Report Sheds Light on What Future Holds for Broncos' DL Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris
While Von Miller was in the midst of a 'down year', Derek Wolfe was quietly having the best season of his eight-year career with the Denver Broncos in 2019. Wolfe took to Vic Fangio's dynamic and complex defense like a duck to water, posting a career-high seven sacks.
Then, disaster struck.
Wolfe suffered an elbow injury on a play that was blown dead in Week 13 vs. the Los Angeles Chargers. He would finish the season on injured reserve.
When Wolfe hit IR with still a quarter of the season left to play, he was the Broncos' leader in sacks. He was a consistent force and playmaker for the Broncos in 2019.
On one hand, you feel for a guy who was dominating in a contract year. On the other, if you're a diehard Broncos fan, you might see the silver lining in Wolfe's season-ending injury.
Because he finished the year on IR, it makes him less attractive to outside teams, especially considering his age, which perhaps increases his odds of re-signing with the Broncos. Wolfe will turn 30 later this month and will set out to consummate what could be the last multi-year deal of his NFL career.
Wolfe has expressed a desire to remain in Denver, so long as the Broncos make him a "fair" offer. According to a report from Pro Football Network's insider duo — Benjamin Allbright and Tony Pauline — the expectation in Dove Valley is that Wolfe will return and that fellow free-agent defensive lineman Shelby Harris will sign elsewhere.
Sources close to the Broncos suspect Shelby Harris will get paid on the open market and that Derek Wolfe will come back. Shelby is expected to have offers from about half the league and wants to go to a competitor. Sources say Colts are an ideal fit. Wolfe would like to finish his career as a Broncos player.
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Although Wolfe and Harris are only separated in age by about a year and a half, the latter is expected to have a larger demand on the open market. It's a slightly oxymoronic notion, however, as Wolfe is vastly more proven.
Wolfe has never been elected to a Pro Bowl, but he's started every game he's ever played in the NFL dating back to his Week 1 of his rookie year in 2012 and he's contributed to a lot of wins with the Broncos. Meanwhile, Harris is coming off his first and only year as an every-game starter.
Don't get me wrong; Harris has flashed for the Broncos. But in four less games, Wolfe posted one sack more than Harris last season, while also doubling Harris' number of QB hits (Wolfe 12, Harris 6).
And yet, Harris is expected to command upwards of $12 million per year on the open market. Two things I'll say about Harris. One, he's great at batting down passes at the line.
Two, he has a knack for making a critical play in clutch moments. Whether it be blocking a field goal attempt as time expires, or picking off a would-be go-ahead touchdown pass, or batting down a go-ahead two-point conversion in the waning moments, Harris has helped the Broncos clinch several wins by virtue of this 'clutch gene'.
You can't take that away from him. And while that certainly has value, if I'm the Broncos, I'd rather invest double-digit millions into a more consistent player like Wolfe, who is both a dominant run defender and a sneakily savvy pass rusher.
Wolfe is also a homegrown, true-blue Bronco. You could also say that he's a 'John Elway guy'. So long as Wolfe's ask isn't astronomical, it's a good bet that he'll end up re-signing with the Broncos so that he can accomplish his goal of finishing his career in the Orange and Blue.
Even if it took $12M/year to re-sign Wolfe, and even considering his substantial injury history, again, if I'm the Broncos, I'm more comfortable giving that money to Wolfe than Harris, simply because of the fact that A.) you know what you're going to get from Wolfe and B.) there's no question that he's a perfect fit in the Fangio scheme.
Free agency officially opens around the NFL on March 18. In less than a month's time, Broncos fans will know whether Wolfe will re-up and stay in the Mile High City where he's started his family and built his NFL career.