Extension Candidate: Quinn Meinerz

Broncos GM George Paton has gone from a respected hire, succeeding John Elway in 2021, to the exec that greenlit three of this decade’s most criticized moves. But prior to the Nathaniel Hackett hire and the Russell Wilson trade and extension calls that set the franchise back, the Paton-fronted 2021 draft gave the Broncos an array of talent that remains in key roles on Sean Payton‘s second Denver roster.

The Broncos received steady criticism for passing on Justin Fields to start that draft, but their Patrick Surtain move has aged well. The All-Pro cornerback will be on track for a mega-extension, and after trade rumors during this year’s draft proved unfounded, extension talks are expected to begin soon. Denver also added starting running back Javonte Williams in Round 2; this will be a big year for the hard-charging RB, as he struggled for much of last season upon returning from ACL and LCL tears. Third-rounder Baron Browning and seventh-rounder Jonathon Cooper have started regularly at outside linebacker, and the team may turn to fifth-rounder Caden Sterns — a Week 1 starter last season before suffering an injury — as a first-stringer post-Justin Simmons.

While that Surtain-fronted haul will be heard from in Denver this season, the group also housed a Division III prospect who has turned into one of the NFL’s better players at his position. The Broncos chose Quinn Meinerz near the end of Round 3 (No. 98) out of Wisconsin-Whitewater. That pick has proven critical for the team, as offensive success stories have been hard to find for the Broncos in recent years.

Meinerz, 25, initially captured attention for mid-’80s Rocky Balboa-style workouts, following a COVID-19-nixed senior season at the D-III level, and practice jerseys exposing his midriff area. But the small-school prospect quickly showed he was capable of quality NFL play. Since taking over for an injured Graham Glasgow midway through the 2021 season, Meinerz has been the Broncos’ most consistent O-lineman. The now-extension-eligible blocker has settled in at right guard over the past two seasons.

As the Broncos cratered to last place in scoring offense during the ill-fated Hackett-Wilson season, Meinerz played well in 13 starts. Pro Football Focus graded Meinerz as a top-five guard in 2022. Last year, PFF slotted Meinerz third among guards. Known more for his run-blocking power, Meinerz has set himself up for a big contract year — should the Broncos not come to an extension agreement before that point.

Denver does not have considerable recent experience with extensions for interior O-linemen. The team has opted to fill its guard needs in free agency for many years, signing the likes of Louis Vasquez (2013), Ronald Leary (2017), Glasgow (2020) and Ben Powers (2023) to big-ticket deals. This span also included a training camp Evan Mathis addition (2015). While the team has seen some decent play from draftees at center and guard in this span (Matt Paradis, Connor McGovern, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry), extensions have not emerged. Paradis, Risner, Cushenberry, McGovern and Billy Turner each departed after solid contract years.

With Meinerz joining Surtain as the team’s top extension candidates from Paton’s first draft, it will be interesting to see how the Broncos proceed. Meinerz’s rookie contract has been valuable to the team in recent years, particularly in 2023. As Payton brought in Powers (four years, $52MM) and right tackle Mike McGlinchey (five years, $87.5MM) to pair with the Elway-era Garett Bolles extension (four years, $68MM), the rookie deals for Cushenberry and Meinerz became important.

Payton has been no stranger to O-line extensions. The Saints fortified these spots for years, most recently extending the likes of Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk on the Super Bowl-winning HC’s watch. They also re-signed Pro Bowl guard Andrus Peat. While Bo Nix‘s development has obviously become the central Broncos storyline in 2024, how the team handles its O-line contracts will be worth monitoring as well.

Bolles’ deal expires after this season, and the seven-year left tackle has expressed interest in a third contract. The 2017 first-rounder, however, will turn 32 later this month. Seeing about a younger LT upgrade and allocating money to keep Meinerz in the fold would be a viable path. Wilson’s astonishing dead money figure has settled in at $84MM when the QB’s Steelers offset is factored in, though the team is absorbing the lion’s share of the hit in 2024.

That contract will be on the Broncos’ books through 2025. The team may not want four veteran O-line deals — even around Nix’s rookie contract — on the payroll, creating a potential Bolles-or-Meinerz call. A longer-term Meinerz extension would, however, stand to align with Nix’s deal.

Guard salaries have ballooned past $20MM per year over the past two offseasons. Four guards are in the $20MM-AAV club. Meinerz not having a Pro Bowl or All-Pro nod on his resume may exclude him from that price range, but six more guards are tied to deals north of $15MM per year. Cushenberry also used a contract-year surge to command the second-highest guarantee at signing ($26MM) among centers. Meinerz staying on course will position him as one of next year’s top free agents, as guard franchise tags — since O-linemen are grouped together under the tag formula — are rare.

With Browning and Cooper also due for free agency in 2025, the Broncos ($38MM in 2025 cap space, as of mid-May) will have some decisions to make over the next 10 months. Meinerz’s earnings floor stands to be higher by comparison, and the team’s issues developing offensive talent in recent years would seemingly point to an extension being considered. The Broncos hold exclusive negotiating rights with their 2021 draftees — though, Surtain is signed through 2025 via the fifth-year option — until March of next year.

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