Young continues to struggle to find a long-term home in the NFL. After Baltimore drafted him and traded him in his second year to the Rams, it took Young over a full season with the team to earn a starting role. When he was finally starting on a consistent basis, Los Angeles traded him once again to Denver where he started six straight games before being inactive for the remainder of the year. Young signed in the offseason with the Raiders but was released ahead of roster cut deadlines. He signed to the Buccaneers practice squad days before the season started and was active for the last four weeks, only playing on special teams. He’ll likely land on another practice squad somewhere in the league, perhaps with one of his former teams as both Baltimore and Los Angeles have experienced some injuries to their linebacker depth.
The fallout from the Broncos’ ugly Week 5 loss continues. After leaving the Colts matchup early, Ronald Darby will not be back for his team this season. The veteran cornerback suffered an ACL tear, Nathaniel Hackett confirmed Friday.
This news comes hours after word of Garett Bolles‘ broken leg. The Broncos are closing the door on their left tackle playing again this season as well. Bolles will not come back from the lower-leg fracture he sustained late in Thursday night’s game. Considering the injuries the team has already encountered, this is becoming quite the toll for a squad amid a rocky start.
Part of Denver’s 2021 secondary overhaul, Darby joined the team as a midlevel free agent. The former Bills, Eagles and Washington corner signed a three-year, $30MM deal with the Broncos in March 2021. He joined Kyle Fuller and Pat Surtain II as new corner investments in Denver last year. Darby and Surtain have operated as the Broncos’ starting outside corners this season. The former will soon join Justin Simmons and Randy Gregory as Denver defensive starters on IR. While the latter two will be back, Darby being shut down will test the Broncos’ Surtain-fronted cornerback corps.
Injuries have been a problem for Darby throughout his career. Most notably, he suffered an ACL tear during his second Eagles season (2018). Darby’s Eagles tenure started off on the wrong foot as well; he dislocated an ankle in September 2017. While Darby re-emerged to be part of Philadelphia’s Super Bowl-winning defense, his 2018 ACL tear affected his free agency value. He settled for a one-year, $6.5MM accord in 2019 and then signed a one-year, $3MM deal with Washington in 2020. Darby, who did not miss a game in 2020, scored $19.5MM guaranteed from the Broncos last year.
Darby, 28, will end his second Broncos season with 18 combined games missed. He battled hamstring trouble last season but started the 11 games he played. The former Bills second-rounder was faring well to start this season, helping a stout Broncos defense minimize opposing offenses (while Denver’s offense scuffles through a rough acclimation period). But this injury will cloud Darby’s future with the team.
The Broncos can save $10MM by releasing Darby in 2023, when he is set to count $13MM toward their cap. The team will likely get an extensive look at rookie Damarri Mathis, who replaced Darby against the Colts. A fourth-round pick out of Pittsburgh, Mathis moved into position as the Broncos’ top backup corner after third-year player Michael Ojemudia suffered a preseason injury. Ojemudia, who missed most of 2021 with a hamstring ailment, remains on IR.
As of Friday, the following Broncos starters are on IR or have missed multiple games: Darby, Bolles, safety Justin Simmons, running back Javonte Williams, outside linebacker Randy Gregory and right guard Quinn Meinerz. Both members of Denver’s would-be right tackle competition — Tom Compton, Billy Turner — have not played yet this season, either. Hackett said Josey Jewell, who missed time earlier this season, is now week-to-week with a knee injury as well. Thursday’s round of setbacks will make the Broncos’ uphill battle steeper.
A few transactions keyed the Bills’ rise from perennial regular-season-only team to one that has been on the Super Bowl contender tier in the 2020s, but August 11, 2017 represents a fairly important date on the franchise’s timeline.
On this day five years ago, the Bills swung two trades. Those deals, one in particular, helped the franchise transform its position in the NFL hierarchy. Shortly before noon CT that day, the Rams acquired Sammy Watkins and a 2018 sixth-round pick in exchange for a 2018 second-round pick and cornerback E.J. Gaines. Minutes later, word emerged that the Eagles had obtained Ronald Darby for a third-round pick and wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Both Watkins and Darby were Bills starters brought in during Doug Whaley‘s run as general manager, the former as a 2014 first-round pick and the latter via the 2015 second round. The Bills traded up to No. 4 for Watkins in 2014, but the injury concerns that have largely defined the talented pass catcher’s career showed up early. The team got out early on Darby, who had two years remaining on his rookie contract at the time of the trade.
Both have since bounced around the league, though each has made key contributions post-Buffalo. Watkins elevated his value on Sean McVay‘s first Rams team, playing a career-high 15 games in 2017. This led to his signing a then-startling $16MM-per-year Chiefs deal in 2018 and helping Kansas City to back-to-back Super Bowls. Darby started for the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII-winning team in his first Philadelphia season. He has since signed deals with Washington and Denver. The Bills, however, used the trades to position themselves for a quick ascent under Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane.
Armed with the two additional Day 2 picks, Beane maneuvered to land the team’s next franchise centerpiece in his first draft as GM. In a rare two-pronged move up the first-round board, the Bills began their April 2018 odyssey by acquiring the No. 12 overall pick. To do so, they packaged veteran left tackle Cordy Glennin a pre-draft deal with the Bengals. That move featured Glenn, Buffalo’s No. 21 pick and a 2018 fifth-round choice going to Cincinnati for No. 12 and a 2018 sixth. On draft night, Beane flipped the No. 12 selection to the Buccaneers for No. 7. To move into the top 10, the Bills included the pick they obtained for Watkins (No. 56). They traded Nos. 12, 53 and 56 to Tampa Bay for the slot that became Josh Allen, the third quarterback selected in 2018’s five-QB first round.
With the pick from the Darby deal, the Bills chose defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, who became a four-year contributor and part-time starter. Phillips left in free agency this year to sign with the Vikings. Although Matthews and Gaines did not contribute much in Buffalo, the Allen acquisition obviously changed the franchise’s course.
Despite hurting their 2017 roster by dealing away Darby and Watkins, the Bills made a surprise playoff bid that season. While 2018 featured a considerable step back, the team has qualified for the past three AFC brackets. Allen has since become one of the NFL’s top players, leading the team to the 2020 AFC championship game and into the 2021 divisional round. He is locked in through 2028 via a six-year, $258MM extension. This year’s Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Kyler Murray deals have bumped Allen’s contract down to fifth among quarterbacks.
With OTAs and mandatory minicamp finished across the league, organizations and media members alike have had the chance to break down some of the elements of the offseason which have stood out the most to them. In the case of the Broncos, 9News’ Mike Klis has detailed some of his key observations.
There are a number of other options being plugged into various positions, though. Included among those is Netane Muti, who has seen work with the other starters while filling in at both guard positions, as well as GrahamGlasgow, who recently returned to practice to compete for a starting role. Lastly, Klis lists Billy Turneras a veteran who is “expected to play” somewhere along the o-line. The 30-year-old came back to the Broncos on a one-year, $5MM deal this offseason, but is also the linemen most experienced in working with new HC Nathaniel Hackett.
Here are a few other notes from that same Klis piece:
Cornerback had the potential to be an area of need, at least in terms of depth behind Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darbyand K’Waun Williams, at this point in the offseason. However, Klis cites the play of Michael Ojemudiaduring the spring as cause for optimism that the team’s best option for the No. 4 role may already be on the roster. The 2020 third-rounder is set to compete with Damarri Mathis, whom the Broncos drafted in the fourth round this year, for that spot. A number of veteran free agents could still “wind up on GM George Paton’s radar,” Klis notes, however.
To no surprise, running back Javonte Williamsis expected to “bump up to the 1A role” in 2022. In his rookie season, the North Carolina alum produced over 1,200 scrimmage yards despite splitting carries with Melvin Gordon, who signed a one-year deal to stay in Denver. Given his the former’s efficiency, and the seven-year age gap between the two, Williams is the logical candidate to assume a larger workload going forward.
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 backMelvin 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.
The Bears briefly entertained the prospect of trading standout defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, but they reconsidered and brought the former All-Pro back for his sixth season in Chicago. Shortly after free agency began, the Bears gave Hicks permission to find a trade partner. Nothing materialized, but the Chargers were monitoring this situation through the preseason, according to ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler (ESPN+ link). Hicks, 31, has a history with Bolts HC Brandon Staley, who was on the Bears’ defensive staff — as outside linebackers coach — under Vic Fangio from 2017-18. The 11th-year veteran’s contract expires at season’s end. Should the Bears falter against a tough October schedule, Hicks could be a name to watch as the Nov. 2 trade deadline approaches. The $7MM-plus left on his 2021 salary would be a difficult accommodation for most teams, but that number will drop closer to $5MM by the deadline. A groin injury sidelined Hicks in Week 5, but he remains on the Bears’ active roster.
Here is the latest from the West divisions:
Staying on the trade front, the Broncos received inquiries on their two contract-year corners — Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan — along with Ronald Darby. The veteran defenders came up in talks leading up to the season, but new Denver GM George Paton set a fairly high asking price. The Broncos sought a third- or fourth-round pick in a deal for one of their vets, Fowler adds, scuttling talks. The Saints made a strong push for Fuller, which came months after New Orleans’ aggressive pursuit of Denver’s No. 9 overall pick — which was used to take Patrick Surtain II. While Denver has made multiple deadline deals in recent years, involving receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, it would likely take a tumble out of contention for the team to deal from its corner surplus.
The Cardinals are likely to be without Chandler Jones as they attempt to move their unbeaten run to 6-0. While vaccinated players who test positive for COVID-19 can return after two negative tests 24 hours apart, Kliff Kingsbury said Jones is experiencing symptoms and that it would be “a stretch” for him to play against the Browns, via SI.com’s Howard Balzer (on Twitter). Jones is vaccinated. News of the veteran pass rusher’s positive test circulated Tuesday, creating a narrow window for him to recover in time.
Arizona will also be without center Rodney Hudson. The acclaimed O-lineman is battling a rib injury, and Kingsbury declared him out Wednesday. Seventh-year pro Max Garcia will step in for the Cards’ Pro Bowl snapper.
Pete Carroll said Tre Flowers did not request to be waived, Condotta adds (via Twitter). The Flowers transaction went through Wednesday, so a claim would surface by Thursday afternoon — if a team is to claim the fourth-year cornerback. The Seahawks have used former second-round pick Sidney Jones in Flowers’ place in the past two games.
SATURDAY: The Broncos are activating Darby from IR. Though Surtain is questionable for Week 5, Denver might have its top four cornerbacks available against Pittsburgh. But the team will be without another of its pass catchers going forward. The Broncos placed tight end Albert Okwuegbunam on IR Saturday. The second-year tight end, who missed most of last season with an ACL tear, is dealing with a hamstring ailment.
WEDNESDAY: Amid a rough stretch on the health front, the Broncos received some positive injury news Wednesday. Ronald Darby returned to practice, starting his 21-day window for a re-emergence from injured reserve.
The Broncos placed Darby on IR following a Week 1 hamstring injury, depleting the team’s cornerback surplus. But the former Philadelphia and Washington corner may be on track to return at first chance this week in Pittsburgh. Teams have three weeks to activate players designated to return or they revert to season-ending IR.
Although the Broncos signed Kyle Fuller, they inked Darby to a three-year deal. Darby and Patrick Surtain II represent the team’s long-term cornerback investments. Surtain, however, has taken Darby’s place in the starting lineup and played fairly well. It will be interesting to see how the Broncos proceed with their $10MM-per-year corner and their No. 9 overall pick. Surtain did suffer a chest injury late in the Broncos’ Week 4 loss; Denver deemed its prized rookie day to day.
The Broncos have lost two more starting defenders — Bradley Chubb and Josey Jewell — since Darby’s injury and finished Sunday’s loss without five offensive first-stringers, including a concussed Teddy Bridgewater.
The free agent acquisition will miss at least three games and possibly more. Denver signed Darby to a three-year deal this offseason, one in which the franchise also added veteran Kyle Fuller on a one-year contract and used its No. 9 overall pick on Patrick Surtain II. The latter will be counted on as a potential every-down player beginning in Week 2.
This marks the latest injury setback for Darby, who carries a checkered health history. The veteran starter played 16 games last season, setting him up for a better free agency bid, but missed 20 games over the previous three years. Of Denver’s top four corners, only Darby and Surtain are signed beyond 2021.
Barring other injuries to its cornerback corps, the Broncos have the depth to withstand this setback and continue their momentum. The team returns Bryce Callahan from last season as well. However, Callahan has an extensive injury history — one that includes a full-season absence in 2019 and an IR stay to close the 2020 slate. He will team with Fuller and Surtain as the Broncos’ top three corners beginning Sunday, however. Second-year corner Michael Ojemudia is also on IR with a hamstring injury.
“We’re fortunate we have a player in Surtain that can play multiple positions at a young age,” first-year GM George Paton said, via Klis. “Not many rookies can play three positions. It’s a really good problem to have. It’s Vic [Fangio‘s] problem, but you can’t have enough of those guys. Corners, a lot of them go down so we’re really happy with our depth. We have a lot of teams calling us on our depth. But we like our corners, that’s for sure.”
Denver has an interesting mix of midlevel contracts — Callahan, Darby and Fuller are each signed to deals averaging between $7-$10MM per year — at corner, along with Surtain’s rookie-deal salary. The Broncos also used a third-round pick on Michael Ojemudia last year. Nickel sets generally call for three cornerbacks, potentially leaving teams wondering if the Broncos are open to moving one of their vets, though dime sets and others in which the team’s top four corners play together are likely in Fangio’s plans.
The Broncos are using Surtain at multiple spots, and Callahan and Darby bring injury pasts creating a need for depth. Callahan ended the 2018 and 2020 seasons on IR and missed all of the 2019 season. Darby was sidelined for 20 games from 2017-19. Denver’s depth may be limited to just 2021, with Callahan and Fuller on one-year deals, but it will nonetheless be interesting to see how the Broncos proceed at this spot.