OCTOBER 7: Providing final details on the picks swapped in the Gregory trade, which is now official, NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco notes that the seventh-round selection the 49ers will receive originally belonged to the Rams. San Francisco, meanwhile, will send its own sixth-rounder back to Denver as the latter team aims to move on from a highly disappointing free agent investment.
OCTOBER 6: The Broncos found a taker for Randy Gregory, who is set to head west. The 49ers agreed to acquire Gregory on Friday, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero. Denver had been planning to release the recently demoted edge rusher, but he will catch on in an interesting place.
A pick-swap trade will complete this process. San Francisco is sending a 2024 sixth-rounder to Denver for Gregory and a 2024 seventh, per Pelissero. The 49ers have shown an ability to coax bounce-back offerings from defensive linemen, with Kris Kocurek a highly regarded position coach. They will try this formula with Gregory, who is in the second season of a five-year, $69.5MM contract.
This trade will involve the Broncos paying a portion of Gregory’s $10.89MM in remaining 2023 salary, 9News’ Mike Klis reports. It turns out, the Broncos will pay almost all of Gregory’s salary. Save for the prorated veteran minimum ($840K) that will be on the 49ers to cover, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reports the Broncos will be responsible for the rest. The Broncos were ready to eat that money by releasing Gregory, so it makes sense they were fine with making this payment to secure late-round draft compensation.
The team picked up most of Von Miller‘s remaining 2021 salary upon dealing him to the Rams before that year’s deadline. That increased the compensation, with the Rams sending second- and third-round picks for the future Hall of Famer. Signed to help fill the Miller void in Denver months after that trade, Gregory did not live up to expectations. As such, his trade value is much lower.
The 49ers will pick up some flexibility with Gregory, whose contract calls for nonguaranteed salaries from 2024-26. At the time of signing, the Broncos had added the ex-Cowboys second-rounder on a long-term deal that checked in outside the top 20 for edge rusher AAV. Now, the 49ers will take a chance on Gregory. It will be interesting to see if the 49ers view Gregory as a non-rental, seeing as they just signed off on Nick Bosa‘s record-shattering extension, but the team does have an intriguing Bosa sidekick en route.
Gregory, 30, has flashed promising talent. He posted six-sack seasons with the Cowboys in 2018 and 2021, combining for 32 QB hits in those years, but injuries and suspensions have interrupted much of his prime. After a four-suspension run in Dallas — albeit under a CBA that featured harsher penalties for substance abuse — Gregory signed with Denver in 2022. The Cowboys were close to re-signing a player they had stood by despite his rampant unavailability, but contract language led to a snafu, changing both Dallas and Denver’s edge rusher plans. Gregory had been in talks with the Broncos last March but had said he would return to the Cowboys if they matched the terms. The Denver deal went through. Much has changed for the AFC West franchise since the Gregory deal came to pass, however, and the fit did not work out.
Needing shoulder surgery in 2022, Gregory was sidelined until Week 1. The Broncos did see some positive early returns from Gregory last season, when he played opposite Bradley Chubb. But a knee injury led Gregory to IR after Week 4. He did not return until late December and was not in top form upon coming back. Sean Payton hired ex-Broncos HC Vance Joseph as his defensive coordinator, and Gregory ended up benched by Week 4. Calling out Gregory for poor effort in the team’s 70-20 thrashing in Miami, the Broncos used Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper as their starting edge rushers in Chicago.
This pair will hold down the fort for the time being, but the Broncos have free agency pickup Frank Clark and converted ILB Baron Browning nearing returns. The team designated Browning for return from the PUP list Wednesday, and Clark is aiming to come back by Week 5. The pair have rehabbed knee and groin injuries, respectively.
A Bonitto-Cooper-Clark-Browning foursome brings some intrigue for the Broncos, but the team has seen its OLB situation change since Gregory’s injury and the Chubb trade transpired in 2022. Joseph’s return to Denver has not gone smoothly, either; the Broncos rank last in total defense and points allowed. And the Gregory signing will go down as a clear miss for Broncos GM George Paton.
The 49ers let both Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu walk in free agency, saving up for the Bosa extension. The team has used ex-Raiders top-five pick Clelin Ferrell as the starter opposite Bosa, but 2022 second-rounder Drake Jackson is tied for the team lead with three sacks. Gregory joining the 49ers opens the door to a stacked defensive line. Although it is uncertain if the 4-0 team will want Gregory starting or in place as a rotational backup, the prospect of a Bosa-Gregory-Arik Armstead–Javon Hargrave quartet is now in play.
Kocurek and Bosa led the way in helping Ebukam, Omenihu and Arden Key generate plus work upon arriving in San Francisco. Gregory flashed better pre-Bay Area form compared to that trio, and the Super Bowl contenders will bank on their infrastructure once again. With the Broncos on the hook for most of Gregory’s 2023 money, this qualifies as a flier. The 49ers will gauge the fit before determining Gregory’s post-2023 future.