Just like you hate to see bad things happen to good people, you hate to see an injury befall a good player who's having a career year. Derek Wolfe is one of the good guys in the Denver Broncos locker room, a homegrown player who's happy to tell you how it is but is more inclined to let his performance on the field do the talking for him.
The eighth-year defensive end suffered a maddeningly unnecessary elbow injury late in the Broncos' 23-20 win over the L.A. Chargers. The injury came late in the fourth quarter on an aborted play that had been whistled dead but due to the crowd noise at Empower Field at Mile High, the players didn't hear it initially.
We found out after the game it was a dislocated elbow for Wolfe — the same injury that claimed fullback Andy Janovich two weeks ago. Unfortunately for Wolfe, it'll play out as it did for Janovich with a trip to injured reserve.
“Right now, it’s not official, but I don’t know if he’ll be able to play again this year," head coach Vic Fangio said on Monday. 'I don’t think it needs surgery, but he did dislocate his elbow. The time involved with that healing and where we are in the season probably precludes him from playing anymore.”
Fangio went onto say that Wolfe going on IR is a "pretty good possibility". If so, Wolfe's body of work through 12 games under Fangio was impressive. Wolfe will finish with 34 tackles (23 solo), eight tackles for a loss and a career-high seven sacks.
He will head to IR as the Broncos' team leader in sacks. Wolfe has said since Fangio arrived in the offseason that he was meant for this defense. Wolfe explained to 9NEWS' Mike Klis what makes Fangio's scheme so conducive to him producing at the point of attack.
“I think his system has a lot to do with it," Wolfe told Klis. "He puts you in position to go make a play. Winning your one-on-one is big. It’s not just creating plays for other people. Multiple people have a chance to make a play. It’s whichever one gets there first. I’ve said from the beginning I felt like I was made for this defense.”
Over the years, Wolfe has often been asked to do the unselfish trenchwork that has led to the prolific statistical production of other players, like Von Miller and other linebackers especially. In Fangio's scheme, though, Wolfe has been freed up to make his own plays, provided he wins his one-on-one matchup, as he said.
Reports indicate that Wolfe's injury comes with a 6-8-week timetable. If the Broncos were competing for the postseason, there'd be a chance he could return at some point in January. But at 4-8, that ship has long since sailed, even if the Broncos haven't been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
Keen on the minds of fans is what the future holds for Wolfe, who's in a contract year. It's the epitome of unfortunate that his contract year will end prematurely, especially considering he was having arguably the best season of his career.
It won't be easy for the Broncos, or any other NFL team, to put a value on Wolfe. One of the reasons for that is that he has struggled to stay on the field consistently as a pro, due to the injury bug. When he's on the field, teams know they'll get 110% from Wolfe. The question is, how are the Broncos supposed to project that? And how do you assign a dollar figure to it?
Only time will tell. But one thing is certain, Fangio likes Wolfe a lot and we know GM John Elway does too.
“He was just solid and played good," Fangio said on Monday. "He was where he was supposed to be with the right mindset and he played physical. I don’t know this for sure, you guys probably do, but I think he had a career-high in sacks, which for a guy at this stage in his career speaks to his resiliency and the work that he’s put in and the effort that he was playing with.”
Wolfe recognizes that the business side of the game sometimes puts decisions outside of a player's control. He wants to remain in Denver with the team who drafted him, the team that he helped win a World Championship in 2015, and in the city in which he started his family.
"I really do," Wolfe told Klis. "I don’t want to leave."
As for where the Broncos go from here, the next man up will be DeMarcus Walker. Walker has been a healthy scratch the last few games, after initially suffering a shoulder injury that allowed Adam Gotsis to get and stay on the field.
Walker has been a consistent pass rusher when he's been on the field, though, with four sacks on the season. The question for Walker won't be generating pressure but rather, holding it down against the run.
“Obviously, DeMarcus would be the next man up and we’ll go from there,” Fangio said.