Denver Broncos' Ryan Clady showing he's worth the big bucks
What Peyton Manning can't see hasn't hurt him. The Broncos quarterback's blind side has been well protected this season by a massive, agile offensive tackle whose feet are light, his once gimpy knee sound and his arms extended forever long.
With the kind of season Ryan Clady has been having as the Broncos' left tackle, there is only one way to describe it:
Pay The Man!
"He's having a great year," said left guard Zane Beadles, who lines up next to Clady on the Denver offensive line. "He's a great athlete. That's kind of his MO. I don't think there is any doubt that he's back."
To be sure, Clady's value isn't getting any cheaper. A case can be made that he is having the best season of his still-young NFL career— better even than his first team all-pro, pre-knee-injury season of 2009.
Clady and Houston's Duane Brown are the league's only left tackles who haven't allowed a sack this season while starting every game.
Although 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, Clady has been seen with Beadles running 10 to 20 yards downfield, a couple of dancing bears throwing blocks on receiver screen plays. These are the plays that catch the attention of television cameras and tend to incite Pro Bowl votes.
"It's fun to get out in space," Clady said. "You kind of have all eyes on you, so if you blow it (he laughs) everyone knows it. But it's fun having that cleanup block that helps spring for big yards."
Hours of practice on technique also have enabled Clady to become a more efficient run blocker.
"I think the area he's improved in is his run blocking," said Broncos coach John Fox. "It was something that we had seen as something he could improve at and he has."
The Broncos tried to work out a long-term contract extension with Clady in the weeks before training camp, which opened in late July. Talks broke off with no deal. John Elway, the Broncos' vice president of football operations, declined comment. But both sides have agreed to resume negotiations after the season, when Clady becomes eligible for free agency. Clady is being paid $3.5 million in the final season of a five-year contract.
To Clady's credit, and Manning's safety, Clady didn't become embittered at Denver management and have his disappointment bleed into his performance.
"I wouldn't say disappointed, but I definitely wanted to get it done before training camp started," Clady said. "And it didn't, but I just went out and played. This is my fifth year in the league; I understand it's a business. My job is to go out and play my best every down, every year."
Contract talks with pro athletes are always relative. The Broncos offered Clady a five-year, $50 million deal. Relatively speaking, that's a ton of dough. The $10 million average per year was greater than the 2012 franchise tag salary of $9.3 million and the projected $9.6 million to $9.8 million for a "tagged" offensive lineman in 2013.
Even with Clady becoming eligible for free agency at season's end, the Broncos can retain his services by placing the franchise tag on him for each of the next two seasons. Then again, the $10 million-a-year offer to Clady is less than the compensation for three other left tackles: Philadelphia's Jason Peters ($12.8 million per year average), Cleveland's Joe Thomas ($11.5 million) and Miami's Jake Long ($10.6 million).
With all due respect to Peters, Thomas and Long, it's difficult to say any of them are having better seasons than Clady. Certainly the commodities they are assigned to protect — Michael Vick, Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill, respectively — aren't near the value of Manning.
A 36-year-old quarterback coming off a missed year to recover from four neck surgeries, Manning has been sacked only 10 times this season, none in the past two games. Only three quarterbacks — brother Eli, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Schaub — have been sacked less.
Has there been an extra pinch of motivatation in Clady's performance this year to prove he's worth what the industry calls "Joe Thomas money?"
"Even if I had been paid, I would have tried to prove I was worth the contract," Clady said. "There's always motivation to play hard