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DENVER, Colo. — The Randy Gregory Era in Denver is over.
The Broncos released Gregory, 30, on Wednesday, following his request to be released earlier this week, according to Mike Klis of 9News. Klis says head coach Sean Payton “slept on it” before pulling the trigger Wednesday morning. Nik Bonitto, 24, had started in place of Gregory in Chicago on Sunday, which could explain why he wanted to leave.
Gregory played in 10 games for the Broncos with six starts over two seasons. He recorded three sacks, four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
The Broncos gave Gregory a five-year, $70 million contract last season. The Broncos will have to pay out the remainder of his $14 million guaranteed salary for 2023, bringing Gregory’s total earnings from the Broncos to $28 million. He would have earned the same amount of money—and cost the Broncos the same amount of cap space—whether he played out the remainder of the 2023 season or was released.
Gregory will count for $16.1 million against the salary cap in 2023 and $6.3 million against the cap in 2024. He cost $5.6 million in 2022, which creates a total $28 million in cap and cash spending for his less than two years of service.
Multiple sources indicate that the Broncos tried to trade Gregory earlier this week before ultimately releasing him. If he had been traded, his new team would owe him $10.9 million for 2023, $14 million in 2024, $14 million in 2025 and $14 million in 2026. Only the money in 2023 would be guaranteed so that the new team could move on from Gregory free of charge at any point after this season. The new team would have Gregory locked into the 22nd-highest annual salary for an edge rush for the foreseeable future. That would be a bargain if Gregory popped, and it would be a low-risk deal since the team could move on at any point after this season.
If the Broncos tried to move Gregory at the deadline, his new team would pay him less than $8 million for the remainder of the season, which may have been more appetizing.
The Broncos moved Nik Bonitto into the starting lineup across from Jonathon Cooper, 25, last week. Gregory didn’t see the field until the second series of the game. The Broncos played 72 snaps on defense. Cooper was on the field for 62 of them, Bonitto played 48 and Gregory played 33. Undrafted free agent Thomas Incoom was on the field for one defensive play.
The decision to give more playing time to Bonitto and Cooper paid off. In the fourth quarter, Bonitto came free off the edge and strip-sacked Justin Fields. Cooper picked the ball up and ran 35 yards for a game-tying touchdown. Bonitto has 3.5 sacks this season, which ranks 10th in the NFL. His six tackles for loss rank second. Cooper has three sacks and two tackles for loss.
The Broncos’ depth between their two starting edges is shaky without Gregory, for now. Incoom was their only other active outside linebacker on Sunday. Marcus Haynes, another undrafted rookie, is on the practice squad and could be activated if the Broncos need another body.
But the depth should look better in a few weeks. Baron Browning, 24, finished third among Broncos in sacks last season but started this year on the PUP list with a torn meniscus. He is eligible to return to practice this week and is required to begin practicing in the next five weeks to be eligible to return this season. Once he steps foot on the practice field, he has three weeks to be added to the 53-man roster. Essentially, Browning could be back for Sunday’s game against the Jets or out until Week 13. He could also sit out the rest of the season.
The Broncos signed veteran pass rusher Frank Clark, 30, this offseason, but he missed the last three games with a hip injury. If the Broncos had placed him on injured reserve, he would have been forced to sit out for four weeks. Since they didn’t, there’s reason to believe he’ll be back this Sunday.