Yesterday, we learned that the NFL had suspended second-year defensive lineman Eyioma Uwazurike indefinitely for betting on NFL games. The former fourth-round selection was expected to compete for a starting job during training camp and at least be a rotational player for them along their defensive line. Now with him suspended for at least 12 months, the Broncos' depth along the defensive line has taken a hit, and it was not that great to begin with. On top of all that, veteran defensive lineman Mike Purcell will start training camp on the NFI as he continues to rehab from offseason surgery.
Per wire, Broncos defensive lineman Eyioma Uwazurike has been suspended indefinitely for betting on NFL game in 2022 season. Huge blow to Denver D-line. #9sports— Mike Klis (@mikeklis) July 24, 2023
So, with the Broncos down two defensive linemen to start training camp, how will they replace these two players, and specifically, Uwazurike’s spot on the roster? First, we need to take a look at the in-house options. I believed that Matt Henningsen would start camp as the other starting defensive end opposite of Zach Allen even if Uwazurike was not suspended. However, with Uwazurike out, he is left without much competition for that other starting job.
Behind him is where things get tricky and concerning for the Broncos. You have a lot of inexperience and youth competing for likely a rotational role and potentially significant snaps on defense. So, let us take a look at the in-house options to replace Uwazurike before taking a look at some possible available free agents who could join the team.
The most experienced of the bunch is veteran defensive lineman, Tyler Lancaster. He has been active for 59 games and has started 21 games during his career. The majority of those games came in 2019 when he started 10 games for the Green Bay Packers. However, he only has six starts since 2020 and missed the entire 2022 season due to injury. He is not an exciting option and at best, is a run stuffer who does not offer much as a pass rusher.
The next most experienced player on the roster is Jonathan Harris who has bounced on and off the practice squad throughout his career. Since 2019, he has played in 16 games and has four career starts, all coming last year. He has a chance to compete for Uwazurike’s spot on the roster, but he still is a bubble player at best.
Garcia is a second-year defensive lineman who went undrafted last season and was later signed off the Rams practice squad by the Broncos. He has played in two games for the Broncos, all coming in the final two games last season, and only played a limited amount of snaps during that span. He has a chance to impress during camp but still faces long odds to even make the team. He still seems like a practice squad candidate.
Jackson was a sixth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 2022 NFL Draft. He did not make the team and spent his entire rookie season on their practice squad. Clearly, he was not in their future plans since he signed a reserve/future contract with the Denver Broncos early this year. Like Garcia, he faces long odds of making the team but has an opportunity to impress the coaches. However, he too seems like a practice squad candidate at best.
The undrafted rookie reportedly is coming off a strong offseason and may be the biggest beneficiary of Uwazurike’s suspension. He is a big run-stuffing defensive lineman who could fill the same role that Uwazurike was expected to fill. He will need to continue to play well during training camp and into the preseason if he wants to secure a roster spot. Of the depth options currently on the roster, he appears to be the best or one of the best options right now and that is a bit concerning.
Free Agent Options
The Broncos will most likely need to look at the available veteran free agents now and bring one in to solidify their defensive line. I’ll take a look at the notable ones available and if they make sense for the Broncos.
The former Broncos defensive lineman was traded to Seattle in the Russell Wilson trade. He was later released by the team this past offseason when the team signed former Broncos defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones. He has remained unsigned, but could he reunite in Denver?
I would welcome him, but the rumors seems to point to him re-signing with the Seahawks. We shall see how it plays out and maybe he would welcome re-signing with the Broncos, but I will be surprised.
The veteran defensive lineman played in 13 games for the Carolina Panthers last season and might be the best available free-agent defensive lineman available. He is an experienced defensive lineman who has started 86 games throughout his career and would be a great addition to the Broncos' defensive line. Even if Uwazurike was not suspended, I believe this move should have been made regardless.
Other notable veteran free agents
- Chris Wormley (tore his ACL in late December)
- Akiem Hicks
- Ndamukong Suh
- Michael Brockers