Despite impressive statistics, Broncos’ defense getting needed re-boot – The Denver Post

Last week was all about the quarterback for Broncos general manager George Paton, who agreed to send a package of three players and five draft picks to Seattle for Russell Wilson in one of the biggest trades in NFL history.

This week, so far, is all about the defense.

Late Monday, the Broncos agreed to terms with defensive lineman DJ Jones (three-year deal) and on Tuesday, they kept inside linebacker Josey Jewell via a two-year deal and agreed on a five-year, $70 million pact with outside linebacker Randy Gregory.

Gregory appeared to be staying with Dallas (its social media channels announced the news), but a sudden pivot led him to the Broncos.

RELATED: Randy Gregory to Broncos: Here’s how national media graded the move

That Gregory was at the top of the Broncos’ edge rusher wish list is, at least externally, befuddling. He doesn’t have eye-popping production (16 1/2 sacks in 50 games). He isn’t young (he turns 30 in November) like some free agents available after completing their rookie contracts. And he has a lengthy off-the-field folder.

Gregory’s issues with marijuana in general and failing drug tests in particular started at the 2015 combine. Suspended 14 games (two separate penalties) in ’16. … Banned the entire ’17 season for missing a mandatory test. … And suspended for the entire ’19 season and the start of ’20.

Gregory has played only 50 of a possible 97 regular season games, but has stayed out of trouble since being activated from the commissioner’s exempt list on Oct. 20, 2020. He missed games last year because of COVID-19 and a calf injury and also had left knee surgery in January.

The Broncos obviously investigated what changes Gregory has made to his life since returning from his most recent suspension, how he will fit into their locker room and how he could be the rare player — because he has played only 1,475 defensive snaps (compare that to 5,336 for safety Justin Simmons) — who may ascend as he turns 30.

But it is a big risk, particularly because outside linebacker Bradley Chubb is coming off a no-sack season marred by two ankle surgeries. Since 2016, the Broncos’ 237 sacks are 11th-most in the league and they viewed Chubb in ’18 as an immediate compliment/future successor to Von Miller. Instead, they played only five games together from 2019-21 because of injuries to both players and ultimately Miller’s trade to the Los Angeles Rams.

If Chubb/Gregory can play like Chubb/Miller did in ’18 (26 1/2 combined sacks), then the Broncos are back in the pass-rushing business. A positive trait of Gregory’s game is his eight forced fumbles in the last three years.

Paton’s approach in adding to the defense confirmed our thought about last year’s unit: Fine statistically, but sub-par in the eye test. They finished eighth in fewest yards allowed, second in fewest points allowed and third in the red zone. But they were tied for 21st in takeaways (19) and a dreadful 28th on third down (44.9%).

RELATED: Meet the new Broncos: Randy Gregory and DJ Jones

But are they better now? Entering Wednesday’s 2 pm start of the league year, a look at the Broncos’ defense:

Defensive line: Dre’Mont Jones (end), Mike Purcell (nose tackle) and DJ Jones (end). DJ Jones, who agreed to terms on Monday night to leave San Francisco, was a two-down player for the 49ers in the playoffs, so the Broncos still need to find a sub-package pass rusher to play next to Dre’Mont Jones, who had a breakout final half of 2021 and now must put together 17 games of consistent performance. If he does, this group is better.

Inside linebacker: Josey Jewell agreed to a two-year contract on Tuesday and will be counted on to play at least the base-down snaps. He tore his pectoral in last year’s second game, but Paton said earlier this month that Jewell is healthy. We will pencil in Baron Browning as the other starting inside linebacker, the question being if he or Jewell will be the every-down player.

Leave a Comment