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How Danny Trevathan's return brings the Broncos' past, present and future together

Andrew Mason Avatar
September 12, 2019

 

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — This week, Bears inside linebacker Danny Trevathan sits at the nexus of the Broncos’ universe.

He represents the team’s glorious past, as a starter in Super Bowls XLVIII and 50. And now he knows more about their present than perhaps the players on their roster, thanks to three years spent under Vic Fangio when he served as the Bears’ defensive coordinator.

Fangio and then-coach John Fox thought Trevathan would be a perfect fit for the defense they were building piece by piece. Chicago signed Trevathan 31 days after the Broncos won Super Bowl 50.

Injuries dogged Trevathan in his first two seasons in Chicago, costing him 10 games in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but when healthy, he was everything Fangio hoped he could be.

“He’s a fiery guy. He plays hard, plays tough, versatile linebacker and that versus the run and the pass,” Fangio said. “Danny really likes to play football, which is contagious to everybody.”

Trevathan served as team captain for one of the two seasons before Chicago went with weekly team captains beginning in 2017, but he remains one of the Bears’ guiding forces. Trevathan never had the captain’s patch in Denver, but he was one of the Broncos’ defensive leaders.

That is what the Broncos missed most after not re-signing him in 2016.

WHY THEY LET TREVATHAN GO

First, let’s rewind back to what the Broncos faced coming off of Super Bowl 50.

Trevathan was one of three defensive starters from the 2012 draft class who had an expiring contract and stood poised for unrestricted free agency. Defensive ends Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson were the others. Trevathan’s partner at inside linebacker, Brandon Marshall, also had an expiring contract, but he was set to become a restricted free agent. Difficult choices loomed as teams wanted to import a piece of the Broncos’ Super Bowl-winning formula for themselves.

Two days before the divisional playoff game against Pittsburgh, the Broncos signed Wolfe to a four-year, $36.7 million contract, effectively leaving no room for a massive deal with Jackson. Marshall’s RFA status bought the Broncos time. In June 2016 they signed him to a new four-year deal that eventually paid him $20.053 million.

Denver’s defense remained elite in 2016, but as the years progressed and injuries accumulated for Marshall, the defense lost some punch from its core. Most importantly, it struggled to find emotional leaders to replace the ones it gradually lost — Trevathan after 2015, DeMarcus Ware a year later and Aqib Talib a year after that.

Meanwhile, Trevathan helped bring the Bears together, a role he still handles.

AN IRREPLACEABLE LEADER

“That’s who he is,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “When I was in Kansas City, I remember him being in Denver and the things that he did … with a star-studded defense. Now, here he is with our guys.

“I think, specifically after a tough loss like we just came off, you look for guys that can naturally take over. He is a born leader. I’ve been around a couple of guys in this league that when they talk, you’re quiet and you listen, and you literally believe everything they say. He’s one of those guys.”

That comes as no surprise to anyone who saw Trevathan’s work in Denver.

Trevathan began showing leadership, maturity and energy from his first days as a Bronco in 2012 as a sixth-round pick. As a rookie during his first OTA and minicamp practices, he bounced into the huddle when his turn for a repetition arrived. He was never fazed, which is why he played extensively while D.J. Williams sat out nine games in serving two suspensions — and why the Broncos felt comfortable releasing Williams in 2013, knowing that Trevathan waited in the wings.

“He’s a good competitive player. He’s always a guy that’s going to finish to the ball, to finish every play,” said Todd Davis, who played two seasons with Trevathan. “He’s a tough, nasty player, and that’s what I love about him.”

He battled back from a knee injury in 2014 to return to his old form during the Broncos’ Super Bowl season. Davis, then learning the ropes in his second NFL season, watched closely.

As it turned out, Davis was Trevathan’s successor. Davis moved into the starting lineup immediately after Trevathan signed with the Bears, and by 2018, he was the Broncos’ defensive captain.

“It was tough to see [Trevathan] leave, because he was such a huge piece of this defense and helped us win a Super Bowl,” Davis said. “But it was my opportunity to shine. I feel like I took advantage of it and now I’m here, and we get to play each other, so it’ll be fun.”

TREVATHAN ON FANGIO

If today’s Broncos want to know what works with their new head coach, they can ask the ex-Bronco with a Super Bowl ring and a spot on the Broncos’ all-time top-100 list.

Of course, that advice will have to wait until Sunday night.

“I wouldn’t tell them now because we have to play them Sunday, but after the game maybe I’ll say something,” Trevathan said, laughing.

Then he offered some counsel, which can be summed up in one word: Listen.

“Just take as much as you can from somebody who’s been doing it for a while who loves the game of football,” he said. “That’s what I would tell them.”

Trevathan did.

“When a guy like that is talking, a person in my position listens because that’s where I want to see myself in a couple of years, Trevathan said. “Just taking the most knowledge from him, little things on the scheme versus playing linebacker.”

It’s appropriate that Trevathan focuses on listening. That’s what good leaders do. That’s what Davis did when Trevathan spoke as a teammate.

Sunday, No. 59 will walk through the southeast tunnel, and the Broncos’ present will collide with their past. If their future is to be bright, they would be wise to listen to Trevathan again.

“There is always something that you can learn,” Trevathan said. “[Fangio] is definitely one I learned from.”

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