With free agency fast approaching the Denver Broncos want to bring back one of their own free agent linebackers. 9News’ Mike Klis reported last week that Josey Jewell’s aget Jack Bechta met with representatives from the Broncos during the NFL Scouting Combine, and that there is mutual interest in a return. George Paton is on record calling him a “glue” guy for the defense, so should Denver pony up to ensure he dons orange in blue in ‘22?
Weight: 234 pounds
Age: 27 years old
Experience: 4 seasons
Why it makes sense
Three of the Broncos’ starting linebackers are currently set to become unrestricted free agents: Jewell, Alexander Johnson, and Kenny Young. At present the Broncos’ linebacker corps. consists of Baron Browning and Justin Strnad. That’s it. Even if you consider Jonas Griffith a lock to return since he’s an exclusive rights free agent, there’s a glaring lack of proven experience and a litany of questions about the current group.
Browning looked very promising once he made it to the field his rookie season, but also missed a significant stretch during the first half of the season because of a lower body injury. Strnad was benched on Halloween and couldn’t find his way back onto the defense despite the room being decimated by injuries.
Beyond the Broncos roster, the other reason it’d make sense to retain Jewell is his own play. A fourth round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Jewell’s developed into a savvy, well rounded player and established himself as a solid starting linebacker prior to his week two injury last season. Additionally, he stayed active with the Broncos even after his injury and there is mutual interest in a return.
Jewell’s a clean fit in the defense Vic Fangio ran that the Broncos look set to run a variant of going forward. He and Johnson formed one of the two best coverage duos in the league among starting backers in 2020. While Young is more athletic and Johnson’s a better run defender, Jewell was the player Fangio trusted with the green dot, which means he’s the guy the coaching staff trusted to relay signals from the sideline to the rest of the defense.
Why it doesn’t make sense
The biggest risks involved in a Jewell re-signing are related to his health, and the Broncos will have a much clearer picture of his recovery from a torn pectoral than fans will. The linebacker had surgery back in September following the Jacksonville Jaguars game and there’s been no reports of a setback since. According to ESPN’s injury expert Stephania Bell, the typical recovery time for a torn pectoral muscle is three to four months so Jewell should be clear to participate in the Broncos offseason if he’s retained.
One other reason for pause related to Jewell vs. Johnson vs. Young. vs. the rest of the linebacker market is related to cost and expectations. Jewell’s athletic limitations mean there’s a bit of a ceiling on his upside. He isn’t a player you want isolated against top backs or tight ends in coverage when possible and that probably doesn’t change going forward. That limitation means it could behoove George Paton to seek out an upgrade if an opportunity presents itself. It may be good to structure a contract so that the Broncos can move on without incurring too much dead money.
I believe it’s in the Broncos’ best interest to retain one of their three veteran linebackers for the 2022 season. Ejiro Evero is going to run a defense that has many similarities to the system Denver ran for the last three seasons, so a little more continuity in the middle makes sense. If we assume health isn’t a question, Jewell’s a younger option than Johnson and a better option than Young.
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