BRONCOS

After Lloyd Cushenberry, what’s next for Broncos at center?

Apr 2, 2024, 11:55 PM | Updated: Apr 3, 2024, 12:46 am

The first waves of free agency came and went and the Denver Broncos didn’t add anyone at center to replace Lloyd Cushenbery III.

So, barring something unforeseen in the draft, 2022 draft pick Luke Wattenberg and 2023 seventh-round choice Alex Forsyth will be the two players battling out to snap the football to Jarrett Stidham, Ben DiNucci or a quarterback still to be determined in the coming weeks.

With Forsyth in particular, general manager George Paton identified him in January as a “starter in this league.”

Two months later, Payton didn’t make the same level of declaration, but showed confidence that among Forsyth and Wattenberg — Day 3 picks in back-to-back years — the Broncos can find a Lloyd Cushenberry replacement.

“Those are the two candidates today as we sit here that will have a good opportunity to win that job,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said at the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando last week.

And one thing Payton likes about them is their similarity to Cushenberry.

“Well, there is a grit element to them. They’re both athletic and they’re both extremely smart, just as Lloyd is,” Payton said.

“[Center] is a position that requires not only a certain skill set, but a certain cerebral mindset. I think that both of those guys have that temperament, but they also have that understanding of what we’re doing.”

KEEPING LLOYD CUSHENBERRY WAS NOT A VIABLE OPTION FOR BRONCOS

Not with their salary-cap crunch — including the $53-million dead-money figure for Russell Wilson. And not with Quinn Meinerz heading into a contract year, playing a position — guard — that saw an explosion in contracts for the top players at the position in recent weeks.

Four guards now have contracts with average annual values of at least $20 million. Meinerz seems poised to join that group. And a potential increase in contract for Meinerz — as well as cornerback Pat Surtain II, expected to be playing the 2025 season on a fifth-year option unless he signs a long-term deal in the next 12 months — meant the Broncos had to make a tough choice with Lloyd Cushenberry.

“For him to [succeed] on our watch and be a part of a group that really improved, you get into these tough decisions,” Payton said. “Then we have some depth there on the offensive line, and then you start looking at your resources and the decisions early to take the medicine, if you will. Especially with the smart, tough and reliable player, that’s hard.”

So, the Broncos have traded smart, tough and reliable for two players who they believe have the same attributes. But they are unproven. And therein rests the question that only the regular season can answer.

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