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ENGLEWOOD, Col. – In the initial wave of free agency, the Denver Broncos’ general manager George Paton has actually put his checkbook where his defense is. However, the team had so many needs on that part of the depth chart that there is still plenty of work to do.
The Broncos have agreed terms with outside linebacker Randy Gregory (five years, $ 70 million) and defensive tackle DJ Jones (three years, $ 30 million) as well as retained linebacker Josey Jewell (two years, $ 11 million) during the open negotiation period.
Including Jewell, the Broncos had eight players who started at least one game in defense last season, who became unlimited free agents this offseason. That does not include Von Miller, who left in a trade last November. That’s why Paton, at the scouting combination earlier this month, had a full-time planner, even in addition to his job, to acquire quarterback Russell Wilson.
“We sit down with a lot of people, meet to see if we can get some of our own [free agents] back, “Paton said then.” But we know we have some work to do on defense. “
Gregory and Jones are walk-in starters, and Jewell had started 18 games in a row until a torn chest muscle during a Week 2 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars ended his 2021 season. The prospect of Gregory rushing past with Bradley Chubb was enticing enough for the Broncos to put a $ 70 million contract on the table, despite the fact that Gregory never had more than six layoffs in a season and had missed 54 matches due to multiple exclusions for violating the league’s drug abuse policy.
Jones was a quiet signing, but almost as important as Gregory’s because of the position he plays. Jones expects to line up to tackle abundantly in the Broncos’ 3-4 schedule and comes after a 56-tackle season for the San Francisco 49ers, including 10 tackles for losses. Only Nick Bosa had more tackles for losses for the 49ers in 2021.
With next month’s draft heavy in edge-rushers, cornerbacks and coverage assurances, in particular, the Broncos can still hope for a little novice help defensively beyond the work they do in the second wave of free agency.
New defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero has said he will keep the 3-4 scheme overall with some of his own tweaks compared to the 3-4 Vic Fangio and his staff spent. But the transfer for a player like Jewell makes him a good fit.
Evero want to increase the pressure on opposing quarterbacks – the Broncos were in 18th place in the league last season and in 26th place in forced fumbles with just six, despite being No. 3 in the league in scoring defense.
“You have to influence the quarterback,” Evero said earlier this offseason. “If you can not get there with four, bring five. If you can not get there with five, bring six. We put pressure when we need it.”
The Broncos still have openings on the nickel cornerback – they have spent about 70% of their defensive shots in the nickel over the past two seasons – inside linebackers and safety in the starting lineup. And they need additional defensive depth across the board.
Asked on the combine about Caden Sterns ‘potential to replace Kareem Jackson at the starting safety spot against Justin Simmons, Paton complimented Sterns’ work in the 15 games Sterns played (two sacks, two interceptions), but also pointed to shoulder and hip injuries he treated for times last season.
“Caden showed some signs, think he made two starts, played a lot in our dime package [six defensive backs]. “He needs to be available, he had some nicks that kept him out of play, if you need to be a starter, you need to be available,” Paton said. “He’s really talented, he has range, he has ball skills, he can tackle, he has everything a starting safety can have, but Kareem Jackson is a tough guy to replace. “
Sterns was a fifth-round pick (152nd overall) in the April 2021 draft after handling several injuries – including knee, ankle and toe – in Texas.
So Paton still has some work to do to fill the depth chart enough to give Evero his wish, even with Gregory, Jones and Jewell already on board.
“When people put our ties on, I want them to see a defense that plays fast, that plays aggressively, that plays physically, and we fly around to the ball,” Evero said.