After seeing the Denver Broncos absolutely beat the Minnesota Vikings 33-6 on Saturday, fans are buzzing about the team’s potential for the 2021 season. The Broncos resumed training camp at UCHealth Training Center on Monday with a renewed optimism with practices opening to the public again from Tuesday to Thursday.
The quarterback competition between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater is expected to intensify as the Broncos travel to Seattle this weekend for their second preseason game against the Seahawks. While both QBs played exceptionally well last week, it's become clear that this year’s team is different.
The Broncos have an abundance of talent and depth at multiple positions. So much so, that fans saw first-string players like wideout Jerry Jeudy playing with a mixed unit of teammates like Trinity Benson and Tyrie Cleveland. A lot more than one position room has become crowded with proven NFL veteran players.
Because Denver finally has personnel capital to interest other teams, it’d behoove GM George Paton to perhaps cash in on the roster strength and make a trade or two. If the Broncos were to deal a player away, who are the most likely candidates?
Here are three, two of which have been rumored to have garnered interest from NFL teams based on the rumor mill. Let's dive in.
Tim Patrick | WR
Patrick was held out of practice and sidelined with a groin injury in the joint practices last week and in the game. Head coach Vic Fangio was optimistic about the receiver's return to the field as he described the team's decision to hold him out as precautionary.
Before that, Patrick had been a consistent playmaker in nearly every practice at Broncos training camp. From the long bombs downfield to the quick slants, it’s evident to anyone with a brain and two eyes that this man is a football player.
The 27-year-old went undrafted coming out of Utah in 2017 and began his NFL career being signing with the Baltimore Ravens, and later the San Francisco 49ers before landing in Denver. Patrick got his opportunity to compete on the Broncos' practice squad where he turned heads with his attention to detail, work ethic and consistent performance in 2018.
From 2018-20, the fan-favorite nicknamed ‘Timmy Pats,’ has played in 39 games logging 90 receptions for 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns.
Patrick used to be described as a poor man’s Courtland Sutton. The operative words being used to, as the California native quickly became the most consistent receiver for Denver last year, gaining 33 first downs and averaging 14.5 yards per catch. Boasting career numbers, Patrick didn't drop a single pass and was one of two NFL receivers, including Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, to log 70-plus targets without a dropped pass.
Patrick is playing on a restricted free-agent tender that’ll pay him a base salary of $3.384 million. With Sutton expected to command a financial commitment from Denver imminently, it likely means Patrick will not return in 2022. Jeudy and KJ Hamler are on the second year of their rookie contracts as well and the future at the position seems bright for the Broncos.
So, while I don’t want to see Patrick leave town, I can’t help but feel he’s destined for long-term success on another team. There’s no doubt other teams see him as starting X receiver and leader in his position room. When it’s time, it’s time.
Potential Suitors: New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots.
Compensation: 2022 third or fourth-round draft pick.
Royce Freeman | RB
When Freeman was drafted in the third round in 2018, it was presumed that the prolific rushing attack of Denver’s past would return to the field. As a rookie, he started eight games and rushed for 521 yards and five touchdowns, with 30 first downs. Halfway through his rookie campaign, Freeman suffered a high-ankle sprain and the former Oregon Duck soon found himself playing second fiddle to Denver native Phillip Lindsay, who became the first undrafted rookie to earn a Pro Bowl nod.
Although Freeman averaged 4.9 yards per carry last season, he only logged 170 yards on the ground and caught 12 passes for 81 yards while failing to score a touchdown. Freeman’s confidence diminished in the wake of Lindsay's rise to stardom and he became stagnant after viewing his fellow back's success up-close.
When Freeman would get reps in Pat Shurmur’s offense, he was misused in a variety of formations. Film study would often reveal a nice play and gain from Freeman after which he’d be subbed out with reps going to Lindsay or Melvin Gordon.
Freeman’s had a nice training camp but he's in a crowded room. He’s made the most of his reps and has shown improved receiving chops and pass protection. However, the Broncos have wholeheartedly committed to the rookie second-rounder Javonte Williams, whom the that they traded up to draft last April.
Combined with presumed starter Melvin Gordon, Levante Bellamy is likely to gain more reps after Mike Boone suffered a quad injury last week. Perhaps the Broncos opt to utilize Freeman’s knowledge of the playbook and his comfortability in the building to endure the 2-4-week timetable that Boone’s rehab should take.
The NFL rumor mill has hinted at teams sniffing around the 238-pound back who has plenty of tread left on the tires. Based on the discussions I’ve had with folks around the league, Freeman is a viable candidate to get another look on another team. Running backs are always in high demand especially if they’re relatively cheap and healthy.
I also wonder if a change in scenery and scheme would benefit Freeman who’s only played in 46 career games.
Potential Suitors: Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals
Compensation: 2022 fifth or sixth-round draft pick.
Diontae Spencer | WR/KR/PR
Spencer’s road to the NFL started as a college free agent. He spent four years in the CFL and an offseason with the Pittsburgh Steelers before the Broncos claimed him off waivers in 2019. In his first NFL season, Spencer started two games for Denver as a receiver but played in all 16 as both the punt/kick returner.
Technically listed as a receiver, Spencer has only caught nine total passes for 57 yards. But as a return specialist, the 5-foot-8, 170-pound speedster from McNeese State (LA) was named a Pro Bowl alternate in 2020.
The 29-year-old was also named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after returning a punt 83 yards to paydirt against the Carolina Panthers last year. In fact, he's had two consecutive seasons in the NFL’s top-10 for punt return yards and longest punt return. However, his five fumbles in two years have been a cause for concern for the Broncos.
I’ve previously reported in my training camp journals that special teams coordinator Tom McMahon has been experimenting with Bellamy and wideouts Benson, Cleveland, and Kendall Hinton. Heck, Benson’s performance against Minnesota has all but demanded he have more playing time after reeling in four receptions for 36 yards and two scores.
Speed kills in the NFL, make no bones about it. But gone are the days where the Broncos only had one absolute burner that could field a punt to the house. I respect Spencer’s story and know he has a place in the NFL as a returner, but I think his duration in Denver is coming to a close.
While I don’t expect him to command red-hot interest on the trading block, there are usually one or two teams with return specialist issues. More times than not of late, that team has been the Broncos.
Potential Suitors: New York Jets, Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions
Compensation: 2022 sixth or seventh-round draft pick.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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