The Broncos separated from Von Miller at the trade deadline, moving the top pass rusher in franchise history for second- and third-round picks. That trade helped the Broncos assemble their Russell Wilson package, but Miller was interested in coming back to Denver this offseason.
After alerting the Broncos he would be interested in returning if they were to acquire Wilson or Aaron Rodgers, Miller — long stuck on Denver teams with bottom-tier QBs — did not hear from his longtime team in free agency. That led the future Hall of Famer to Buffalo, after offers emerged from the Rams and Cowboys. Dallas’ edge-rushing plans factored into Denver’s, with Randy Gregory‘s decision to spurn his former team leading the Cowboys to make Miller an offer.
Gregory being nearly four years younger than Miller factored into the Broncos’ approach. Denver was also linked toChandler Jones in free agency, but it made Gregory its top OLB target, Troy Renck of Denver7 notes. Jones is 32; Miller is 33. Gregory is not exactly on the young side for a first-time free agent, at 29, but the oft-suspended pass rusher certainly does not have the wear and tear on his body other edge players at his age generally do.
The Broncos gave Gregory a five-year, $70MM deal. While locking down the off-and-on Cowboy is a risk, due to Gregory’s unavailability history and recent injuries, the Broncos have him at $14MM per year. Gregory’s fully guaranteed money ($28MM) ranks just 24th among edge defenders. Gregory staying healthy would likely make Denver’s deal a bargain, but he will not go into training camp at full speed.
Rehabbing offseason shoulder surgery, Gregory will be a limited participant during the first week of Broncos camp, Mike Klis of 9News notes. The team is planning to ease its big-ticket edge acquisition into action, and Klis adds Gregory is not expected to play in the preseason. Teams have become increasingly more willing to sit starters during the preseason, and Gregory being sidelined until the Broncos’ Sept. 12 opener will give him a near-six-month recovery window.
In addition to the shoulder malady, the former Nebraska talent missed 2021 time because of calf injury and underwent knee surgery — to address an underlying problem — shortly after the season ended. As Bradley Chubb‘s 2021 recently illustrated, a two-surgery year is cause for concern. But the Broncos are planning to have Gregory ready to go when they face the Seahawks in Week 1. Gregory, Chubb, Malik Reed, second-rounder Nik Bonittoand relocated inside linebacker Baron Browning represent one of the NFL’s deepest edge-rushing corps. But the team’s top two cogs here are coming off injury-affected seasons and/or offseason surgeries.
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.
In the midst of his dramatic change of heart in free agency, defensive end Randy Gregoryhas also been facing a lingering shoulder issue. He recently took steps to address the matter, reports Mike Klis of 9News.
As Klis details, the 29-year-old “underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his rotator cuff”. Other options were available, but both he and the Broncos agreed upon his signing that the scope would produce the best long-term benefits. He will rehab the shoulder throughout the offseason, but is expected to be recovered in time for the start of the 2022 campaign.
Gregory, a second-round pick of the Cowboys in 2015, played five seasons in Dallas. Dealing with multiple injury and suspension issues, he grew into his role with the team and began living up to his potential. In 2021, he totalled six sacks and three forced fumbles as part of the Cowboys’ vaunted pass rush.
That led to a new deal being agreed upon for him to remain in the Lone Star State. However, he ultimately pivoted to Denver, inking a contract with the same length (five years) and financial terms ($14MM per season, with $28MM in guaranteed money) as the one he was in line to sign in Dallas.
Now officially a Bronco, Gregory is set up to begin his tenure there with the hopes of putting one of his injury problems to rest. Assuming he is healthy by the start of the regular season, he should have a large role to play on Denver’s defense as he tries to live up to the billing of that new contract.
Gregory, 29, had initially agreed to join the Broncos, but Mike Garafolo of NFL.com notes the veteran edge rusher told the Cowboys he would stay if the team matched Denver’s offer (video link). That explains the identical terms. One part in the Cowboys’ proposal looks to have caused Gregory’s second course change.
The Cowboys included language in their contract indicating guaranteed money could be voided or withheld based on fines or a suspension, David Moore of the Dallas Morning News tweets. This provision irked Gregory’s camp, with Jane Slater of NFL.com adding the defensive end felt it was inserted “at the 11th hour” (Twitter link). Such a clause is not present in Gregory’s Denver deal, per Slater.
This language was present in Gregory’s rookie contract, Todd Archer of ESPN.com tweets, but Gregory was incensed at the inclusion this time around. Upon hearing the Cowboys planned to include a forfeiture clause, Gregory apparently responded, “F*** them,” Werder tweets.
However, some Cowboys pushback emerged. The Cowboys, understandably, are not happy with how this all went down, according to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Twitter link). The Cowboys are believed to have included this forfeiture language in every player’s deal save for Dak Prescott, Hill adds, with Werder noting this is not a Cowboys-specific clause (Twitterlinks).
Suspensions frequently cause players’ guarantees to void, and Slater adds the Cowboys were open to adjusting the language (Twitter link). The difference here is a Cowboys clause that would void Gregory’s guarantees in the event of a fine, something Gregory’s agent (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk) said he had not seen “in 30 years” in the business. Once the hiccup emerged, Gregory’s agent gave the Cowboys a chance to remove the language. They did not, Florio adds, noting that Jerry Jones involved himself after it became clear the Cowboys were on the verge of losing Gregory.
Contracts cannot be made official for free agents who change teams until the new league year begins Wednesday afternoon, but it appears Gregory is headed out of town after seven rocky years in Dallas. Gregory has been suspended four times, with marijuana-based issues leading to much of the trouble, Mike Klis of 9News notes (on Twitter). The NFL has relaxed its stance on weed over the past several years, and Gregory has not run into trouble since the 2010s.
The Cowboys have now set their sights on Miller, with Werder adding the team has a strong interest in bringing the Dallas-area native back home. However, this depends on Miller’s asking price. After the Super Bowl 50 MVP played a key role in the Rams’ run to Super Bowl LVI — a game in which Miller sacked Joe Burrow twice — the soon-to-be 33-year-old moved near the top of this year’s free agency crop. Although the Cowboys are believed to hold considerable appeal for Miller, they will need to pay up to secure his services. The Rams are interested in bringing back both Miller and Odell Beckham Jr.
Plot twist! Randy Gregory will be signing with the Broncos, rather than re-signing with the Cowboys, as reported by Vic Lombardi of 92.5 in Denver (Twitter link).
Earlier today, it was reported that the edge rusher would return to Dallas on a five-year, $70MM deal. Instead, Gregory has chosen to join the Broncos for the same terms. Gregory will receive $28MM guaranteed, Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com reports, adding that the Broncos and Gregory negotiated throughout Monday.
It’s not exactly clear when, why, or how the Cowboys agreement fell apart, but this is a fairly common occurrence during the NFL’s legal tampering period. At least one star player per year seems to reach handshake deals — or near-deals — only to pivot to a different team.
Gregory has dealt with injuries and off-the-field issues throughout his career. However, owner Jerry Jones stood by the 2015 second-round pick and he was rewarded with a huge 2021. Last year, Gregory notched six sacks and three forced fumbles, bolstering the Cowboys’ pass rush.
Gregory will turn 30 in November, but due to all of the hiccups in his career, this marked his first foray into free agency. Now, he’s taking full advantage and perhaps giving the Cowboys deja vu of DeMarcus Ware‘s departure.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn — who helped guide Gregory to a career year — said that he wanted to see Gregory in Dallas for “years to come.” Now, he’ll have to settle for watching him on TV.
The Cowboys will indeed be able to keep their three-headed pass-rushing monster from last season. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Cowboys are set to re-sign Randy Gregoryto a five-year, $70MM deal (Twitter link). He adds that $28MM of the total is guaranteed.
The Cowboys had already made the expected move of placing the franchise tag on tight end Dalton Schultz. Gregory was named as the only other viable candidate for the one-year pact, but the team’s preference was always a long-term deal. Despite being 29, this offseason would have been his first foray into free agency, but instead he will now remain with the only team he’s played for in the NFL.
A second round pick in 2015, suspensions and injuries have been a constant in his tenure with the Cowboys. However, the team has remained committed to the talented edge rusher. He rewarded the team for their patience, recording six sacks and three forced fumbles in 2021. Alongside fellow defensive end DeMarcus Lawrenceand Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons, the Nebraska product was an integral part of the Cowboys’ pass rush in particular, and their takeaway-prone defense in general.
Through a number of cost-cutting moves – including, most notably, trading away Amari Cooper – the Cowboys have been able to make enough room financially to keep the bulk of last season’s division-winning team intact. While this deal’s $14MM per-year average value will eat up most of the remaining space for 2022, the team’s defense will look very similar to the one which ranked seventh in the league in scoring in 2021.
The Cowboys will avoid letting wide receiver Michael Gallup hit the free agent market after to a five-year, $57.5MM deal, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network (on Twitter). After trading awayAmari Cooper earlier this week, this moves cements that Dallas’s other three top pass catchers will be returning for the 2022 NFL season.
Gallup, 26, will collect $23MM in guarantees, with Pelissero noting this contract will max out at $62.5MM. A nice payday for Cooper’s former sidekick, whom the Cowboys have chosen over their four-year WR1.
A third-round pick out of Colorado State in 2018, Gallup broke out for 1,107 yards in 2019 alongside Cooper. The arrival of CeeDee Lamb in 2020 limited his production to a still impressive 843 yards as a number three receiver. Even in an injury-plagued 2021 season, Gallup enjoyed glimpses of success.
This news has been in the works for a while now with estimates that the Cowboys were aiming for a five-year pact with an annual average value around $10MM, but that Gallup’s camp may possibly having been pushing for a shorter commitment. Either the rumors about Gallup’s camp have been proven untrue or an annual average value of nearly $12MM was too enticing to turn down.
Regardless, the long-term, decently priced deal is a strong commitment to Gallup after he only played in nine games of his contract year due to a Week 1 calf injury and a season-ending ACL tear in Week 16. The contract seems to indicate that the Cowboys are confident in the medical information they are receiving on Gallup’s recovery.
Russell Wilson‘s impending Denver arrival positions the Broncos to be legitimate playoff contenders for the first time in six years, but the AFC West squad is expected to be active in free agency to fortify its roster around the Pro Bowl quarterback.
The Broncos are expected to target an elite pass rusher in free agency, per CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, who also notes the team will pursue upgrades on its offensive line. Despite the Broncos taking on Wilson’s contract, they have more than $23MM in cap space. And they have been linked to reacquiring the best pass rusher in franchise history.
Von Miller has made social media overtures indicating interest in rejoining the Broncos, which would certainly make for an interesting development considering the team traded him for second- and third-round picks last year. An Aroldis Chapman-like scenario unfolding, in which the Broncos landed a strong midseason trade return and then re-signed the player, would stand to restock the team’s edge rush. Denver has Bradley Chubb‘s fifth-year option salary on its books but no other contracts of note at outside linebacker.
Miller has also been connected to staying in Los Angeles, and the Rams are confident their offer will convince Miller to stay. If the Broncos do not reacquire their all-time sack leader, La Canfora mentions Chandler Jones or Randy Gregory as options for the team. Jones, 32, is a year younger than Miller, and has been connected to the Broncos — among other teams — previously ahead of free agency. The Cardinals All-Pro bounced back after his injury-marred 2020, registering 10.5 sacks last season. Gregory will turn 30 this year, and his suspension history will certainly affect his market. But after delivering as a starter for the Cowboys last season, the former second-round pick will have a market.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Broncos’ O-line 19th last season. While four of the team’s five primary 2021 starters are under contract, only one (midseason sub Quinn Meinerz, who replaced an injured Graham Glasgow) was acquired during George Paton‘s GM stay. The Broncos are fairly committed to left tackle Garett Bolles, who signed an extension in 2020, and it would surprise if left guard Dalton Risner was not a starter in his contract year. The rest of Denver’s O-line, which again has a glaring right tackle void, should not be considered set. This year’s market is not particularly deep at right tackle, beyond injury-prone Trent Brown, so it will be interesting to see if Denver tries to fill that need on the market or with one of its three Day 2 draft choices.
FRIDAY: It appears the Cowboys asked for a hefty pay cut. They approached Lawrence about trimming his 2022 base salary from $19MM to $10MM, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. Lawrence nearly halving his salary would be difficult to envision, despite his injury-altered 2021 season. With free agency less than a week away, the Cowboys will need to make a call here. Progress between the sides has proven elusive, and the Cowboys may be prepared to stand down and keep Lawrence on his present salary, Ed Werder of ESPN.com tweets.
MONDAY: The Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence extension has not produced the kind of production he provided on his rookie contract or as a franchise-tagged player in 2018. Lawrence missed much of last season due to a broken foot, and the Cowboys will be forced into a decision on the veteran edge rusher soon.
Dallas requested Lawrence take a pay cut, but Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News reports the eight-year vet declined. Pay-cut requests often precede releases. The Cowboys would save $19MM by designating Lawrence a post-June 1 cut. While the team could make the cut at any point, it would not realize the savings until after that date.
Lawrence, 30 in April, is coming off a three-sack season. He has not totaled more than seven sacks in a season since 2018 but has helped teammates’ sack totals, as evidenced by Robert Quinn‘s bounce-back year in 2019. Lawrence wants to stay in Dallas, per Watkins, and cutting him would run the risk of the team losing both its edge starters.
The Cowboys are not planning to use their franchise tag on Randy Gregory, Watkins tweets. That is not surprising, given Gregory’s suspension history and the D-end tag checking in at $17.9MM. The Cowboys’ loyalty to Gregory during his hiatuses will surely factor into his free agency decision, but the talented pass rusher hitting the market obviously runs the risk of a defection. That complicates Dallas’ Lawrence decision.
Jerry Jones followed through with cutting DeMarcus Ware after requesting a pay cut in 2014. Ware went on to form an elite edge-rushing duo with Von Miller in Denver, doing so as Lawrence struggled to start his career. Lawrence found his footing by 2017, combining for 25 sacks over the next two seasons. The Cowboys tagged him twice but reached a five-year, $105MM extension soon after. Lawrence carries the Cowboys’ second-highest base salary in 2022.