Baron Browning

How Will Broncos Proceed With Crowded OLB Corps?

Visions of a long-term Von MillerBradley 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 Paton identified 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.

AFC Rumors: Colbert, Browning, Broncos

Current Steelers’ general manager Kevin Colbert, who will be stepping down from his role after the 2022 NFL Draft, held a conference call with reporters today that produced quite a few nuggets of information.

Colbert expounded a bit on their moves to replace longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He explained that Pittsburgh didn’t want to sacrifice draft capital in order to add a veteran quarterback, according to Brooke Pryor of ESPN. This led them to target Mitchell Trubisky, who they were able to sign in free agency for a very reasonable price. Pryor reported that he went on to say that signing Trubisky does not preclude them from taking a quarterback in the Draft.

Colbert claimed they have starters at every position except for strong safety, according to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, while failing to mention any specific targets to fill the role. Kaboly did note that Colbert said they’ve focused on targeting “young veteran players” in free agency.

Commenting on his eventual replacement, Colbert said they’ve completed the first round of interviews with 16 candidates and that they intend to start the second round of interviews after the Draft, according to Pryor.

Here are a few other rumors from the AFC, these concerning the Broncos of Mile High:

  • With the addition of linebacker Alex Singleton, the Broncos will give linebacker Baron Browning a look at outside linebacker, according to Mike Klis of 9News. Browning went back and forth a bit between the positions at Ohio State, so he should be able to make the switch without too many issues. He’ll work with new outside linebackers coach Bert Watts.
  • Klis also reported that new Broncos’ quarterback Russell Wilson will have a say in the tailoring of the new offense. Wilson’s lack of agency in Seattle was a great frustration for the veteran quarterback and new Broncos’ head coach Nathaniel Hackett will make sure that isn’t the case in Denver.

Broncos To Re-Sign LB Josey Jewell

The Broncos continue to fill starting spots along their defense. They are bringing back multiyear linebacker starter Josey Jewell, Mike Klis of 9News reports.

Jewell is staying in Denver on a two-year deal worth $11MM. This comes a few weeks after the Broncos were connected to another Jewell contract. Denver had both its long-term linebacker starters — Jewell and Alexander Johnson — on track for free agency.

Both Jewell and Johnson missed most of last season; the former went down in Week 2 with a torn pectoral muscle. Denver selected Jewell in the 2018 fourth round and continued to use the Iowa product in a prominent role, giving him 30 starts in four seasons on his rookie deal. Jewell, 27, made 113 tackles in 16 starts during the 2020 season.

While Johnson was the slightly higher-regarded linebacker during the duo’s time together in Denver, he is three years older. Denver is not expected to re-sign Johnson, per Klis, who adds 2021 third-round pick Baron Browning is ticketed to play alongside Jewell as an off-ball linebacker starter. Jewell also stands to be a relatively low-cost signing, given his recent injury. The Broncos now have Jewell, D.J. Jones and Randy Gregory in the fold on their front seven.

Denver Emerging As Premier QB Destination

We wrote a bit earlier today on the Broncos being among multiple AFC teams who “have trade compensation lined up with the Packers,” in relation to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Well, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Denver has emerged as a prime location for many of the league’s veteran quarterbacks looking for a potential change of scenery.

The Broncos recently hired former Packers’ offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to replace Vic Fangio, who failed to accomplish a winning season in three years with the Broncos. The former Green Bay staffer represents an obvious and strong connection for Rodgers. Should Rodgers decide to move on from the Packers, having a play-caller that he’s familiar with could add some allure to the Mile High City. Another intriguing aspect that could bring a star quarterback to Denver is the addition of former Vikings’ offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak as passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach. Kubiak just helped Kirk Cousins turn in one of his best seasons in Minnesota.

Hackett and company inherit an impressive roster posed to perform. The defense is comprised of veterans like outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, safety Justin Simmons, defensive end Shelby Harris, and cornerback Ronald Darby. There are a number of free agents that Denver would like to bring back like cornerbacks Bryce Callahan & Kyle Fuller, defensive back Kareem Jackson, inside linebacker Josey Jewell, and outside linebacker Malik Reed. Even if they fail to bring some of those names back, the Broncos saw impressive seasons last year for youngsters like cornerback Patrick Surtain II, linebacker Baron Browning, defensive end Dre’Mont Jones, and safety Caden Sterns. The list of defensive players above may not overwhelm you with stardom, but, together, the Broncos defense ranked third in the league in points allowed and eighth in the league in yards allowed.

In addition to a brand new offense and stacked defense, Denver boasts a nice array of young offensive weapons. An impressive receiving corps is led by veteran 26-year-old Courtland Sutton, young star Jerry Jeudy, and Tim Patrick, who has broken out a bit over the past two seasons. The Broncos also have two talented, young receiving tight ends in Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam. Any quarterback looking to join in on the fun would potentially have the benefit of a two-headed rushing attack that was 79 yards short of a combined 2,000-yard rushing season. Running back Javonte Williams enjoyed a healthy dose of carries in his rookie season, and there is mutual interest in bringing back Melvin Gordon.

Rodgers is obviously a name to keep an eye on as the decision on his future in Green Bay looms on the horizon. He has said that he will let the Packers know of his intentions before the franchise tag deadline so they can figure out how to deal with free agent wide receiver Davante Adams. In addition to Rodgers, though, keep an eye out for Denver to make moves on other quarterbacks searching for greener pastures. Russell Wilson has long been rumored to be interested in moving on from Seattle, and Deshaun Watson is still searching for a new home.

Whether Rodgers, Wilson, Watson, or some other under-the-radar name, look for the Broncos to make a move for a star quarterback. If they are able to find the right fit, the move could bring them into contention for what could easily turn into the toughest division in football.

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 1/4/22-1/5/22

Here are Tuesday and Wednesday’s activations from and placements on the reserve/COVID-19 lists:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

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

  • Activated from reserve/COVID-19 list: TE Jared Cook, LB Damon Lloyd (remains on IR)

Minnesota Vikings

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

Broncos Place Bradley Chubb, Jerry Jeudy On Reserve/COVID-19 List

Already favored before the Broncos’ run of positive COVID-19 tests, the Chargers keep learning of more Denver starters who will miss Sunday’s game.

The Broncos will be down Bradley Chubb, Jerry Jeudy and linebacker Baron Browning on Sunday due to positive coronavirus tests. They also placed rotational edge rusher Jonathan Cooper and backup defensive lineman McTelvin Agim on their reserve/COVID-19 list Friday.

[RELATED: Broncos To Start Drew Lock In Week 17]

Additionally, the Broncos could also be without Courtland Sutton. Vic Fangio said the recently extended wideout could soon be moved to the team’s virus list, though that has not happened as of Friday afternoon (Twitter links via 9News’ Mike Klis). If Sutton ends up being shelved, the Broncos will likely be down to Kendall Hinton as their top wide receiver in Los Angeles. The team placed Tim Patrick on its virus list Wednesday.

Thirteen Broncos have been placed on the virus list over the past three days. Defensive line coach Bill Kollar also will miss Sunday’s game after a positive test. Chubb and Jeudy have each missed extensive time this season. A second 2021 ankle surgery sidelined Chubb for much of the year, while Jeudy missed most of the season’s first half because of a high ankle sprain sustained in Week 1.

The NFL moved three Week 15 games to new dates but has since altered its protocols twice in order to limit player unavailability. No games have been moved since, with the NFL playing Dolphins-Saints as scheduled despite New Orleans’ run of positive tests, and it should be expected the Broncos-Chargers rematch will be played Sunday.

While the Broncos are not technically eliminated, their losses to the Bengals and Raiders all but buried them in the AFC wild-card race. The Chargers have a 35% chance to qualify for the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight.com.

Minor NFL Transactions: 7/24/21

Here are Saturday’s minor moves, with the list being updated throughout the day:

Denver Broncos

Green Bay Packers

  • Placed on reserve/COVID-19 list: LB Ray Wilborn
  • Placed on active/PUP list: RB Patrick Taylor

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans