DENVER — What a rush.
The Broncos went from thinking their pursuit of free agent outside linebacker Randy Gregory was over Tuesday morning to agreeing in principle on a five-year, $70 million deal with $28 million guaranteed, according to sources. The deal cannot become official until Wednesday at 2 p.m., around the time Russell Wilson should be introduced as the new face of the franchise.
The Broncos continued bolstering their defense Tuesday, re-signing linebacker Josey Jewell to a two-year, $11 million deal. That means Gregory, lineman D.J. Jones, a premier run stuffer, and Jewell, a strong run defender and possible two-down player, will be counted on to help the Broncos produce more takeaways and sacks under new defensive boss Ejiro Evero.
There was drama with Gregory. He received a big offer from the Broncos. Then, the Cowboys matched it, and he was prepared to stay in Dallas on Tuesday morning. The Cowboys Twitter account acknowledged as much, asserting that he was returning. Then came the U-turn. Gregory decided to take the same deal with the Broncos, addressing the team's urgent need to improve its pass rush in an AFC West division that includes Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and David Carr.
According to sources, Gregory and his representation balked at salary forfeiture language in the Cowboys' contract, which could have voided guaranteed money if the former Nebraska star was fined. This is boilerplate language, per several reports, in Cowboys' contracts, save for Dak Prescott's deal. With Gregory upset, the deal fell through and the Broncos swooped back in to secure the free agent without such language in the contract.
The Broncos explored signing Chandler Jones, 32, and bringing back Von Miller, who turns 33 this month, but believed the cost would be more than Gregory. Plus, they zeroed in on Gregory as their top target. Gregory, 29, is coming off as season when he tied his career high with six sacks despite only playing in 12 games because of COVID-19 and a calf injury.
The talent is real with Gregory. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder plays with burst and is a skilled pass rusher with multiple moves. He ranked as a top-20 free agent on most lists, including Pro Football Focus, which placed him 15th. Gregory posted 19 tackles, three forced fumbles and recorded an interception a year ago under coordinator Dan Quinn. He can be a disruptive force, especially when paired opposite of Bradley Chubb, a player the Broncos need to rebound in the fifth season of an injury-ravaged career.
The risk is also real with Gregory. He has been suspended multiple times for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, including 14 games in 2016, the entire 2017 season, two games in 2018, the entire 2019 season and six games in 2020.
Giving Gregory this type of money comes with responsibility, and the Broncos must have him available for this deal to work. The Broncos finished with 36 sacks (tied for 18th) and 19 takeaways (tied for 21st) last season. Evero has promised a defense that will produce more pressure on the quarterback, which led them to Gregory.
Gregory joins Jones (three-year, $30 million, $20 million guaranteed) as the new faces on the Broncos' reworked defense. They are expected to play more nickel this season, meaning the pass rush and a versatile run stuffer take on added importance.
"I am excited to play with Jones," budding star Dre'Mont Jones told Denver7 when asked specifically about the former 49er. "He's a beast. He is great at stopping the run and this organization needed a dog like this."
Jewell has been a solid player for the Broncos, though he has struggled in coverage during his career. He supplanted Todd Davis as the starter in 2020 and produced a career-high 113 tackles. Last season ended quickly with a pectoral injury while making a tackle on a punt return in the season's second game. Josey was off to a terrific start and was fully recovered by year's end. GM George Paton and the new staff identified him as a player they wanted back as they continue reshaping a defense that "will have more nuances."
The Broncos are also looking to add cornerback depth with the Rams' Darious Williams a potential target as a slot player. Denver has also expressed interest in bringing back Bryce Callahan — would likely have to be a team-friendly deal — who has been terrific, but unable to stay healthy.
Denver has not decided whether to bring back veteran pass rusher Malik Reed. He could provide depth at the outside linebacker spot along with Jonathan Cooper.