September 20th, 2021 at 12:27pm CST by Zachary Links
An MRI confirmed that Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell has a torn pectoral muscle (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). That’ll officially end Jewell’s season so the Broncos will place him on the injured reserve list.
Jewell has emerged as a bright, young standout on Denver’s defense, starting in 30 of his 49 games to date. Last year, he notched 113 tackles, two sacks, four passes defensed, and five tackles for loss in a complete 16-game slate. In 2021, his year will end after just two starts with eight stops, one pass defensed, one forced fumble, and two tackles for loss.
The timing is especially unfortunate as Jewell is in his walk year. The 2018 fourth-round pick is currently on course for unrestricted free agency in the spring. With another healthy year, Jewell would have been in line for a massive payday. Now, he may be looking at a short-term deal in order to reclaim his value.
The Broncos advanced to 2-0 after topping the Jaguars on Sunday. This week, they’ll face the Jets in Denver, sans Jewell.
Preparing to use their franchise tag on Justin Simmonsfor a second straight year, the Broncos do not have a high number of unrestricted free agents that would seemingly factor prominently into their big picture. (Though, defensive lineman Shelby Harris would qualify as such a player.)
But Denver does have a few intriguing restricted free agents, and teams are believed to be monitoring a couple of those players’ statuses. Should the Broncos fail to place at least a second-round tender on RFAs Alexander Johnson or Tim Patrick, interest in those contributors will develop quickly, Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com notes.
An unusual RFA due to his age, the 29-year-old Johnson has worked as a three-down linebacker with Denver for most of Vic Fangio‘s two seasons. Pro Football Focus has graded Johnson as a top-25 off-ball ‘backer in each of those seasons. Johnson made 124 tackles last season, teaming with Josey Jewell in Denver’s sub-packages. Jewell is going into a contract year.
Despite the Broncos becoming the first team since the 2003 Cardinals to use first- and second-round picks on wideouts in the same draft — in Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler — Patrick led the team with six receiving touchdowns and amassed a career-high 742 receiving yards. The Broncos leaned on their 6-foot-4 ex-UDFA in key spots after Courtland Sutton‘s season-ending injury. Sutton is going into a contract year in 2021.
Should the Broncos place second-round RFA tenders on Johnson and Patrick, they would have the right to match an offer sheet. A refusal to do so would mean a second-round pick coming Denver’s way. Round 2 RFA tenders are expected to come in around $3.3MM, per OverTheCap. The rarely used first-round tender is expected to cost around $4.8MM.
Interestingly, Phillip Lindsay‘s status may be murkier. The Broncos paused extension talks with their Pro Bowl running back last year, giving Melvin Gordon an $8MM-AAV contract instead. It is unclear if Lindsay will receive a second-round tender, per Legwold, or if the Broncos will give the two-time 1,000-yard rusher the right-of-first-refusal tender. The latter scenario would mean the team would receive no compensation if it refused to match a Lindsay offer sheet. A similar situation unfolded five years ago, when the Broncos gave C.J. Anderson the low-end tender but matched a Dolphins offer sheet. Gordon is under contract for 2021, but his DUI arrest and expected suspension leaves the six-year veteran’s $8.9MM cap number vulnerable.
Although Joe Flacco interrupted Antonio Brown‘s run as the NFL news cycle’s offseason centerpiece, the Steelers‘ drama with their superstar wide receiver remains the league’s top storyline. After Brown’s trade request, NFL executives believe there may be a significant gap between what the Steelers want to part ways with Brown (and take on a sizable dead-money chunk) and what other teams will pay. One NFL GM believes Pittsburgh, regardless of Brown’s age (31 in July) and off-field trouble, will still want a first-rounder, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes. Two other high-ranking execs said, via Fowler, Brown could fetch a Day 2 draft choice, while another predicted a fourth-round pick. Collecting a third- or fourth-round pick for a four-time All-Pro, while taking on more than $20MM in dead money, would be an incredible pill for the Steelers to swallow.
One team that may want Brown may not be able to acquire him, with Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweeting the Steelers will not trade him to the Patriots in addition to having a predictable stance on an intra-AFC North trade.
Free agency is less than a month away, but teams are making moves in preparation. Here is the latest on this front, along with other AFC news:
Already pushing $100MM in cap space, the Jets may move closer to triple digits soon. They plan to release Isaiah Crowell once they agree to terms with a veteran running back, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News notes. Such a release would clear $3MM off New York’s cap. The Jets have been the team most linked to preparing for a Le’Veon Bell run, and Mehta adds Tevin Coleman would be a nice consolation prize. While Crowell signed a three-year, $12MM deal, the Jets would only be on the hook for the remaining $2MM of his signing bonus.
With several free agents at wide receiver, the Patriots‘ pass-catching corps is likely to look considerably different next season. However, if Josh Gordon is somehow reinstated, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe expects the RFA to be back in New England (Twitter link). But the Patriots obviously cannot count on that happening. Additionally, the Patriots are not, in fact, paying for Gordon’s rehab. The NFLPA is doing so, Volin adds.
Under Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens have been known to prioritize compensatory picks. They may be ready to collect another prime end-of-round draft choice this year. Za’Darius Smith‘s free agency buzz reminds The Athletic’s Jeff Zreibec of what followed Pernell McPhee four years ago as he readied for the market. McPhee left for a big Bears offer. A contract-year wonder, Smith looks headed elsewhere, too, per Zreibec (subscription required), with the Ravens prioritizing four-time Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley and possible skill-position enhancements. Baltimore is about to lose $16MM via its Flacco trade, and it presently holds just $21MM in cap space. So adjustments will need to occur if these roster-bolstering hopes are to be realized.
Brandon Marshall is open to restructuring his contract to stay with the Broncos, Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic notes (subscription required), but Denver may be set to move on after a six-season partnership. The Broncos re-signed Todd Davis last year and like 2018 fourth-round pick Josey Jewell, who started several games for an injured Marshall last season and would be a cheaper alternative. Denver would save $5MM by releasing Marshall while also being tagged with $4MM in cap charges. A Super Bowl 50 starter, Marshall played all 16 games in 2017 but missed five in both 2016 and ’18.
The Broncos made 10 picks in this past draft, and seven of those have agreed to terms on their four-year rookie contracts, Mike Klis of 9News tweets. While Bradley Chubb is not among this group, Denver has the majority of its 2018 class locked in. Here’s the full rundown:
Sutton, though, is under contract now. He’s the most notable draft investment the Broncos have made at wide receiver since Demaryius Thomas in 2010, profiling as a slightly higher-regarded second-round pick than Cody Latimer four years ago. The SMU product is expected to develop behind Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders while potentially working in as a No. 3 wideout this season. Hamilton will attempt to do the same, and the former Nittany Lions standout could well compete with 2017 draftee Carlos Henderson for the Broncos’ slot job — one the franchise has struggled to fill since Wes Welker departed.
Fumagalli will compete for time in an uncertain tight end group, an all-Big Ten-produced contingent featuring intriguing second-year player Jake Butt and thus-far-underwhelming fourth-year man Jeff Heuerman. This shapes up to be an interesting competition. Fellow Big Ten alum Jewell will likely be thrust into work as a special-teamer and reserve behind inside linebackers Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis.