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 in this series focuses on linebacker Josey Jewell, a reliable player who started all 16 games in 2020, but does that mean he'll be back with the Broncos after this year?
Denver's fourth-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Jewell was primarily used as a depth and special teams player. He had 58 tackles and three pass break-ups as a rookie.
In his second season, though, Jewell struggled and was mostly limited to depth and special teams play again. He started just three games and had 38 tackles, though he did have 1.5 quarterback sacks, as his role was usurped by Alexander Johnson.
In 2020, Jewell's play improved, to the point the Broncos made him a starter and cut popular veteran Todd Davis. Jewell, though not elite, was solid overall, logging 113 tackles, two sacks, and four pass break-ups.
Why he May be Back in 2022
Though it took Jewell time to find a role in the defense, he did improve from 2019 to 2020. Continued improvement may increase his chances of getting an extension, particularly if the Broncos see him as somebody who would come cheaper than other veterans. He'll turn 27 in December, so he's still in his prime.
Why he May Not be Back in 2022
The aforementioned Johnson is also in the running for an extension. If Johnson plays at a high level that he makes an extension a no-brainer, the Broncos won't keep Jewell around.
Furthermore, Jewell must show that he can continue improving as a player — he can't afford to let his play drop to what it was in 2019. Otherwise, the likes of rookie third-rounder Baron Browning and Justin Strnad will take snaps away from him.
Jewell will enter training camp as a starter and, while his coverage skills aren't great, they are better than people give him credit. It's not a given that Browning or Strnad is going to take his starting job.
Jewell did better in 2020 than fans may think. Pro Football Focus ranked him the 19th-best linebacker going into 2021, so Jewell is far from being a replacement-level type of player.
Johnson may be the early favorite for an extension, but don't rule Jewell out. He's three years younger than Johnson and likely could be kept for less money.
Of course, Jewell must continue to improve his play, but if that happens, it wouldn't surprise me if he's the veteran who sticks around for 2022.
Odds he'll be back in 2022: 50-50.
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