The injuries continue to pile up in Denver where the Broncos have added pass rusher Randy Gregoryto their lengthy list of players on injured reserve. With the Broncos eliminated from postseason contention, the move brings Gregory’s first year in Denver to an end.
After failing to generate much of a pass rush in 2021, the Broncos ventured out into free agency to bring in Gregory after his initial extension with the Cowboys fell through due to a disagreement over language about bonuses being affected by fines or suspensions in the contract. Instead, the 30-year-old pass rusher signed a five-year, $70MM contract to join the Broncos. His first year in Denver would be a bit of a disappointment, though, as knee injuries would limit Gregory to only six games. Starting three of those games, Gregory was able to compile two sacks, two tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles. Outside linebackers Bradley Chubb and Baron Browning held higher roles on the depth chart until Chubb was eventually traded to Miami.
Despite the disappointing debut in Mile High, Gregory will have next year to rebound and prove his worth to the Broncos. If similar absences due to injury or suspension continue into 2023, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to find Gregory as the subject of one of our posts detailing a potential salary cap casualty.
The Broncos also signed practice squad outside linebacker Jonathan Kongbo to the active roster today. Kongbo’s addition becomes even more crucial with Gregory on IR and Browning questionable this weekend with a back injury. Practice squad cornerback Lamar Jackson was also signed to the team’s active roster, providing depth as the team’s fifth corner.
Additionally, the Broncos promoted linebackers Wyatt Ray and Ray Wilborn from the practice squad as standard gameday elevations for Sunday’s matchup in Kansas City.
George Paton‘s status with the Broncos has taken some hits this week. Although the second-year GM is set to remain in his post, it appears the decisions to hire Nathaniel Hackett and trade for Russell Wilson have cost him.
New Broncos CEO Greg Penner is set to play a major role in the team’s next HC hire, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes. With the Broncos still in the process of putting the team up for sale when they conducted the search that produced Hackett, Paton led the hiring process. Penner said he will rely on Paton during the team’s latest hiring effort, but with it being the new ownership’s first HC search, it should be expected the GM will not have final say.
Paton’s situation reminds somewhat of Joe Douglas‘ with the Jets, though the former has not been on the job as long. Douglas has rebuilt the Jets’ defense to the point the team is a playoff contender, and this year’s draft class has helped the team considerably. But the Zach Wilson investment has gone south fast. Paton passed on Justin Fields for burgeoning star cornerback Patrick Surtain II and landed high-end starters Javonte Williams and Quinn Meinerz in Rounds 2 and 3, while also adding outside linebacker Baron Browning on Day 2 of last year’s draft. Denver collected first- and fourth-round picks for Bradley Chubbat this year’s deadline, helping to fill the draft-capital void created by the Wilson trade. While several of Paton’s moves have worked out, the Wilson-Hackett partnership undercut them and has the former Vikings lieutenant on thinner ice.
The Broncos have experienced ups and downs with a coach running the show, going from Mike Shanahan in this role to the overmatched Josh McDaniels, who held de facto GM power upon being hired in 2009. Considering new ownership’s deep pockets and a potential offer to run football operations, the Broncos would present an intriguing opportunity for an experienced head coach. That is believed to be the direction Denver heads this time, after seeing first-time hires Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio and Hackett underwhelm.
“I’ve worked with a lot of great CEOs, and it starts with really strong leadership,” Penner said. “I think that’s going to be the most critical factor here in a head coach. Obviously the X’s and O’s are important, but we need a strong leader for this organization that’s focused on winning. That starts with culture, it’s instilling a sense of accountability, discipline, and we need an identity on offense. At the starting point, it’s got to be about culture and leadership, and those characteristics are what we’ve focused on the most.”
Frank Reich, Jim Harbaugh, Dan Quinn and Sean Payton are believed to be on the early radar. The Broncos could make a strong run at Payton, Fowler adds, though it is not certain the former Saints HC is interested. Harbaugh has a relationship with Broncos consultant John Elway, who ran the team’s football ops for 10 years, and minority owner Condoleezza Rice due to each’s Stanford ties. Rice worked with Harbaugh during his time with the Cardinal, per Florio, adding an interesting wrinkle to the upcoming search.
As for the team’s current setup, interim HC Jerry Rosburg said (via 9News’ Mike Klis, on Twitter) DC Ejiro Everodeclined the chance to be the interim option out of loyalty to Hackett. Evero and Hackett have been friends since they were college teammates at UC-Davis. The league has also shifted away from promoting interim coaches, with Doug Marrone being the most recent such hire back in 2017. The Broncos still want to interview Evero, though the first-time DC does not profile as an experienced candidate.
Rosburg, 67, also said (via ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold, on Twitter) it was his decision to fire special teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes and offensive line coach Butch Barry. Both were Hackett hires. Rosburg also confirmed it was Paton, not Hackett, who brought him out of retirement to be the team’s game management assistant. Hackett’s run of issues during the season’s first two weeks led to the hire. The sideline confrontation between Brett Rypien and Dalton Risner also contributed to the early Hackett dismissal, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link), as it was a sign the first-year coach was losing the team. Penner said off-field matters led to the early firing. Randy Gregory, who threw a punch at Rams offensive lineman Oday Aboushi and faced a suspension, cited Hackett’s tenuous status as HC in his successful appeal to the league, Klis tweets.
DECEMBER 27, 9:04pm: Appeals officers Derrick Brooks and James Thrash, both of whom were appointed jointly by the NFL and NFLPA, have reportedly assessed the appeal and reduced the discipline to both Gregory and Aboushi, according to NFL senior vice president of football & international communications Michael Signora. Both one-game suspensions have been reduced to fines of $50,000 for Gregory and $12,000 for Aboushi.
DECEMBER 27, 8:57am: Gregory is appealing the suspension, as noted (on Twitter) by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The 30-year-old issued a statement which reads in part, “I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely apologize for my actions yesterday. The game was full of emotion and disappointment, and was not a reflection of my character. My goal is to finish out the season strong, play with pride and be part of the solution and not the problem going forward.”
DECEMBER 26: Sunday marked a new rock bottom for the Broncos in terms of on-field performance, but their loss to the Rams also saw an altercation take place after the game between Denver edge rusher Randy Gregoryand Los Angeles offensive lineman Oday Aboushi (video link). It has resulted in discipline from the league.
The NFL announced on Monday that both players have been issued a one-game suspension for their actions, which included each one punching the other. Gregory openly admitted as much during his brief postgame remarks made after Denver’s blowout loss – a result which has led to head coach Nathaniel Hackett being fired with two games remaining in his first season in the role.
In a letter sent to both players, NFL VP of football operations Jon Runyan wrote, “As you were walking toward a group of teammates, coaches, and media, you both stopped and swung at each other’s head and/or neck. Your aggressive conduct could have caused serious injury and clearly does not reflect the high standards of sportsmanship expected of a professional.”
Gregory played just 11 defensive snaps in the game, but drew a pair of flags for unsportsmanlike conduct, including one for a roughing the passer penalty. That could leave him in danger of further fines, in addition to the $57K in salary which he will lose assuming the ban is upheld.
Both players have the option to appeal their suspension, but each of their respective teams have long been out of playoff contention. With two weeks left in what has been a lost campaign for the Broncos and Rams, their absence or return will ultimately have little impact on the final contests of the 2022 season. Gregory is under contract through 2026 after he signed a $70MM deal this offseason, while Aboushi is a pending free agent who is playing on the veteran salary benefit this year.
Week 15 will mark the return date for one key Broncos player on each side of the ball. The team announced on Saturday that edge rusher Randy Gregoryand right tackle Billy Turnerhave been activated from IR.
The move comes as little surprise, since the pair were designated for return earlier this week. That opened up their respective 21-day windows to be activated, and will allow them to play a role in the closing stages of what has been a lost season in the Mile High City.
Gregory’s arrival in Denver was a main talking point in the offseason, after he signed with the Broncos on a five-year, $70MM deal. That, in turn, came after a contract of identical length and value which would have kept him with the Cowboys fell through, something which greatly affected his former team’s outlook on the position during the spring. He was able to get healthy in time for the beginning of his first campaign with the Broncos.
That stretch lasted less than four full games, however, as the 30-year-old suffered a knee injury against the Raiders in early October. He has been sidelined ever since, interrupting what had been a promising start to his Broncos career; Gregory notched two sacks and a pair of forced fumbles in the early portion of the season. The team’s defense has remained elite in several categories in his absence, though a return to the form he showed in the fall would provide a significant boost to a Denver edge rush which ranks mid-pack in sacks and no longer includes Bradley Chubb.
Turner, meanwhile, suffered a knee injury of his own in November, and was expected to miss considerable time as a result of it. His absence further compounded the myriad injuries Denver has dealt with along the offensive line in general, and the right tackle position in particular. Cameron Fleming has occupied that spot in Turner’s absence, and head coach Nathaniel Hackett said yesterday that a decision has not been made whether it will be he or Calvin Andersonmanning the blindside with Turner back in his familiar RT role. A pending free agent, the latter would be well-suited to have a healthy and effective close to the season.
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 (Twitterlinks). 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.
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.
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).
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.
September 30th, 2022 at 2:18pm CST by Sam Robinson
Using Micah Parsons far more as an edge player than linebacker thus far this year, the Cowboys have formed a quality pass rush after the Randy Gregory negotiations broke down. Gregory is now a Broncos starter, teaming with Bradley Chubb as part of another team’s quality edge-rushing situation.
“I decided we were going too much on that guy; we could have three other guys better,” Jones said, when asked if he approached Dan Quinn about the state of the team’s pass rush amid the Gregory talks, during an appearance on 105.3 The Fan (audio link). “I didn’t have to go to anybody on that.”
A Cowboy from 2015-21 (amid a historically suspension-marred tenure), Gregory had agreed to stay but reversed course after he felt the Cowboys inserted language late in the process that could have voided his $28MM in guarantees even if he incurred a fine. The Cowboys have this provision included in most of their contracts. Jones now indicating he viewed the team’s offer as too high certainly proves interesting, given where Gregory’s deal ranks among edge defenders and how the Cowboys proceeded after losing him.
The Broncos are now taking on the Gregory suspension risk, though the former second-round pick’s most recent ban came in 2019, and have him tied to an average salary ranking 22nd among edge rushers. The Cowboys have just one contract averaging north of $6MM across their defense — Lawrence’s — but the team stood down on adding another. Despite Von Milleroffering to take a hometown discount, the Cowboys offered the Dallas-area native Gregory’s terms. That ended up placing third in the Miller sweepstakes, and the future Hall of Famer opted for a Bills proposal that included guarantees into Year 3.
Armstrong, who totaled just 2.5 career sacks from 2019-21, tallied five last season and already has three in three 2022 games. Torching Giants right tackle Evan Neal on Monday, Lawrence ripped off his first three-sack game since 2018. Fowler, who disappointed with the Falcons, has notched a sack and one quarterback hit thus far. Williams (34 defensive snaps) is playing behind this trio and Parsons. Gregory has sacks in back-to-back games and has forced two fumbles in three Broncos tilts.
It is too early to grade the Cowboys’ decision, but the team’s choice to pass on a Parsons-Lawrence-Gregory (or Parsons-Lawrence-Miller) pass rush is working out so far. But it will be interesting to see how Armstrong, Fowler and Williams fare over the course of Miller’s Buffalo career and Gregory’s Denver stay.
The Broncos were able to take a significant step on the injury front yesterday, as they activated edge rusher Randy Gregoryfrom the active/PUP list. When speaking about his surgery and the recovery timetable resulting from it, Denver’s free agent acquisition expressed optimism that he will be available to start the season.
“That’s the plan,” Gregory said, via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, when asked if he would be ready to start the campaign on time. “At the end of the day, the plan is to be ready for Week 1.”
The 29-year-old notably backed out of an extension with the Cowboys – with whom he had previously spent his entire career – and then signed with the Broncos on a pact with the same terms (five years, $70MM). He will look to pair with Bradley Chubb(who has dealt with injuries at multiple times in his career as well) in what could be a highly effective pass-rushing duo.
Speaking about the need for the shoulder surgery he had done this offseason, Gregory added, “it got to the point where it was hindering my play, so it was definitely something important to do long-term for the team… I’m still working through some kinks, but I should be ready to go.”
The former second-rounder also said that the injury he was dealing with had lingered for three years, a stretch which included his final two seasons of game action with the Cowboys. Over that span, he totaled 9.5 sacks and six forced fumbles, figures which he should be able to improve upon in Denver. “Pre-surgery, there were a lot of things that I couldn’t do that normally,” he said, adding that “the mobility aspect of it and the range of motion has probably been the biggest thing.”
Gregory was expected to be ready in time for the start of the regular season at the time of his surgery, so things continue to be on the right track regarding his recovery. Assuming he is healthy this year, he will have a crucial role on the Broncos’ highly-talented defense.
The Broncos have received some good news with respect to injuries on both sides of the ball. The team announced on Monday that they have activated defensive end Randy Gregoryand offensive lineman Billy Turnerfrom the active/PUP list.
Gregory was initially set to re-sign with the Cowboys on a five-year, $70MM deal, but he instead inked a contract in Denver with the same terms. The 29-year-old represented a unique case in terms of his age when hitting the open market, having missed the 2017 and 2019 seasons due to suspensions. His production last year, though, with six sacks in 12 games, made him an attractive target.
The lack of wear and tear on his body, in spite of his age, helped make Gregory the Broncos’ top priority in the edge rush department, even during an offseason where a reunion with Von Miller was possible. The former second-rounder is projected to be a starter and impact player on the edge in Denver. Shoulder surgery which took place shortly after signing with the Broncos made Gregory’s regular season availability a question mark, but today’s news is an encouraging step that he could be on the field for Week 1.
Likewise, a return to full health for Turner would be a significant development along the offensive line. The 30-year-old rejoined the Broncos on a one-year deal this offseason, after three years spent with Nathaniel Hackett in Green Bay. Once he resumes practicing in full, he will compete with Tom Compton, Calvin Andersonand Cameron Fleming for the starting right tackle spot – one which has been in flux for years in Denver. With 68 career starts, and plenty of familiarity with both the new coaching staff and the franchise, Turner should have a solid chance to win the first-team role.
The team’s announcement also confirmed the signing of veteran linebacker Joe Schobert. He, along with Gregory and Turner, should each have significant roles as the Broncos look to end their playoff drought.