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3 Reasons to Believe Broncos Found their Long-Term Inside Linebacker Tandem

Did the Broncos solve their long-standing inside linebacker problems?

Coming into the season, the Denver Broncos had two solid inside linebackers who were looking to play themselves into a long-term deal with the team. Unfortunately, both Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson would succumb to season-ending injuries, and the Broncos have been playing a game of musical chairs to find their replacements ever since. 

However, this team may have found its permanent solution at inside linebacker and today I'll break down why Kenny Young and Baron Browning could be it.

3-Down Athleticism 

At the beginning of the season, Broncos Country was undecided on whether Jewell and Johnson should be in the team’s long-term future. Both linebackers were premier-run defenders but struggled in coverage due to average athleticism for the position in today’s NFL. 

Athleticism is not something Young or Browning is lacking. Browning and Young bring 4.5 to 4.6 speed to the table which aids them in their exceptional range for the linebacker position. Browning also possesses an incredible 40-inch vertical that he put on full display vs. the Los Angeles Chargers when he had a critical third-down pass deflection that ended a drive. 

If the dynamic tandem continues to develop, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Broncos decide to move on from one or both Jewell and Johnson in the offseason. 

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Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) dives into the end zone past Denver Broncos inside linebacker Kenny Young (41) and inside linebacker Baron Browning (56) in the second quarter at Empower Field at Mile High.

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) dives into the end zone past Denver Broncos inside linebacker Kenny Young (41) and inside linebacker Baron Browning (56) in the second quarter at Empower Field at Mile High

Team-Friendly Costs

Browning is in the first of his four-year, $4.6 million rookie deal. His pay ranks him 80th among 240 NFL linebackers. His relatively inexpensive contract gives the Broncos much-needed room in the salary cap should the team be interested in adding a highly coveted free agent in the offseason. 

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As for Young, he's in the last year of his contract, but is still a relative unknown, and could be signed to a team-friendly deal should he decide to return to the team. Meanwhile, Jewell and Johnson are both in a contract year and could garner a decent deal this offseason on the open market, even after suffering season-ending injuries. 

If they're in high demand around the league, it could ultimately be the end of their Denver tenure especially if the Broncos decide to enter the quarterback free-agent frenzy.

Youth on Their Side

Young and Browning definitely have youth on their side. Young just turned 26 years old, and Browning is turning 23 this coming February. Youth also indicates that a player has many more productive years in their future, unlike a player such as Johnson, who will be 30 years old next month. 

Johnson was playing at a high level before his injury, but for how much longer is the real question. Also, the older a player gets, the longer the recovery time is from any injury, not just those of the season-ending variety.

Bottom Line

The Broncos will have some tough decisions to make this coming offseason. First, the team will have to determine whether it should offer Johnson or Jewell an extension. 

Deciding whether Young's smaller sample size warrants a contract extension and coming to a verdict on Browning's potential to take that next step with the green sticker on his helmet. These decisions I don't envy GM George Paton in having to make — sooner than later. 


Follow Kenneth on Twitter @KennethMHH.

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