Broncos Country loves its undrafted success stories, and Malik Reed has been one of the guys in that role over the last couple of seasons.
He signed with the Broncos in April of 2019, and ended up starting sight games as a rookie. Reed followed that up by starting 13 games in each of the 2020 and 2021 seasons. His 34 combined starts are the most among all UDFAs who entered the NFL in the 2019 season or later.
As is sometimes the case, most of Reed’s opportunities came as a result of injuries to the expected starters. With Von Miller and Bradley Chubb missing significant time alternately 2019 through 2021, Reed was generally that third EDGE who stepped up.
And he generated some pretty good seasons in the process, including eight sacks in 2020 and five in 2021.
#59 Malik Reed
Weight: 235 lbs
Experience: 4th year
But few roles in the NFL are more volatile than that of a primary backup. And despite his many starts, that’s been Reed’s role. Roster changes from one season to the next can easily catapult such a guy into a true starting role... or see them pushed off of the roster entirely.
How Reed fits with the Broncos in 2022
The last year has brought big changes to the Broncos’ depth chart at EDGE. Broncos legend and future first ballot Hall of Famer Von Miller was traded to the Rams last season.
In order to fill the rather glaring talent gap that resulted at OLB, GM George Paton capitalized on the Cowboys’ mistake and added Randy Gregory to fill that hole. Then Paton doubled down at EDGE by taking former University of Oklahoma OLB Nik Bonitto in the second round of the Draft. The Broncos’ new coaching staff then pushed even more resources into the EDGE position by re-assigning 2021 third-round pick Baron Browning from inside linebacker to outside linebacker.
Suddenly, the position is overcrowded.
Malik Reed is not your typical "backup".— Sayre Bedinger (@SayreBedinger) September 28, 2021
Difference maker, no question about it. pic.twitter.com/0gYdfvbGhu
This infusion of talent to the position means that, despite starting 12 more games at EDGE than any other Bronco across the last three seasons, Reed suddenly faces a battle to make this roster.
It’s pretty normal for teams to carry four, or at most five, players at OLB. So with Chubb and Gregory as the expected starters - and Bonitto and Browning in good shape as roster-lock backups - Reed finds himself as one of five players competing for one last OLB roster spot... a roster spot that isn’t guaranteed to actually be there.
Luckily for him, it probably will be there. Chubb and Gregory both have significant injury histories to consider, and Browning’s flexibility and experience last year at ILB means he may be tabbed to play there if other guys get hurt. All of that points to the Broncos carrying five OLBs. So Reed just needs to beat out Jonathan Cooper, Jonathan Kongbo, Aaron Patrick, and Christopher Allen for that last roster spot.
If the field of play was the only factor, I’d say Reed is the odds-on favorite for that fifth roster spot. But money, cap space, and time of control (i.e. length of contract) are factors as well. And that may be what leads to a different outcome. Reed’s contract is worth $2.43 million for 2022. But he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and none of that is guaranteed.
With Cooper, Kongbo, Patrick, and Allen all costing the team 1⁄3 as much as Reed, or less, and either under contract or tenderable for the next 2 seasons beyond 2022, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Reed end up as part of a trade sometime during training camp. He’s proven he’s a legit NFL player, and can be a decent enough starter. At EDGE, that means he has some notable potential trade value. But if a trade doesn’t come together, I think he probably does make the final 53.
The question may come down to this: Do the Broncos need the depth & experience Reed provides for a potential run at a Super Bowl more than they need the net $1.6 million or so of cap savings - and potential 2023 draft pick - they could get by moving on from him?
What is Malik Reed’s place on this team in 2022?
This poll is closed
Depth spot to fill in for injured edge rushers
Cut from the roster