Broncos' Expensive Mistakes: Randy Gregory, Frank Clark - A Reckoning
The Denver Broncos have admitted to making expensive mistakes in their 1-4 start to the season. They released outside linebacker Randy Gregory and traded Frank Clark, both with costly consequences. The team's defense, already ranked last in major categories, is facing further challenges.
The Denver Broncos have had a rough start to the season, with a record of 1-4. In the past week, they have acknowledged the expensive mistakes they have made. One such mistake was with outside linebacker Randy Gregory, who had signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the team in March 2022. The Broncos informed Gregory that they would release him if they couldn't find a trade for him. Eventually, they traded him to the San Francisco 49ers, but they will still be paying the majority of his salary for the rest of the season, which amounts to over $10 million. This means that Gregory will still have the fourth-highest base salary for the season, even though he is no longer on the roster.
Recently, it was reported by ESPN's Field Yates that outside linebacker Frank Clark's days with the Broncos are numbered. Clark has only recorded two tackles and zero sacks this season, and he has missed three games due to a hip injury. He signed a one-year deal with the Broncos, which included several voidable years for accounting purposes. The deal guaranteed him $5.45 million. However, Clark has agreed to a restructured deal that will negate $1.68 million of that guaranteed money, likely in an effort to facilitate a trade. However, the Broncos may still have to pay some of the remaining guaranteed money if they do trade him.
Clark's uncertain status with the team may not come as a surprise to some. Sources with knowledge of the situation revealed in August that team officials, including coach Sean Payton, had concerns about Clark's performance during training camp. These concerns were discussed when the roster was cut down to 53 players. Clark, who is 30 years old, did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday due to an illness, and he was ruled out for Thursday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
When asked about Clark's contributions to the team, Payton mentioned his physicality, experience, and ability to perform in big games. Payton stated that the decision to part ways with Gregory was made because it was best for the team at the time, and they believed that other players were performing better. Payton acknowledged that such decisions are common in the league, as teams always strive to have the best players possible.
This situation is a far cry from what defensive coordinator Vance Joseph had hoped for when he declared in the summer that Clark and Gregory could be elite pass-rushers for the Broncos. The team's season will be six games old after Thursday night's game, and it has already unfolded in unexpected ways. Payton had publicly expressed his frustration during the summer, stating that he would be "pissed" if the Broncos didn't make the playoffs.
The Broncos have suffered two home losses at the start of the season, endured a 10-touchdown onslaught by the Miami Dolphins, and suffered an embarrassing loss to the New York Jets. The team's hopes for a quick turnaround seem unlikely at this point. The signing of players like Gregory last year was made with the belief that quarterback Russell Wilson's acquisition would go well, allowing the Broncos to take a chance on a talented player. The signing of Clark was meant to provide veteran leadership and performance after Baron Browning's knee surgery. The Broncos invested guaranteed money in Clark to compete at a high level.
However, despite writing the checks, the Broncos have not seen the desired results in terms of sacks, and they are likely to lose both Gregory and Clark. If they make additional trades before the deadline, they may have to bear the financial burden, similar to what they are currently doing with Gregory's deal. The team has already traded away premium draft picks and is only starting one of their own first-round picks on defense, Pat Surtain II. This suggests that they may incur more dead money in order to move forward.
All of these factors do not bode well for the Broncos' defense, which currently ranks last in all major statistical categories, including yards allowed, points allowed per game, and yards allowed per game. The team is facing significant challenges and will need to make significant improvements in order to turn their season around.