Update – October 6: The Broncos were able to trade Randy Gregory to the 49ers for a swap of 2024 6th and 7th round picks. The 7th rounder Denver gave up should be the Rams’ original 7th from the Kenny Young trade. Per Mike Klis, the Broncos will pay all but $840,000 of Gregory’s 2023 salary.
It’s a bit of a surprise to see a player with the type of contract that Randy Gregory had cut after Week 4 of the regular season without some unusual aggravating factor (such as the Raiders cutting fellow 2022 free agent edge rusher Chandler Jones), but that’s what the Broncos decided to do. Adam Schefter cited a “focus on young players” in first breaking the news, with Benjamin Allbright following up by saying that “[t]his was Sean Payton sending a message“.
Gregory’s $14 million salary this season was fully guaranteed at signing. With only four weeks in the books with him on the roster, the Broncos will incur a dead cash figure of $10.88 million that they will have to pay Gregory unless another team wishes to sign him during this season, of which his pay from that team could be offset, but that number, if anything, is likely to be minimal. Dead cash is never ideal, but it is a sunk cost, so if the team felt that this was an addition by subtraction situation, then things don’t get worse.
It’s well known that the Broncos are on pace for a historically bad defense, even worse than the effort in 2008. The easy place to point a finger is at defensive coordinator Vance Joseph coming back to Denver. I will neither concur nor dissent from that accusation, as I just don’t have enough coaching competence to fairly judge. It’s also evident that injuries at safety–PJ Locke in the preseason, Caden Sterns going out for the entire season in Week 1, and Justin Simmons missing the last two games–are a major acute reason.
But on a chronic level, the lack of an effective pass rush has been stark, and Gregory sure didn’t help to contribute as much as planned. Furthermore, there’s not much evidence that Jonathan Cooper or Nik Bonitto has been able to show enough for them to be the #1 EDGE that offensive lines have to first focus upon. Baron Browning should come back from PUP soon but his absence also paints reasonable skepticism around what he can contribute. I think observers also have to recognize that there was a downgrade when the Broncos traded Bradley Chubb–Aaron Schatz informed me that before that trade, the Broncos ranked 4th in defensive DVOA in 2022, but after the trade they fell to 25th, even if obviously in that injured riddled season there were other aggravating factors.
The bottom line is that I feel it’s quite clear that the Broncos have a hole at edge rusher that will need to be patched next offseason. It should be a position to look at with high priority during the draft, but when there’s a roster hole, some action needs to be taken in free agency. It’s always quite uncertain if the hole can be patched there (see Gregory himself), but unlike in most cases, I could foresee a few outs to get there:
- The Commanders did not pick up Chase Young’s fifth year option, creating a situation where both he and Montez Sweat and Chase Young have contracts that will be up at the same time, and the team can only use the franchise tag on one of them. With Young in particular, if his projected top tier of play could be harnessed after his injuries, that could yield a high reward even if there’s a reasonably high risk.
- The Panthers and Brian Burns have not yet been able to come to an agreement on an extension, with Burns not wishing to negotiate during the season. A franchise tag on him seems likely without a new contract, but Jeremy Chinn’s contract also being up could maybe give some pause if negotiations do not progress.
- Similarly, while I find it tough to imagine that the Jaguars wouldn’t franchise tag Josh Allen without an extension, they also have the recently acquired Calvin Ridley with an expiring contract that could make their decision more difficult.
- After multiple renegotiations with the Vikings, Danielle Hunter is finally set to see his contract expire. He’ll be 30 next season, but George Paton will also have familiarity with his skillset.