This series focuses on Denver Broncos whose multi-year deals are nearing the end, key players who were signed to one-year deals, and those playing under restricted free-agent tenders. They're all players eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2022, unless signed to extensions.
The next player in this series is defensive lineman Shamar Stephen, who was given a one-year contract in free agency, but will he be back with the Broncos after the 2021 season?
Time to examine
A seventh-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2014, Stephen played in 21 games in his first two seasons with three starts, but his 2015 campaign was cut short because of injuries. In 2016, he started all 16 games, then played 15 games in 2017 with one start.
Stephen left in free agency and signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks in 2018, going on to start 14 games. He then returned to the Vikings for the next two seasons, starting 31 more games.
The Broncos signed Stephen as an unrestricted free agent earlier this year, and he counts for just $1.9 million against the salary cap.
Why he May be Back in 2022
GM George Paton's familiarity with Stephen is likely a big reason he's with the Broncos, but the veteran defensive lineman does have plenty of starts in recent seasons. If Stephen demonstrates he's a good fit for the Broncos' scheme, they may keep him for a veteran presence.
Given how much D-line coach Bill Kollar gets out of the defensive linemen, Stephen could be in line for his best season yet.
Why he May Not be Back in 2022
The Broncos are flush with talent on the interior defensive line. Shelby Harris signed a three-year deal back in March, Dre'Mont Jones is a player on the rise, McTelvin Agim could get more snaps this season, Mike Purcell is returning from injury and De'Shawn Williams emerged last season. Will Stephen get enough snaps to make an impact?
Stephen has starting experience, but it's likely he'll be used in a rotational role in 2021. He doesn't offer much as a pass rusher and the Broncos may see him more as a backup nose tackle or somebody who can step in as a 3-tech on rushing downs.
It's possible Kollar can help him improve as a pass rusher, though.
Stephen's signing may have surprised people, given that the Broncos have so much talent on the defensive line and considering Harris' return. Stephen, an eighth-year veteran, could become a quality contributor, but it's hard to see him sticking around beyond 2021, particularly if other, younger players on the roster keep improving.
We'll see what he does this season, but Stephen is not likely to stick around for the long term.
Odds he'll be back in 2022: Slim to none.
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