The Denver Broncos are coming off a turbulent couple of days which saw the team brass have to make dozens of difficult personnel decisions on the way to constructing a 53-man roster. It's that time on the NFL calendar that GMs and coaches alike dread.
"For me personally, this is the toughest time of year to go through this, and really for our entire building and anyone who touches these players," Broncos GM George Paton said Tuesday. "They’re not just players to us. For the scouts, we’ve been to their colleges, and we’ve gotten to know their families. For everyone in the building, we get to know the day-to-day, so it’s a tough day."
Alas, it's the nature of the business. It doesn't mean anyone has to like it, though.
As the Broncos cut north of 25 players, the team's strategy was to hopefully sneak a slight majority of them onto the practice squad. New NFL rules allow up to 16 players on the squad but the caveat is this: when a team waives a player, he has to pass through the NFL waiver wire unclaimed before being re-signed to the practice squad.
Right now, the Broncos have 14 players re-signed to the practice squad and every single one of them was on the 80-man roster Monday morning. That two-player deficit? Well, it turns out that sometimes, when you gamble, you lose.
Among the players Denver cut and hoped to re-sign to the practice squad, two of them were claimed by outside teams, one of which was relatively close to home. The Los Angeles Chargers claimed safety Trey Marshall and the Carolina Panthers claimed running back Royce Freeman.
Chargers' head coach Brandon Staley — a former Vic Fangio acolyte — spent 2019 in Denver as the outside linebackers coach and got to know Marshall a little bit. What probably swung L.A.'s decision even more so was the connection new defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill had to the Broncos' secondary.
Hill served as Fangio's defensive backs coach last year before getting the hand-up from Staley to serve as the Chargers' newly-minted defensive coordinator. Hill personally coached Marshall, which makes the Chargers' waiver claim perfectly sensible.
As for Freeman, the Broncos initially held onto him through the 2 pm MDT deadline on Tuesday but after making a pair of waiver claims, Paton opted to part ways with the team's 2018 third-round pick to make room for... wait for it... an undrafted rookie running back named Nate McCrary whom the Baltimore Ravens had just cut.
And so the Broncos said goodbye to Freeman after three seasons and four training camps with the club. Here's to hoping the career of both ex-Broncos pans out in their new NFL environs.
Say a prayer that McCrary ends up being a no-brainer asset to the Broncos because on first glance, he appears to be a significant downgrade to the versatile, albeit not-so-explosive, Freeman — who is a reliable ball-carrier, an above-average receiver out of the backfield, and a good pass protector on third down.
For the record, reading between the lines, it sounds like the McCrary claim, and subsequent waiving of Freeman, was a 10,000-foot decision made by the Broncos' personnel department without much input from Fangio and the coaches. Fangio couldn't quite recall the dude's name off the top of his head.
"The running back is a guy that’s shown good running ability in the preseason," Fangio said Wednesday after the waiver wire claims. "Our scouts have been following him, and we felt like it was worth the chance to take on him.”
Although the Broncos absolutely reckoned the high probability that Freeman would be claimed off waivers, that doesn't mean the team didn't hope to re-sign him to the practice squad. It would have been nice for Denver to have Freeman stashed on the practice squad whilst Mike Boone heals up.
But for the player, landing in a place like Carolina is the best thing for Freeman, where he's on an active roster with a team that actually wants and values him.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!