s best interior defender this season and has improved as the season has marched on.
Powers has been quiet (not a bad thing for his position) and a consistent performer along the offensive line. His ability to get himself healthy and ready to play through a foot injury last week vs. the Minnesota Vikings indicates commitment and toughness to his availability and commitment to the team.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, McGlinchey, the team’s biggest signing this offseason, has been disappointing through his first 10 games in Denver. After signing a five-year, $87.5 million contract with $52.5M guaranteed, he's playing on the third-largest contract in total value, seventh-highest in average-per-year money, and third-highest in guaranteed money for right tackles in the NFL.
Despite being a big-ticket purchase for Denver this past offseason, McGlinchey has earned himself the ire of Broncos Country. Given the inadequacy of the right tackles the Broncos have brought in over the years, it's hard to blame anyone for being skeptical of the right tackle position.
It's been a shaky start for McGlinchey in Denver.
With many talking heads skeptical about the value of the Broncos’ signing after five years playing in a favorable situation in San Francisco across from arguably the best tackle in the NFL in Trent Williams, alongside one of the best tight ends in football in George Kittle, and under one of the most prominent offensive minds in football in Kyle Shanahan, some believed McGlinchey was effectively “hidden” on the San Francisco 49ers' line and might struggle in a less advantageous situation.
The early results from McGlinchey this season indicated that those doubters were right to worry. He struggled with penalties, giving up pressures, and his game overall.
According to Pro Football Focus’ data on Weeks 1 through 7 of the season, McGlinchey surrendered 28 pressures on 267 pass-blocking reps and one pressure on 10.5% of his pass sets. He was also struggling by committing penalties, being flagged seven times on 412 total reps (mostly false starts), resulting in a penalty in 1.7% of his snaps.
McGlinchey's PFF offensive grade (58.2), pass-blocking grade (55.6), and run-blocking grade (66.5) were all extremely poor, not just for a highly-paid free agent but an NFL starter in general. PFF grades are, of course, subjective, but grades were not needed to state the obvious: McGlinchey was struggling.
Commendably, even while struggling, McGlinchey continued to meet with the media, taking responsibility for his struggles and remaining a consummate professional. Being a good person and nice to the media doesn’t make up for struggles on the field, but it doesn’t exacerbate them either.
Amid tweets of 'McFlinchey' and other digs being thrown around halfway through the season, the Broncos’ highly-paid tackle has quietly begun to turn the corner. Over the last three games, McGlinchey has surrendered a total of seven pressures in 115 pass-blocking reps, leading to a pressure-to-pass set rate of 6.1% — a rate nearly half he was giving up in Weeks 1 through 7.
McGlinchey’s penalties have also dropped dramatically over the last three games as well as having only been called for a singular false start in Buffalo. From a penalty-per-game average to just one in the last three is a trend Broncos Country will hope continues.
McGlinchey’s grades from PFF have also risen. His average run-blocking grade is essentially the same from Weeks 8 to 11 (65.5), but his offensive grade (68.0) and pass-blocking grade (71.0) have jumped dramatically. The grades themselves are subjective, but anyone watching the Broncos’ right tackle would very likely concur that he's no longer struggling.
It's important to note that a three-game sample size is far from robust. This week, McGlinchey and the Broncos' offensive line are going up against one of the best defenses the NFL has seen since 2015 and arguably the league's single-best pass rusher and pure athlete in the Cleveland Browns and Myles Garrett.
Statistical regression should be expected given the opponent. But if McGlinchey puts together another solid performance, perhaps Denver can begin to relax about McGlinchey and the contract he signed.
McGlinchey may never live up to his massive deal. In free agency, teams typically have to overpay in order to acquire top players at the most valuable positions, like quarterback, wide receiver, offensive tackle, and pass rusher. He will need to continue to show his recent form for those in Broncos Country to walk back their initial impressions and forget the poor pass-blocking reps and pre-snap penalties.
Even if he was overpaid relative to his value, McGlinchey is playing substantially better football of late, and that trend is worth following as the Broncos attempt to make a playoff push down the stretch.
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