ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — George Paton made it through the two worst day of his year. In the past 36 hours, the Denver Broncos made 27 moves to cut their roster from 80 players down to their initial 53-man roster.
An hour after the Broncos released their roster, Paton and assistant general manager Darren Mougey spoke to the media to discuss why they made the moves they did.
Here’s what we learned about the Broncos’ roster.
Malik making moves
The biggest move of the day was trading Reed and a 2023 seventh-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a 2023 sixth-round pick. Despite Von Miller and Bradley Chubb on the team during this time period, no player had more sacks in the past three seasons combined than Reed.
“I love Malik. Everyone does. Great kid. Really good player,” Paton started off with. “We just had a log jam. We had a lot of really talented outside backers that can rush.”
By trading Reed, the Broncos not only kept Jonathon Cooper on the roster, but they also kept Aaron Patrick, who will mainly be a special teams contributor.
“We thought it would be best to trade Malik and trade him to somewhere where he’s going to fit in and a really good organization. We wouldn’t have just traded him anywhere. He wanted to go to Pittsburgh and we found a home for him,” Paton added. “It’s a win-win for both sides.”
The Broncos were clearly open to trading players to add, or upgrade, their future draft capital, but Paton didn’t want to weaken the team this year by trading many players.
“You always want to get picks, but you also want your best players. We had opportunities to trade players, but we also want to win now,” Paton stated. “We want to win this year.”
Greg Dulcich and Michael Ojemudia will be placed on the injured reserve on Wednesday, Paton announced. By keeping them on the initial 53-man roster and then placing them on injured reserve a day later, both players will be allowed to return this season.
If they would have been placed on the I.R. before the team set their 53-man roster, they would not have been eligible to play this season. By going on the I.R. on Wednesday, they will be eligible to play after missing four games.
“They will 100 percent be available Week 5,” Paton stated, pointing to their return date.
As to why Dulcich missed the entire preseason, Paton said “hamstring [injuries] are strange.”
“He was really close to coming back, then he tweaked it. I wouldn’t call it a setback, but he just can’t get over that hump,” the general manager explained. “He thinks he can probably be ready, maybe in a week or two, but, I’ve said this a number of times, we want to protect him from himself. So we’re going to do that. We’re going to take the conservative route, which we like to do with these type of injuries. He’s going to help us win a lot of football games this year. He’ll be ready after those four games are up.”
Brett Rypien, not Josh Johnson, will be Russell Wilson’s backup quarterback. On Tuesday, the team released Johnson after landing on Rypien as the winner in the backup quarterback competition.
“It was really tough. Brett and Josh had a great competition. It came down to the final game,” Paton explained. “The body of work—both of these guys did a lot of great things. I just think the way ‘Ryp’ operated the offense, the way he moved the team, he did some really good things.”
Paton added the team hopes to sign Johnson to the practice squad.
Gone, but not for long
On Tuesday, the Broncos said goodbye to Mike Purcell and Eric Tomlinson. But they told them not to leave the Mile high City as the team wants to re-sign them on Wednesday.
“Purcell and Tomlinson—big part of what we’re doing. Mike is one of core guys. We didn’t play him in the preseason. They are going to be here,” Paton said. “They’re doing a favor for the team. They’re taking one for the team.”
The Broncos plan on signing both players on Wednesday after putting Dulcich and Ojemudia on the injured reserve. Paton called the moves “just procedural.”
It does, however, open up the possibility of the veterans signing with a different team if they choose to do so.
Two other players that will be returning soon are Billy Turner and Tyrie Cleveland. However, these two are returning for different reasons than Purcell and Tomlinson.
Turner and Cleveland are in the process of returning from injuries.
Turner, who is expected to be the Broncos’ starting right tackle when healthy, is recovering from a knee injury that held him out of the entire offseason, most of training camp and the entire preseason. Paton believes he has a good chance to be ready to play Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks.
“I’m encouraged with Billy and the strides he’s taken the last couple of weeks,” Paton said. “I know he wants to play. That’s his goal. If not, we feel good with our depth. I think Billy is right on track.”
As for Cleveland, who suffered a throat injury early on in training camp, Paton said “he’s just about back.” Cleveland will be a core special teams player.
May the best punter win
On Monday morning, it was reported the Broncos were releasing Sam Martin after he refused to take a pay cut. However, on Monday evening, DNVR reported Martin was never asked to take a pay cut and the decision to go with Corliss Waitman at punter was purely about their on-field abilities.
On Tuesday, Paton made it very clear the decision to release Martin had nothing to do with money.
“We picked the best punter for us, Corliss. The punter with the most upside. The biggest leg,” Paton stated. “Money had nothing to do with it.”
“We have plenty of cap room to do what we need to do,” Paton added. “We’re not going to get rid of a player that can help us win for money.”
Paton acknowledged it was a “great competition” between the two punters, but in the end, they liked what Waitman brought to the table more.
“Corliss is something really talented,” Paton said. “We claimed him last year. Big leg. Lefty. We thinking he has unique ability of hang time. Directional. Very good athlete. Very good holder.”
Season-ending injured reserve, but not really
Brandon Johnson was on his way to making the Broncos’ initial 53-man roster before suffering a high ankle sprain in the preseason finale on Saturday. That injury threw a wrench in Denver’s plans.
Instead of making the 53-man squad, the Broncos placed him on the injured reserve. As mentioned above, that typically ends a player’s season. If the team wants, they could keep him on the injured reserve all season.
However, there is a way that he could return this year. In order for that to happen, Denver would have to reach an injury settlement and waive the rookie receiver. If he then clears waivers, the Broncos could re-sign him and he could play immediately.
The risk with that, obviously, is another team could pick him up on waivers. The downside of leaving him on the I.R. all season is he wouldn’t be able to play.
On Tuesday, Paton said the team hasn’t decided what direction they’ll take with Johnson.
It’s not over yet
There’s a reason it’s called the Broncos’ initial 53-man roster. That’s because it’s guaranteed to change in the next day or two. Not only will Denver place Dulcich and Ojemudia on the I.R., they’ll then search the 800-plus players that have been cut to see if any of them are worth signing.
“Tonight, we’ll be up most of the evening seeing if we can upgrade the bottom-end of the roster, or even the top-end of the roster,” Paton said. “It’s a fluid roster. I feel good about where we are.”
Along with that, the team will build their 16-man practice squad.
“We’re always looking,” Paton added, about continuing to build the roster.