Broncos Rumors

WR Notes: Lions, Burks, Broncos, Giants

The Lions are leading the NFL in scoring, having hit 35 points in three of their four games. They did so Sunday without Amon-Ra St. Brown and D’Andre Swift and have been playing without their No. 12 overall draft choice all season. As expected, Jameson Williams will not return to practice when first eligible. Dan Campbell confirmed the first-round pick is improving but added “several weeks” remain before practices enter the equation, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Detroit has a Week 6 bye. Campbell said it will be “a good time after” that point before the team considers Williams practicing.

An Ohio State recruit who broke through after transferring to Alabama in 2021, Williams is rehabbing the ACL tear he sustained in the national championship game. The previously mentioned midseason return, which would give Williams nearly 10 months of rehab, may not quite cover it. But the Lions are understandably playing the long game here. They are not exactly primed to contend in 2022 and could have Williams under team control through 2026, via the fifth-year option. Once Williams’ practice window is opened, the Lions have 21 days to activate him from their reserve/NFI list.

Here is the latest from the receiver scene:

  • Turf toe will pause Treylon Burks‘ rookie season. While Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes the Titans receiver is not set to undergo surgery, he will miss time (Twitter link). This absence is expected to extend beyond a couple of weeks, per Pro Football Focus’ Doug Kyed. That would open the door to an IR stint. Turf toe can be a nagging issue, and this ailment has cropped up after Burks cleared some offseason hurdles to put together a somewhat promising start. Burks bounced on and off the field during the offseason for the Titans, with an asthma issue contributing to his missing minicamp. Despite the first-round pick not starting Tennessee’s opener, he caught seven passes for 102 yards over his team’s first two games. The Arkansas alum will look to build on that upon return.
  • Staying with the 2022 receiver draft class, the Commanders are set to be without their first-round pick for a stretch. A hamstring injury will likely sideline Jahan Dotson for at least two games, Ron Rivera said. Dotson has proven to be a solid contributor early, catching three touchdown passes in four weeks.
  • The Broncos, who have now lost two skill-position starters to season-ending ACL tears, are planning to elevate K.J. Hamler‘s role. Nathaniel Hackett said the 2020 second-round pick is a player the team must involve more in its game plans, via the Denver Post’s Parker Gabriel (on Twitter). Although Hamler caught a well-placed 55-yard pass in Week 4 to set up a Denver touchdown, he played four snaps in Las Vegas. Considering the Broncos are without Tim Patrick for the season, Hamler not seeing much action surprises. But the Penn State-developed speedster suffered an ACL tear and a hip injury — one the Broncos feared was a Bo Jackson-type malady — in Week 3 last season. With the team holding him out in Week 2 because of his previous injury, Hamler is still attempting to surmount that setback. During this process, the Broncos have used Kendall Hinton as their No. 3 wideout.
  • Sterling Shepard confirmed (via The Athletic’s Dan Duggan, on Twitter) he did not suffer any damage beyond his ACL tear, though the seventh-year Giants wideout estimated his tear actually occurred two plays before he went down. Shepard, who will undergo surgery this month, agreed to a pay cut to stay this offseason — which followed a 2021 Achilles tear. This latest injury could put the former second-round pick’s career in jeopardy.

QB Blake Bortles Announces Retirement

Blake Bortles is not planning to continue his efforts at returning to a team’s active roster. The former No. 3 overall pick announced his retirement during an appearance on Barstool Sports’ Pardon My Take podcast.

The longtime Jaguars starter has not played in a regular-season game since the 2019 season, when he appeared in three as Jared Goff‘s backup with the Rams. But he has bounced around the league in the years since, last being with a team in April. The Saints released Bortles at that point, and the former AFC championship game starter said during the podcast he has not touched a football since January.

Since his 2019 Rams signing, Bortles caught on with the Broncos and Packers and also circled back to the Rams. He finished his career as a Saints emergency roster option, amid the team’s COVID-19 surge during the Omicron variant’s height. Mostly from his rookie contract and the three-year, $54MM extension he signed with the Jaguars in 2018, Bortles walks away from the game having made more than $47MM. The Jags bailing on that deal after one season, however, abruptly ended the oft-scrutinized passer’s run as a starter.

The Central Florida product started 73 career games, and while he ended up being benched months after signing that extension, the former Doug Marrone pupil had Jacksonville on the cusp of a Super Bowl LII berth. Bortles threw for 293 yards in a narrow AFC championship game loss in New England, doing so after the Jaguars won a divisional-round shootout in Pittsburgh.

Despite having chosen Blaine Gabbert in the top 10 three years prior, the Jags went back to the Round 1 QB well with Bortles, who came off the 2014 board far earlier than his QB contemporaries — in a class that included Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr. Numerous The Good Place references aside, Bortles frequently drew criticism during his rocky Jags tenure. Working with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, Bortles finished the 2015 season with 35 touchdown passes. But the Jags went 5-11 that year; Bortles then struggled in 2016. He threw 51 interceptions from 2014-16, but the team nevertheless stuck with its starter — as Marrone replaced Gus Bradley as HC– leading to a 2017 outlier season that nearly produced one of the most unlikely Super Bowl entrants in the game’s history.

Jacksonville assembled a strong defense in 2017 — one that led the league in DVOA and lived up to its “Sacksonville” nickname — helping the team to a 10-6 record and the AFC title game. The Jags could not sustain that formula in 2018 and began a decline that led to their talented defense splintering and, eventually, the Urban Meyer year. The Jags released Bortles in March 2019, taking on $16.5MM in dead money as they pivoted to one-and-done option Nick Foles. Bortles concludes his career with 103 touchdown passes and 75 interceptions; his 17,646 passing yards are second-most (behind Mark Brunell) in Jags history.

Broncos’ Randy Gregory Avoids Season-Ending Injury; Knee Surgery On Tap

OCTOBER 4: Gregory will end up on IR after all, per a team announcement; the move guarantees that he will be unavailable for at least one month. The Broncos also confirmed on Tuesday that Williams will head to IR, along with the signing of Latavius Murray to try and compensate for his loss.

OCTOBER 3: Although the Broncos lost their top running back to a season-ending knee injury, they are expected to have Randy Gregory back this year. It will just require yet another 2022 surgery for the standout defensive end to return.

Gregory avoided ACL damage and will undergo arthroscopic meniscus surgery, per Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio and NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (Twitter links). While Gregory’s timeline will be determined post-surgery, the Broncos free agent acquisition could be ready to come back without needing an IR stay. A two- to six-week absence should be the timetable, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Nathaniel Hackett, however, did say short-term IR — mandating a four-week absence — is on the table.

[RELATED: Javonte Williams Suffers ACL Tear]

This will be Gregory’s third 2022 surgery. Prior to making his decision to commit to the Broncos, Gregory underwent a previous knee surgery. That took place during the winter. Shortly after signing with the Broncos in March, Gregory then underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery. The shoulder operation led to Gregory being on the shelf for months. While these three procedures did not address severe injuries, they have comprised quite the surgical docket for the pass-rushing standout. Considering the Williams development, the Broncos are still fortunate Gregory will be expected back fairly soon.

The Broncos made Gregory the centerpiece of their free agency puzzle. After seeing their Gregory negotiations nearly lead to the former Cowboys second-round pick re-sign with his original NFL team, guarantee forfeiture language led him to renege on the Dallas commitment and take his five-year, $70MM contract from Denver. The Broncos, who passed on a more expensive Von Miller reunion, preferred the 29-year-old Gregory at $14MM per. They then drafted Nik Bonitto in the second round and traded frequent spot starter Malik Reed to the Steelers.

The Reed trade sets up Baron Browning, who converted from inside linebacker to the edge this offseason, to be Denver’s top Bradley Chubb complementary rusher. A 2021 third-round pick, Browning has played in front of Bonitto to start this season. Gregory was instrumental in the Broncos’ defense leading the team to wins over the Texans and 49ers, recording sacks in both games. He has two forced fumbles to start his Broncos run. But the upper-echelon defense, which is already without Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons, will need to get by without its highest-paid edge defender for the time being.

Broncos Sign RB Latavius Murray Off Saints’ Practice Squad

As the Broncos deal with a season-ending knee injury to starting running back Javonte Williams, they’ve reached out for some help. Denver has reportedly signed running back Latavius Murray off of the Saints’ practice squad, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

The Saints offered Murray a spot on their active roster, according to NewOrleans.football’s Nick Underhill (on Twitter). But Murray opted for Denver, which looks set to offer a more prominent role. The Broncos will be without their top running back for the rest of the season, and their primary off-the-bench option (Melvin Gordon) is leading all backs in fumbles this season.

After a similar situation brought Murray to Baltimore last season, the 32-year-old spent the offseason training on his own before signing to the practice squad in New Orleans just after Week 1, returning to the city he called home for two years. With star running back Alvin Kamara out for the Saints’ London matchup against the Vikings last weekend, Murray was called up as a gameday elevation from the practice squad. Splitting carries with Mark Ingram in the backfield, Murray led the team with 11 rush attempts for 57 yards and a touchdown.

Murray reverted back to the practice squad after the game, allowing for other teams in the NFL to pick him away from New Orleans. Enter the Broncos, sans Williams. Denver has similarly been running a two-headed rushing attack with Williams and Gordon. The former first-rounder had put himself in the doghouse on Sunday after his fourth fumble (a league-high for a running back) before Williams was injured and, after a few carries to third-string back Mike Boone, returned to play.

The veteran Murray likely won’t be able to replace the production of Williams, but his ability to function in a split backfield makes him a handsome fit in Denver. While some may not expect much out of Murray as soon as this weekend, one needs only look back to his tenure with the Ravens to change their mind. Murray was one of several veteran running backs to sign with Baltimore following the injuries to J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill. He was signed just three days before the season began and still led the team in carries for two of the first three weeks of the year. He was eventually named the starting running back in Week 4.

In Denver, the Broncos have a legitimate starter in Gordon and an experienced backup in Boone, who has been with the team since last year. There will certainly be no need to rush Murray into action this week, but he certainly has the ability to contribute if needed.

Broncos RB Javonte Williams Suffers Torn ACL

The Broncos’ worst fears have been confirmed with respect to Javonte Williams. The second-year running back has suffered a torn ACL, and his season is over (Twitter link via Tom Pelissero of NFL Network). His colleague Ian Rapoport adds that Williams also tore his LCL and posterior lateral corner, further lengthening his road to recovery. 

Williams injured his knee during last night’s loss to the Raiders, and it was immediately thought to be accompanied by a lengthy absence. He underwent an MRI earlier today, which has revealed the damage done to his second NFL campaign, and to the Broncos’ rushing attack.

One of the most highly-touted RB prospects in last year’s draft class, Williams put together a productive college career at North Carolina. That led to him hearing his name called in the second round, with the expectation that he would soon emerge as Denver’s undisputed lead back. He operated in a time share with veteran Melvin Gordon throughout the year, however, totaling 903 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Despite the latter re-signing in the offseason, Williams was widely viewed as one of the top breakout candidates around the league. He saw a slight uptick in usage early in the 2022 season, with a snap share of 54%. In all, he totaled 204 scoreless yards on 47 carries, and was a factor in the passing game with 76 yards on 16 receptions. His loss will be felt on a Broncos offense which has been surprisingly inconsistent with quarterback Russell Wilson.

With Williams sidelined, Gordon could become the team’s every-down back. However, his well-documented fumbling issues have emerged once again this season, as he leads all running backs with four. Still, his consecutive 1,100-yard campaigns during his first two years in the Mile High City point to the production he is capable of. The next member on the team’s depth chart is Mike Boone, who saw a season-high 19 snaps in yesterday’s contest.

Williams will now begin the long recovery process, while the Broncos will look for short-term solutions to replace his production. The team is in better cap shape than most, so an addition from the pool of remaining free agents could be coming soon.

Javonte Williams, Randy Gregory To Undergo MRIs For Knee Injuries

OCTOBER 3: While further testing is still to be done, the Broncos fear that Williams’ injury will keep him sidelined for at least an extended period, if not the remainder of the season (video link via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport).

OCTOBER 2: As if losing a close game to a division-opponent wasn’t bad enough, the Broncos saw starters on both sides of the ball leave the game with knee injuries, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. Running back Javonte Williams and pass rusher Randy Gregory will both get MRIs tomorrow morning, according to Jeff Legwold of ESPN, to determine the severity of their injuries. 

Unfortunately, it sounds like those with knowledge of the situation believe Williams injury to be a serious one, via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). If Williams is forced to miss extended time, it would be a devastating blow to Denver’s offense. While the second-year running back out of North Carolina has consistently split lead-rusher duties with veteran Melvin Gordon, Williams had been the more productive back so far through three games this season.

It also doesn’t help that, after his fourth fumble of the season (the most for an NFL running back so far this year), Gordon was squarely placed in the doghouse tonight. When Williams left the game, instead of Denver leaning on the other side of its two-headed rushing attack, it was third-string veteran Mike Boone that heard his name called. Gordon did eventually return to the game, but his two carries for the remainder of the game are either indicative of the team’s trust in him right now or simply a result of the team needing to pass the ball in order to get back into a game that got away from them late.

Denver will have to figure out where it stands with Gordon moving forward, if Williams is forced to miss multiple games. Boone has extremely limited starting experience from his time in Minnesota and, with Damarea Crockett already on injured reserve, practice squad running back Devine Ozigbo is currently the team’s only other option.

Gregory also left the game with a knee injury. He was able to walk off the field under his own power but, after being examined, was carted off the sideline into the locker room. Gregory is just the latest of several Broncos pass rushers dealing with injuries this season as Christopher Allen, Jonathon Cooper, and Aaron Patrick have all dealt with ailments this season.

The defense struggled to stop the Raiders and running back Josh Jacobs following Gregory’s departure. An extended absence from the field could leave Denver’s defense hurting. If Gregory can’t suit up, young backups Nik Bonitto and Baron Browning will work opposite Bradley Chubb to get to the quarterback.

The lack of optimism is not encouraging heading towards the week, but MRIs Monday morning will inform the Broncos of just how dire their situation is.

Minor NFL Transactions: 10/1/22

Today’s minor moves around the league, including practice squad elevations for tomorrow’s action:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Washington Commanders

2022 NFL Cap Space, By Team

As we exit September, trade rumors will become a steady NFL topic. This year’s deadline falls on Nov. 1. That will return cap-space discussions to the forefront. Here is how every team stacks up financially going into October, via Over The Cap.

  1. Cleveland Browns: $35.94MM
  2. Philadelphia Eagles: $10.89MM
  3. Denver Broncos: $10.67MM
  4. Carolina Panthers: $10.47MM
  5. Las Vegas Raiders: $10.35MM
  6. Dallas Cowboys: $9.25MM
  7. Pittsburgh Steelers: $8.64MM
  8. Green Bay Packers: $8.57MM
  9. Indianapolis Colts: $7.97MM
  10. Atlanta Falcons: $7.92MM
  11. New York Jets: $6.97MM
  12. Chicago Bears: $6.84MM
  13. San Francisco 49ers: $6.75MM
  14. Miami Dolphins: $6.51MM
  15. Arizona Cardinals: $6.25MM
  16. Los Angeles Chargers: $5.83MM
  17. New York Giants: $5.49MM
  18. Jacksonville Jaguars: $5.41MM
  19. Los Angeles Rams: $5.38MM
  20. Baltimore Ravens: $4.51MM
  21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $3.87MM
  22. New England Patriots: $3.5MM
  23. Cincinnati Bengals: $3.16MM
  24. New Orleans Saints: $2.86MM
  25. Detroit Lions: $2.64MM
  26. Washington Commanders: $2.58MM
  27. Buffalo Bills: $2.44MM
  28. Tennessee Titans: $2.41MM
  29. Seattle Seahawks: $2.28MM
  30. Kansas City Chiefs: $2.12MM
  31. Houston Texans: $1.64MM
  32. Minnesota Vikings: $1.47MM

The Eagles’ number is certainly far closer to the Vikings’ last-place figure than what the Browns have stockpiled. Cleveland would stand to have room to augment its 2022 roster, via a patient free agent or a trade. That could depend on where Jacoby Brissett has the team stationed going into the Nov. 1 deadline. But the Browns also appear to be preparing for their Deshaun Watson future. Watson’s unprecedented contract spikes from a $9.4MM cap number (2022) to a record-shattering $54.99MM numbers from 2023-26. As that reality awaits, the Browns rolling over cap space to 2023 would be prudent.

With Sterling Shepard‘s ACL tear moving the veteran wide receiver to IR, the Giants will need to both cover that cost ($6.3MM) and add a contract to fill the roster spot. Every team will go through versions of that issue this season, as injuries pile up. The Giants are prepared to eat a significant chunk of Kenny Golladay‘s 2022 base salary ($13MM) to move him, eyeing an escape from his $4.5MM 2023 guarantee. No takers have emerged, though it will be interesting to see if a market for the former Pro Bowler forms once injuries affect more teams’ receiver situations.

Since their Jimmy Garoppolo restructure, the 49ers agreed to a two-year extension with Dre Greenlaw. The team is not expected to extend Nick Bosa until 2023, however. The Texans, Falcons, Bears and Eagles all sit north of $60MM in dead money, meaning more than a quarter of their respective cap space is tied to players no longer on the roster. Watson, Matt Ryan and Khalil Mack are responsible for massive dead-money hits on the Houston, Atlanta and Chicago payrolls. Philadelphia still has Alshon Jeffery, Malik Jackson and Brandon Brooks dead money on its cap sheet.

Nathaniel Hackett Addresses Hire Of Game Management Assistant

After a flurry of managerial issues — headlined by a Week 1 snafu that produced a bizarre 64-yard field goal attempt — nearly led the Broncos to 0-2, they made an in-season addition to their coaching staff. Nathaniel Hackett bringing Jerry Rosburg out of retirement to aid with game management helped Denver in Week 3.

Hackett said he worked with GM George Paton and assistant GM Darren Mougey to find solutions to the issues plaguing him on the managerial front to start his HC career. Hackett called Rosburg, whom he had not previously worked with, to see if he would come out of retirement to help the Broncos, Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com notes.

For me, I felt empowered that I was able to make a decision. Hey, let’s fix it. I’m the leader of the team. Let’s do it,” Hackett said of the hire, via NBC Sports’ Peter King. “This was the first time, the past two games, that I felt I was hurting my team. Did I have enough info? I don’t know. But I knew the setup wasn’t right. I needed help to make the tough decision.”

Calling the decision to add Rosburg “difficult,” Hackett said (via King) he brought the 66-year-old retiree to the Broncos’ facility last week and introduced him to the team days before the game against the 49ers. Indicating to his players that he would ask them to take a critical look at themselves for mistakes they make, Hackett said he did the same. With Hackett not initially planning to add an assistant and having not worked with Rosburg previously, it is worth speculating if the Broncos’ front office pushed the move.

Jerry was great,’’ Hackett said, via Legwold. “We had been evaluating everything on how we were managing things up to that point. I wanted to be sure I was able to be an efficient play-caller for Russell [Wilson] and the offense. … For me as a coach, all coaches, we want to grow … he’s a guy with a ton of experience that’s run game management before. And after talking with him, he was all for it, excited about it.”

From fourth-down decisions to challenges, Rosburg advised Hackett during Denver’s Week 3 win. The Broncos lost both the challenges Hackett made, but the team’s situational problems largely receded compared to the avalanche of scrutiny Weeks 1 and 2 brought. Denver doubled its delay-of-game penalties from last season in just two games, being whistled for this infraction four times, and incurred 25 penalties — including six false-start violations — against the Seahawks and Texans. The Broncos were also the 21st century’s first team to start 0-for-6 in red zone touchdown opportunities.

Hackett’s ignominious moments — the Seattle field goal choice and Broncos fans counting down the play clock against Houston — have defined his early tenure, and Wilson has struggled adjusting to the former Packers OC’s scheme. Denver’s defense, which ranks as a top-three unit in yards and points allowed, has played a key role in helping the team through its early offensive and managerial issues. The team settling down on the management front does represent a positive early-season development for Hackett’s operation, which also features first-timers at OC (Justin Outten) and DC (Ejiro Evero).

Broncos Hire Jerry Rosburg As Senior Assistant

The first two regular season games of Nathaniel Hackett‘s head coaching career have not gone particularly smoothly. Hackett’s Broncos suffered an upset defeat at the hands of the Seahawks in Week 1, and while Denver squeezed out a 16-9 win over the Texans in Week 2, the victory had its share of troubling moments.

Hackett has been widely blamed for the Seattle loss. With the Broncos trailing 17-16 in the game’s waning moments, Hackett had to choose between letting quarterback Russell Wilson attempt to convert a fourth-and-five and to continue driving into comfortable field goal range, or to let kicker Brandon McManus attempt a 64-yard FG for the win. Hackett chose the latter option, McManus’ kick was unsuccessful, and the second-guessing began in earnest.

Of course, that decision is not the only reason the Broncos, who saw two different running backs fumble the ball at the Seahawks’ one-yard line on two different drives, lost that contest. However, Hackett did concede after the fact that he made the wrong choice, and his club’s 25 accepted penalties are the most in the league over the first two games of the 2022 campaign. That figure includes four delay-of-game infractions, and a general lack of organization has led to multiple unnecessary timeouts.

To that end, the team has hired longtime NFL coach Jerry Rosburg, 9News’ Mike Klis reports. Adam Schefter of ESPN.com adds (via Twitter) that Rosburg, who will operate under the title of Senior Assistant, has spent the week in Denver and will be in the Broncos’ coaching booth for the team’s Week 3 matchup with the 49ers. Rosburg will assist in gameday operations and decisions.

Earlier this week, Hackett indicated the team would have “good answers moving forward,” but as Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com writes, the rookie HC was not initially planning to add an assistant. It is unclear exactly what convinced Hackett to change his mind, though having another veteran presence who will be specifically tasked with in-game procedure should be a welcome development for Broncos fans.

Rosburg, 66, began his coaching career as the secondary coach for Boston College in 1997. He eventually became the special teams coach for the Browns, Falcons, and Ravens, spending the 2008-18 seasons in Baltimore before announcing his retirement in March 2019. He earned a championship ring with the Ravens, whose Super Bowl XLVII victory featured a key piece of special teams/game management strategy.

Rosburg returns to the NFL on the coaching staff of a team that has a championship-caliber roster but that has some wrinkles to iron out.