In the early days of the ‘Vic Fangio’ era in Denver, the belief for many was the team would be vaulted by a dominant defense, more specifically the pass-rush, which was to feature Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Von and Chubb were both coming off highly productive years under Vance Joseph, and Vic Fangio had coached a ferocious Bears’ pass rush that helped Khalil Mack to a DPOY award in 2016.
To the disappointment of Denver Broncos fans everywhere, 2019 through 2021 saw Denver as one of the league’s least productive pass rushing defenses. It seemed Von Miller and Bradley Chubb were cursed to never share the field due to injuries, and Fangio’s defense folded without the ability to generate a pass-rush with four guys.
2021 saw the departure of Vic Fangio, his DC Ed Donatell, and Von Miller. General Manager George Paton entered the 2022 offseason with a clear hole at edge rusher, and with the draft capital used to acquire Russell Wilson, he needed to acquire one on the open market.
With many stars at the position available (such as Chandler Jones, Hassan Reddick, Za’Darious Smith, Randy Gregory, and even the aforementioned Von Miller) George Paton wasn’t forced to rush in and overpay whoever was available.
Instead he waited on another team’s blunder, and took advantage.
Randy Gregory was ready to sign a 5yr/$70M ($28M guaranteed) contract with the Cowboys, when at the last second they tried to sneak in additional ‘salary-forfeiture language’ which upset Gregory. This led to him calling out for other options, and George Paton was willing to listen. Randy Gregory signed a five year contract with the Denver Broncos identical to his original deal with the Cowboys, and now partnered with a fully-healthy Bradley Chubb, looks to return Denver’s pass-rush to its former glory.
WT: 258 lbs.
No player investment is without risk and Randy does bring plenty of his own. In the 2015 NFL Draft, Randy Gregory was seemingly a lock for the top-10 coming out of Nebraska. But a failed drug test for marijuana saw him fall to the 60th overall pick and the Cowboys.
This wouldn’t be Gregory’s only failed drug test as through his first six years in the NFL (2015-2020 seasons), he’d miss a whopping total of 54 regular season games. Reading this (and honestly typing it) it’s hard not to think, “Holy shit, how do you pay a guy who has such a history of unavailability that kind of money?” and I won’t say that’s a flawed response.
I will say, it is important to keep in mind how far not only he, but the league has come in a short amount of time.
After his early 2020 suspension Gregory was a key piece to Dallas’ pass-rush rotation and after finishing the year strong, was able to enter the 2021 offseason with no pending suspension or injuries. Before the season started his teammates and coaches elected Gregory to the Cowboys’ Player Council, a 14-man leadership committee that the coaches depend on to know what their players need.
Gregory repaid the Cowboys belief in him by having his most productive season as a pro, and being one of the key leaders in a Cowboys locker room full of young talent.
Though he did still suffer some injuries which forced him to miss time, Gregory generated 6 sacks and 47 total pressures on only 477 snaps. While you might look at the sack total and be fairly underwhelmed, it’s important to note that pressures and pressure rates translate much better year to year. Gregory wasn’t in the double-digits for sacks but on a per snap basis he was one of the league’s most disruptive pass rushers. His 16.2% pressure rate was 26th in the NFL in 2021 among players with meaningful snaps.
Fit in Denver
While the counting stats don’t necessarily make you fall in love, the film does. Even back to his days at Nebraska, Gregory was an athletic marvel with an absurd blend of size, speed, bend, balance, and length. While Gregory is approaching 30, the lack of playtime he’s accrued through his career can actually be to his benefit. This is an 8-year NFL veteran with only 2 years worth of tread on his tires.
Based on the 2021 tape he is nowhere near taking a step back athletically and could see his ‘prime’ extend into his mid-30s, which would make the contract he signed with Denver quickly become one of the better values in the league.
Expect him to come in as a dominant force along Denver’s front and entrench himself as the starter for years to come. For the first time in years, Bradley Chubb will enter training camp and preseason with no lingering injuries (knock on wood) and we could see arguably Denver’s best duo since Chubb’s rookie season.
Don’t be surprised to see Randy bounced inside occasionally on passing downs, as some of his best reps last season came against opposing guards. His large frame should be a massive improvement against the run in comparison to Malik Reed, and his flexibility allows opportunities for some of the young guys to get a chance outside.
While some may argue that moving away from Dan Quinn’s pressure-heavy defense, and not playing next to the likes of Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence could lead to a step back for Gregory. I believe his immense talent combined with the uptick in snaps he should expect to see means he’s inline for a true breakout year.
I believe in a couple years, maybe as soon as next year, fans will look back on this deal in awe. Pass rushers are one of the premier positions in the league up there with QB, and WR. The great ones, such as Von Miller, can cost you upwards of $20M per season and that number only gets higher every year. Randy Gregory this last season was a great pass rusher, period. He was considered one of the leaders in the Cowboys’ locker room and in their community and the very thing that has caused his career so much turmoil (drug testing for marijuana) has been done away with by the league.
Based on his interviews on the subject, I believe Randy Gregory will be nothing but an asset to the Broncos on and off the field; and should he struggle, there aren’t better teammates in the league than Russell Wilson and Justin Simmons.
The guarantees in the contract are also heavily protective towards Denver, with only the first two years of the contract fully guaranteed. While acquiring a HOF QB in an offseason is hard to top, Randy Gregory deciding to come to Denver is maybe my favorite move the team made. It’s an incredibly high upside move that doesn’t bring a ton of risk to the Broncos. The exact gamble a team hoping to pull themselves out of the mud and into the promised land needs to make.
It all pretty much boils down to this:
If Randy Gregory can stay out of trouble, which he has done now for going on 3-years, the Denver Broncos got an absolute steal. He received below market value after his best career season which saw him as a key locker room leader, and still has room to grow when provided more opportunity. This could be one of the league’s top-10 pass rushers, and he’s ranked 22nd among edge rushers in annual pay value.
We’re going to need multiple George Paton statues at this point.