Denver began the season with veterans Randy Gregoryand Frank Clarkas notable members of their pass-rush contingent. However, the former has been traded to the 49ers, while the latter was released after no interested teams could be found in a pick swap. Those moves cleared a path to increased playing time for the team’s younger contributors, a group which includes Browning.
The 24-year-old figures to take on snaps alongside Nik Bonittoand Jonathan Cooper, who have combined to post 9.5 of the Broncos’ 14 sacks this season. Drafted as an inside linebacker, Browning was shifted to the outside last season and he showed considerable promise after the move. The Ohio State alum was limited to 58 tackles and one quarterback hit as a rookie, but the transition to an OLB alignment the following season resulted in five sacks, 12 QB hits and 18 pressures.
Browning suffered a meniscus injury this offseason, something which required surgery back in June. As a result of the procedure, he was moved to the reserve/PUP list during roster cutdowns, a designation which guaranteed at least a four-week absence. A recent report indicated Week 7 was the likely point at which he would make his debut, though, so today’s news comes as little surprise.
The Broncos’ defense has been the league’s worst in a number of categories this season, contributing in large part to the team’s 1-5 record. Denver is thus well-positioned to be in the sellers category in advance of the October 31 trade deadline, though offensive contributors appear likelier to be on the move compared to defensive ones. In any event, Browning’s return will be welcomed given the promise he showed in his first campaign as an edge rusher, along with the depth it gives the team with respect to healthy OLB options.
OCTOBER 13: Unlike the Gregory last call, no trade partner emerged here. The Broncos are officially releasing Clark on Friday, NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero tweets. With the trade deadline still nearly three weeks away, Clark’s vested-veteran status will send him straight to free agency. Inactive for Thursday night’s game, the ninth-year veteran closes his Denver tenure with 36 defensive snaps.
OCTOBER 12: The Broncos opened the season with two 2015 second-rounders residing as their highest-profile edge rushers. By Week 7, both are likely to be out of the picture. After the Broncos dealt Randy Gregory to the 49ers, they are eyeing a separation from Frank Clark.
Rumored to be a trade candidate, Clark will not face the Chiefs tonight due to what the Broncos’ injury report classifies as an illness. The Broncos, however, are preparing to move on from Clark — via trade or release — in the near future, Field Yates of ESPN.com reports.
Clark, 30, restructured his one-year, $5MM contract recently, per Yates, giving up $1.69MM in guaranteed salary. The move trims Clark’s $3.5MM base salary to the prorated veteran minimum ($841K), NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo adds. This restructure will make Clark’s contract easier to move. Clark returned to action last week against the Jets, coming back after sustaining a groin injury in practice. Holding him out of tonight’s game will protect against a reinjury.
The former Seahawks and Chiefs edge rusher has generated some trade interest, and after the Gregory move, had been viewed as available. While Clark notched two double-digit sack seasons in Seattle and made memorable contributions during Kansas City’s playoff runs, he does not have a sack or a QB hit in his limited Denver run.
Although Clark will become an interesting hired gun of sorts moving forward, he spent several weeks in free agency waiting for other edge dominoes to fall. Leonard Floyd‘s one-year, $7MM Bills pact led to the Broncos giving Clark a one-year, $5MM deal shortly after they made Brandon McManus a post-June 1 cut. On that note, the Broncos should not expect too much in trade compensation here. Though, reducing Clark’s salary to the minimum will certainly help on that front. Denver collected a 2024 sixth-rounder from San Francisco for Gregory, whom the team was prepared to cut.
After calling out Gregory for poor effort in a 70-20 demolition at the Dolphins’ hands in Week 3, the Broncos benched him and moved 2022 second-round pick Nik Bonitto into the lineup. Bonitto is on a tear as a starter, combining for 4.5 sacks over the past two games. The Broncos have used 2021 seventh-round pick Jonathon Cooper (three sacks) as a starter since Week 1, with Clark coming off the bench in the team’s opener. Baron Browning, a 2021 third-rounder whom the team converted from inside linebacker last year, remains on the reserve/PUP list and will not play tonight. But Browning is likely on track to debut in Week 7, Denver7’s Troy Renck adds.
Deteriorating fits notwithstanding, a suddenly woeful Broncos defense could probably use Gregory and Clark — at least while Browning is out. These separations signal more moves are likely coming for a 1-4 team. While Sean Payton stopped short of saying the Broncos were shopping veterans, other clubs believe they are open for business ahead of the Oct. 31 deadline. Trade-rumor mainstays Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton are likely returning to the news cycle, with Renck adding Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson are two other names to monitor.
Clark sits behind only Willie McGinest and Bruce Smith in postseason sacks, with 13.5, but he did not live up to the five-year, $104MM deal the Chiefs gave him following a 2019 tag-and-trade transaction. Clark topped out at eight sacks in a season and has not tallied more than six in a single campaign since 2019. Two arrests on gun charges in 2021 led to a two-game suspension last year, and the Chiefs cut him this offseason. Still, Clark figures to land in a contending team’s pass-rushing rotation soon.
The Broncos picked up the pieces after John Elway‘s 1999 retirement far more quickly than they have post-Peyton Manning, and the years since the latter’s 2016 exit led to Denver becoming this period’s most prolific deadline seller. After dealing Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Von Miller and Bradley Chubbover the past five years, it appears the Broncos will keep going as Payton attempts to build for the future. Jeudy and Simmons are signed through 2024, with Jeudy’s fifth-year option ($12.99MM) fully guaranteed. Sutton’s four-year, $60MM deal runs through 2025; Jackson is on a one-year contract.
Mitchell could be a key piece back for Baltimore in the offensive backfield. After the season loss of running back J.K Dobbins, the Ravens have been operating with a committee that includes Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Melvin Gordon, and Kenyan Drake. While just an undrafted rookie, Mitchell could immediately relieve the need for the use of Gordon or Drake off the practice squad. The East Carolina product flashed serious potential in the preseason and led the FBS last year with 54 runs of 10 or more yards.
Denver will certainly be hoping to add Browning back to its ailing defense soon. Especially with Randy Gregory finding himself off the roster today, Browning’s pass-rushing ability could be just what the team needs to get its defense back on track.
The Broncos will join other teams in using short-term IR to create roster spots for veterans they cut Tuesday. The team also needed to use its reserve/PUP list. Here is how Denver moved down to the 53-man limit:
Browning suffered a meniscus injury this offseason and underwent surgery in June. This obviously deals a blow to Browning’s development, seeing as the converted off-ball linebacker has yet to play a full season at his second NFL position, and Denver’s edge depth. Randy Gregory and Frank Clark lead the way at the position; both are going into their age-30 seasons. The Broncos have seen Gregory, Von Miller and Bradley Chubb miss substantial time in recent years. They will hope Browning, who showed promise opposite Chubb at points last year, can return when eligible.
The Broncos did not place Jerry Jeudy on IR, keeping their No. 1 receiver available once his hamstring heals. This points to the team viewing Jeudy as likely to come back during the season’s first four weeks. Jeudy suffered a hamstring injury late last week; the malady is expected to sideline him for “several weeks.” The team is expected to re-sign Humphrey once it reorganizes its roster, 9News’ Mike Klis notes.
Although Purcell joined Humphrey as a cut, Klis adds the veteran nose tackle is set to come back. Ditto Moreau, as K’Waun Williams is set to head to IR — a designation that will cost the veteran slot cornerback at least four games — upon undergoing ankle surgery. The Broncos kept UDFAs Elijah Garcia, a defensive lineman, and Jaleel McLaughlin, a running back, after strong preseason outings. McLaughlin is the NCAA all-levels rushing kingpin, having amassed 8,161 yards while at Notre Dame College and Youngstown State — Division II and Division I-FCS programs, respectively, in Ohio. He will be the team’s third-string running back — behind Javonte Williams and Samaje Perine.
JULY 27: Williams confirmed (via 9News’ Mike Klis) Thursday he has been cleared for contact work. The North Carolina alum said he was told his recovery timetable could last around a year. Instead, he has been cleared before the 10-month mark. Sean Payton said the team will proceed cautiously with Williams, who has two years remaining on his rookie contract.
JULY 23: The Broncos delivered some good news as they announced some injury list placements today, leaving third-year running back Javonte Williams off of any lists as he continues to work his way back from last year’s season-ending injury. While there’s still work to be done, Williams’s continued participation in this offseason points to a Week 1 return for Denver’s lead back.
Williams suffered a blow to his sophomore season when he suffered a torn ACL after only four weeks of play last year, ending his season. The initial diagnosis was dire enough, but further reports detailed that Williams had also torn his LCL and posterior lateral corner, making his road to recovery a bit longer.
As Denver entered into the offseason, the goal became clear: get Williams back in time for training camp. Things were looking positive as Williams was on the field for spring activities. He only worked out in a limited capacity, but getting Williams on the field at all that early was a big step. Earlier this month, Williams expressed much of the same optimism that his team had been expressing publicly, believing himself that he’d be able to make a return by training camp. His absence from any designated injury lists today is yet another good sign of where he’s at in his recovery.
Williams injury had originally occurred during a season in which he was expected to take on much more work after splitting carries with Melvin Gordon as a rookie. When he returns this season, though, there won’t be too big of an expectation to work as a bell-cow in the Broncos offense. New head coach Sean Payton is certainly familiar with two-headed rushing attacks dating back to the Pierre Thomas–Reggie Bush duo and the Alvin Kamara–Mark Ingram combinations in New Orleans. While Gordon is now in Baltimore and Mike Boonefound his way to Houston, Denver plans to pair Williams with former Bengals rusher Samaje Perine, who signed with the team in March. Perine has a history of being a strong RB2 over his career, which should take a bit of the pressure off of Williams’s shoulders.
Browning underwent knee surgery in June, but he hasn’t yet been ruled out from returning in time for the regular season. Hinton also went through a knee procedure, so his placement on the list is no surprise. Hamler was expected to be ready in time for training camp as he works his way back from a pectoral tear, but Denver will have to wait a little longer.
JUNE 13: Browning’s offseason injury did affect the Broncos’ decision to add Clark, Sean Payton said Tuesday. Browning will begin training camp on the active/PUP list, Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets. This is a camp-only distinction; the Broncos can move Browning off this PUP list prior to setting their 53-man roster.
Browning suffered a partially torn meniscus, per Klis, who adds the third-year defender is expected to be back at some point during camp. Browning has not practiced during the media-attended portion of Broncos OTAs.
Moved from inside to outside linebacker ahead of his second season, the former third-round pick flashed at points upon replacing an injured Randy Gregory last season. Browning totaled 1.5 sacks, six QB hits and a fumble recovery during an October loss to the Colts — Denver’s first game without Gregory — and finished his season with five sacks. Browning’s injury is not related to anything from last season, with Klis noting it is believed to have come from training independently this offseason.
This knee issue comes after Gregory missed much of last season because of knee trouble. Gregory sustained his knee injury in early October, returned for two December games and did not play in Denver’s final two contests. Browning only missed three games due to hip and back maladies; two of those absences came after the team dealt Bradley Chubb to the Dolphins at the trade deadline. The player brought in to help the depleted unit at the deadline — Jacob Martin — finished last season on IR. The Broncos released Martin last month.
Browning is expected to be a key piece in Vance Joseph‘s defense this season. The Ohio State alum became the rare inside linebacker to become a quick starter on the edge, doing so after starting nine games inside in 2021. As they turned to Alex Singleton alongside Josey Jewell at that position last year, the Broncos shifted Browning to the outside in their 3-4 scheme. While Browning’s move to outside ‘backer occurred over a year ago, he will not be able to begin onsite training in Joseph’s system for a bit.
It will be interesting to what role Joseph and Sean Payton have in mind for the former five-star recruit now that Clark is in the fold. The Broncos also have 2022 second-rounder Nik Bonitto and ex-Browning Buckeyes teammate Jonathon Cooper in their OLB mix.
One of the more disappointing teams in recent memory, the Broncos have now lost four in a row. Despite hiring an offensive-minded head coach (Nathaniel Hackett), Denver’s offense ranks last in scoring (14.3 points per game). As a result of this offense-geared losing skid, vultures are circling.
Jerry Jeudy‘s name continues to come up in trade rumors, and Troy Renck of Denver7 adds (via Twitter) teams are interested in Bradley Chubb as well. While Jeudy can be controlled through 2024 via the fifth-year option, Chubb is playing on his fifth-year option ($12.7MM). His contract expires in March. Considering where the Broncos’ season has headed, it is certainly unsurprising to see teams show interest in a contract-year pass rusher.
Denver stockpiled an edge-rushing surplus this offseason, but that has deteriorated over the past few weeks. The depth led the Broncos to trade Malik Reed to the Steelers before setting their 53-man roster, but injuries have hit this position group hard. Randy Gregory remains on IR due to arthroscopic knee surgery, and the Broncos placed backup Aaron Patrick on IR recently. He is out for the season. Baron Browning, who has thrived after moving from inside to outside linebacker this offseason, left Sunday’s game with an injury. Browning is expected to miss several weeks because of the hip injury sustained, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.
With Gregory on IR and Browning perhaps headed there, the Broncos would seemingly have a tough time unloading Chubb. The former No. 5 overall pick has battled injuries during his career — one that saw minimal contributions in 2019 and 2021 due to knee and ankle trouble, respectively — but may be a candidate for the franchise tag come March. Chubb, 26, is enjoying a bounce-back contract year; he has a team-high 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles through seven games. Chubb’s re-emergence has helped the Broncos maintain a top-tier defense; the unit sits in the top three in points and yards allowed.
Gregory is under contract through 2026, at just $14MM per year, but the longtime Cowboy has now undergone three surgeries this year. His replacement, Browning, is under contract through 2024 and has shown bright flashes since being moved to the edge. The Broncos have rookie second-rounder Nik Bonitto and 2021 seventh-round pick Jonathan Cooper as its top backup edge defenders. The former stands to start in Browning’s place opposite Chubb in Week 8.
Given Gregory and Browning’s contract statuses and the price Chubb figures to command on his second deal, the Broncos entertaining offers would not surprise. They are 2-5 and have obtained value for high-profile pieces at recent trade deadlines. Denver dealt Super Bowl 50 cogs Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Von Miller from 2018-21. The Miller deal helped the Broncos trade for Russell Wilson, but that swap stripped the team of first- and second-round picks in 2023. A Chubb trade would be a way accumulate a Day 2 pick the team lost from the Wilson deal, but it also would mean bailing on a future with the North Carolina State product.
As for Jeudy, Renck notes the third-year wideout continues to generate interest (Twitter link). The Broncos are hesitant to trade the former first-rounder, whom Renck notes is close with Wilson. Denver is tied to Wilson through at least 2025, and Jeudy would seemingly profile as a building-block player around the high-priced quarterback next year compared to a trade asset. The Broncos have Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick under long-term contract, on deals ($15MM and $10MM per year, respectively) that look rather team-friendly given where the receiver market went in 2022. Jeudy becomes extension-eligible in 2023. This year’s trade deadline falls on Nov. 1, and the Broncos will now be one of the teams to watch.
After letting both Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue walk during the 2021 free agency period, the Ravens acquired a first-round pick in the Orlando Brown Jr. trade. The team entered the draft determined to use one of its two first-round choices on an edge defender, but strategy played a role in the team ending up with Odafe Oweh. The Ravens would have been happy with either Oweh or Greg Rousseau, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic notes, but also wanted to leave last year’s first round with a wide receiver.
We heard previously the Ravens expected the Packers to select Bateman, whom several execs viewed as the team most likely to draft the Big Ten prospect. That played into Baltimore’s edge defender blueprint as well. The team had Oweh and Rousseau ranked similarly on its 2021 draft board, Zrebiec adds, leading to Bateman being prioritized with the No. 27 pick. Waiting for No. 31 to make its edge rusher selection paid off, as Oweh remained on the board. The Bills took Rousseau at 30. (The Packers took cornerback Eric Stokes at 29.) Through 1 1/4 seasons, Oweh has six sacks, four forced fumbles and 17 quarterback hits. Rousseau checks in with similar production, having tallied eight sacks — four already this season — along with one strip and 16 QB hits.
Here is the latest from the NFL’s edge defender landscape:
The Ravens used Jason Pierre-Paul extensively alongside Oweh in Week 4, playing the recently signed veteran on 55 defensive snaps. Their one-year Pierre-Paul deal is worth $1.35MM, according to OverTheCap. The contract includes a $150K signing bonus and playing time- and sack-based incentives that could take the price north of $5MM, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. This is a lower-priced deal than JPP is accustomed to signing, but he has a chance to be the rare free agent to sign in-season and earn potentially far more than the veteran minimum.
Detroit’s pass rush, when at full strength, is set to include Romeo and Julian Okwara, Charles Harris and first- and second-round picks Aidan Hutchinson andJosh Paschal. That said, the Lions are adding another edge rusher to the equation. Rookie UDFA Demetrius Taylor is going to play defensive end in his debut this week, Birkett notes. Signed as a UDFA defensive tackle, Taylor will shift to a big D-end role as the Lions attempt to pick up the pieces on defense. This will likely lead to Hutchinson, who had previously played the team’s “big end” spot, rushing from around the formation, per Birkett. Taylor saw some time at D-end at Appalachian State.
It will not be second-round pick Nik Bonitto getting the call to replace Randy Gregory; Baron Browning will play that role for the Broncos beginning Thursday night, Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets. This will be an interesting stretch for Browning, whom the Broncos used as an inside linebacker during his 2021 rookie season. The third-round pick moved to the outside this offseason, helping lead to the late-August Malik Reed trade, and has impressed the coaching staff. Bonitto, who began the season as a healthy scratch despite being Denver’s top 2022 draftee, will see more time as a rotational cog behind Browning and Bradley Chubb.
The Seahawks will give second-rounder Boye Mafe more playing time, Pete Carroll said this week. This will be interesting considering the rookie logged a season-high 32 defensive snaps against the Lions. Mafe, who has one sack thus far this season, registered 10 in his final college campaign.
The top fill-in starter for Von Miller and Bradley Chubb over the past three seasons, Malik Reed has a new home. The Broncos are sending the veteran outside linebacker to the Steelers, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.
Denver will collect a late-round pick for the contract-year linebacker. While Reed has been a productive pass rusher, the Broncos made some moves this offseason to bolster that position. The depth acquired made Reed expendable, it appears.
After the Broncos traded the best pass rusher in team history (Miller) at last year’s deadline, they went to work in adding to that position this offseason. The team signing Randy Gregoryand used its top draft choice (No. 64 overall) on Nik Bonitto. Denver also moved 2021 inside linebacker starter Baron Browning to the edge, and NFL.com’s James Palmer adds (via Twitter) the team is high on the former third-round pick after the training camp he put together at the new position.
A Reed trade has also loomed as a possibility for months due to his arrival before George Paton became the Broncos’ GM. Chubb is now the only OLB left from the John Elway regime, with the Broncos also rostering 2021 seventh-rounder Jonathan Cooper. Though Cooper’s spot may not be completely safe. Chubb and Gregory’s injury issues still may prompt the Broncos to prioritize depth at the position. But they felt enough depth was present to unload Reed, who will have a clearer role in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers, who cut edge rusher Genard Avery earlier this month, have featured an OLB need for a bit now. They traded Melvin Ingram last year, creating a void behind starters T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Reed stands to play the same role he did in Denver, though Miller and Chubb’s injuries often simply made him a starter.
A 2019 UDFA, Reed has registered 13 sacks over the past two years. Since 2019, the Nevada alum has made 34 starts. One season remains on the 26-year-old OLB’s contract; the Broncos tendered Reed at the original-round level as an RFA this year.
Visions of a long-term Von Miller–Bradley Chubb edge partnership mostly proved fleeting for the Broncos, who saw injuries sideline at least one member of this tandem for most of its three-plus-season tenure. The 2018 season, when Miller and his then-rookie sidekick combined for 26.5 sacks, turned into a mirage.
The Broncos’ 2022 contingent of edge rushers presents intrigue, even if it is the first in 12 years not to include the best pass rusher in franchise history. Denver’s Miller trade allowed the team to finish stockpiling its cast of pass rushers, bringing second- and third-round 2022 picks, but with only Randy Gregory locked in as a long-term starter (and given Gregory’s history, that classification might be premature), how the team proceeds with this crew will be interesting ahead of what promises to be a high-profile division race.
Gregory signed a five-year, $70MM deal in March, backing out of a Cowboys agreement at the last minute due to contract language. Suspended four times as a pro, Gregory showed considerable promise during his final Dallas season. If that form is a true indicator of the former second-rounder’s form, the Broncos having him signed to a $14MM-per-year deal will age well as the salary cap’s rise has pushed edge rusher salaries toward the $30MM-AAV mark. Gregory, whose drug suspensions could give him a “young 29” presence, carries boom-or-bust potential. From a roster-building standpoint, more questions surround his supporting cast.
Chubb made the Pro Bowl in 2020, despite accumulating just 7.5 sacks and one forced fumble, and racked up 12 sacks as a rookie. But the two ankle surgeries he underwent last year brought limitations and questions about his future in Denver. (Chubb also sustained an ACL tear in 2019.) George Patonidentified the former top-five pick as a core player, and while those comments came before the ankle trouble limited Chubb to seven games in a zero-sack season, the second-year GM expressed Chubb confidence again this year. Paton did extend 2018 second-round pick Courtland Sutton, whom he also called a core talent last year, after an ACL tear. Chubb, 26 later this month, will enter a high-stakes contract year, with Paton reorganizing the team’s edge-rushing stable after the February vote of confidence.
An extension path may still exist for Chubb. Gregory’s AAV checks in just 22nd among edge defenders, and the Chargers and Raiders each have two edges earning north of $17MM per year. But that prospect is murkier than it was last year at this time. Had Chubb not been a first-round pick, he may already be signed to a lucrative deal. The fifth-year option allowed the Broncos to wait, and the team will have cheaper options to flank Gregory beyond 2022 — when Russell Wilson will be playing on a top-market contract.
Denver rosters Malik Reed, a former UDFA who has seen extensive run (34 starts) due to Chubb and Miller’s injuries, and used its top draft choice on Oklahoma edge Nik Bonitto(64th overall). The team also has ex-Ohio State teammates Jonathon Cooper and Baron Browning. Cooper fell to Round 7 because of a heart issue (one that did not keep him out of games last season) and flashed a bit after the Miller trade. The Broncos curiously moved Browning from inside linebacker — where they are much thinner. A 2021 third-rounder, Browning started nine games inside as a rookie.
It will be difficult for the team to roster all six, and its recent penchant for UDFA edge success (Reed, Shaq Barrett) creates a path for Christopher Allen, a 2020 Alabama contributor who missed last season due to a foot injury. The Broncos gave Allen $180K to sign after the draft.
Also in a contract year, Reed has registered 13 sacks over the past two seasons. Though lesser-known than Chubb, Reed profiles as an extension candidate himself. The Broncos would probably stand to save by extending Reed over Chubb, who also looms as a 2023 franchise tag option. Chubb staying healthy this season could create a clear value gap between the two. Denver also has defensive end starter Dre’Mont Jones going into a walk year, creating an unsettled post-2022 mix beyond Gregory and Bonitto.
With Paton-era OLB investments behind Reed, would the Broncos consider trading the frequent fill-in starter ahead of his contract year? They only gave Reed the low-end RFA tender ($2.4MM) in March. That price and Reed’s recent production could be attractive for teams with thinner edge cadres. Chubb is tied to a $12.7MM option salary. A mix of Gregory, Chubb and Reed would limit Bonitto’s rookie-year time. But injuries could obviously change that.
The Broncos faced a surplus situation at cornerback last year but refrained from dealing into it, despite teams showing interest. Chubb’s injury history could prompt Denver to carry an extra outside linebacker on its 53-man roster. Browning’s ability to play on the inside would seemingly represent insurance for an iffy group of inside ‘backers as well. But carrying six edges is on the high end for 3-4 teams.
However the Broncos decide to proceed here, their moving parts on the edge should be a situation to monitor as the revitalized team attempts to compete against high-powered offenses. How that effort goes, particularly from the John Elway-era holdover rushers, will determine how the franchise chooses to complement Gregory beyond 2022.