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Did the Broncos err in letting Shaq Barrett walk?

Let’s discuss.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
How could the Broncos have kept Shaq Barrett?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One of those narratives that looks like it’s running off the rails around the NFL today is how Tampa Bay’s Shaquil Barrett already has eight sacks on the season while the Broncos’ entire defense has zero.

This narrative is gaining legs, so it looks like a good time to shed some light on the facts. Barrett was a key reserve for the Broncos’ 2015 Super Bowl team, notching 5.5 sacks in less than 500 snaps, including one of my favorite plays ever.

Shaq came up on big on the Patriots 3rd and 15.

Even still, his raw sack totals were not particularly eye-catching. Even in 2017 when he played 67 percent of the Broncos defensive snaps, Barrett finished with just four sacks and 12 QB hits. His play certainly exceeded the raw numbers, but with an opportunity to prove himself across from Von Miller without DeMarcus Ware or Shane Ray eating into his snaps, Barrett came up short.

Shaq has long been a fan favorite, but he never blew up like some hoped until now.

So in 2018 when Elway had a chance to draft the consensus best defensive player available in Bradley Chubb, he took it. Some had argued the NC State product was better than Myles Garrett, 2017’s first overall pick. Few, if any panned the selection.

After the Broncos drafted Chubb, I spent a week in the months before training camp evaluating who Denver should try and re-sign if it had the choice: Shane Ray or Shaq Barrett. It wasn’t close.

Under Vance Joseph that last season, Barrett played a little over 25 percent of the defensive snaps in 2018 and left Denver after the season in hopes of finding a starting opportunity. The Cincinnati Bengals expressed interest, but Barrett instead met with and signed in Tampa Bay for a one-year $4 million deal that included incentives. When he signed, the Buccaneers expected him to compete for a starting job with Carl Nassib.

So while the narrative continues that Elway and the Broncos erred in letting Barrett walk for nothing, it doesn’t hold up under the slightest scrutiny.

Barrett wanted an opportunity to prove he’s a starting caliber edge player worthy of a long-term commitment, and he bet on himself. The most realistic offer Denver could have made for Barrett would have treated him like the valuable edge reserve he was to that point. The gap in dollars for those two things is astronomical.

The top of the edge market.

Which brings us to the real question.

If the Broncos erred anywhere, it’s in choosing Bradley Chubb at No. 5 in the first round of the 2018 draft instead of electing to look at Barrett as a long-term asset.

What do you think?

Tim Lynch: No error. Shaq is a fine player and a personal fan favorite in his time in Denver, but I am certain over the long haul we’ll see that Bradley Chubb is going to end up 10 times the player Shaq Barrett is. I am definitely happy for Shaq though. Dude is tearing it up to start the season!

Jeff Essary: First off, let’s be clear, Elway and Denver knew Shaq’s talent, and it isn’t a surprise to anyone that he’s playing well.

They didn’t miss on letting him go, they intentionally allowed him to walk in FA because 1) he wanted starter snaps and we had just drafted Chubb 2) Chubb on a rookie deal/5th year option will be cheaper long term for the performance than what Denver would’ve had to pay to keep Shaq longterm (this is assuming Shaq gets a big payday next year, which I fully anticipate).

To the question at hand, if Chubb’s presence on the roster made Shaq expendable, what if we hadn’t drafted Chubb? I think this is a super interesting question that you could play out a ton of different scenarios with over the next few years.

The No. 5 pick was the highest we’ve had since the Von Miller pick in 2011. It had/has potential to be a franchise-changing pick. I went on record that year saying Denver would regret not getting a QB when they were already up that high, and still think the Jets beat us to a great deal with the trade up to No. 2 to eventually take Sam Darnold. So that’s the first miss I think that will haunt Denver.

Another interesting scenario is if you kept and paid Barrett, skip Chubb at No. 5 and draft Roquan Smith, who went No. 8. It would have given Denver an edge rusher still but also filled a major hole at ILB. You could also argue keeping Shaq and drafting Nelson could’ve been interesting. The last one that’s interesting to entertain is the deal that Denver reportedly had in place to trade back with Buffalo.

Personally, I like the idea of Roquan Smith with Shaq. I think Bradley Chubb will be great and will eventually replace Von Miller down the road, but right now, a three-down ILB seems harder to find than an edge rusher in today’s NFL.

Locked on Broncos’ Cody Roark: Barrett made it known he didn’t want to be in the reserve role for Denver. Shaq had a chance to showcase for Denver when Demarcus Ware was injured and even more extensive when Shane Ray was hurt and Ware was retired. Barrett was great as an edge contain run stopper, was high and low as a pass rusher in terms of consistency. He’s found a role in Tampa Bay and has excelled. Chubb’s rookie season proved why the Broncos were right to take him at 5.

Despite zero sacks so far in 2019, Chubb’s presence on defense has been tremendous as a run stopper. No buyers remorse here, I’m happy for Barrett, but it was the right move for Denver. Some guys perform great in different systems.

In hindsight - I myself looked at the possibility of Quenton Nelson and Josh Rosen at pick 5 in 2018. As much of a surprise to me that Chubb was available there at 5. It seemed more intriguing given the Broncos’ strength on defense that they added another piece opposite of Miller. It proved to be a great move.

Mile High Huddle’s Nick Kendall: In hindsight one can argue that the Broncos may have been better off either taking Josh Allen at five overall or trading down with the Bills and taking a guy like Derwin James, Jaire Alexander, or Leighton Vander Esch in the trade down. Despite the lack of sacks though, Chubb is flashing constantly this season and is still a long-term stud and blue chip player on the Broncos.

Once they drafted him, it made it almost impossible for the Broncos to retain Shaq Barrett. Starting off hot, but with a sample size of three games, it’s just reactionary to freak out about Barrett (who only garnered a one-year prove-it deal this offseason) when the Broncos already had Chubb and Von. The Broncos were not going to pay Barrett big enough money to warrant him forsaking a chance to start elsewhere.

Contract Grades | Over the Cap

I think this is exceptional value for the Bucs. Barrett had a nice career in Denver before circumstances pretty much rendered his role obsolete. Even still he should have been able to earn more than this in free agency but he seemed to slip through the cracks. I think the pairing of him with this coaching staff could lead to big gains which would benefit him next year in free agency as well as the Bucs this year. This is far better than any of the deals the team made last year in an attempt to patch their defense together.

Kevin Gillikin: I think drafts are so fluid it’s hard to second-guess sometimes. The Broncos really didn’t expect Chubb to be there and when he was, the rest of the board went out the window. He’s also proved to be a beast, so it’s hard to find fault with the pick.

That being the case, Shaq deserved to be somewhere where he can see the field and props to him for taking advantage of it.

Joe Rowles: I strongly advocated for Quenton Nelson or Josh Rosen at No. 5 last year with Shaq as the long-term running mate across from Von. I don’t think Barrett will be anywhere close to the same player Chubb is long term, but I thought the chance to get a Hall-of-Fame guard or starting QB for the long term made up for that drop off in play.

It will be telling to see how Shaq’s production holds up over the next couple games as well. Lost in the box score total is how Barrett beat up on Daniel Jones and Cam Newton, two quarterbacks who take hits behind offensive lines that are shaky. I want to see how he fares against the Rams and New Orleans before I grill Elway too hard.


What do you think in hindsight of letting Shaq Barrett walk?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    It was the right move
    (259 votes)
  • 29%
    Bradley Chubb will be a stud, but long-term, the better move would have been drafting more of a position of need (OL, QB, ILB)
    (282 votes)
  • 42%
    Why are we talking about something that can’t be changed???
    (402 votes)
943 votes total Vote Now