STATE OF THE ROSTER

At RB, will Broncos bring back Latavius Murray to bridge the gap until Javonte Williams returns?

Jan 19, 2023, 9:14 PM | Updated: Jan 20, 2023, 4:22 pm
Javonte Williams...
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the offseason gets under way, we’ll be taking a look at each position and where it stacks up.

STATE OF THE ROSTER: RUNNING BACK

From the start of the 2022 season to its merciful end, no position on the Broncos’ roster changed more.

Denver opened the regular season with Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon and Mike Boone. By December, two were on injured reserve and Gordon was on Kansas City’s practice squad, having fumbled his way out of the Mountain Time Zone.

None of the three running backs active in Week 18 — Latavius Murray, Chase Edmonds and Tyler Badie — were with the Broncos when Jerry Rosburg first walked into UCHealth Training Center as the game-management guru in Week 3, let alone when the Broncos began the season in Week 1. Marlon Mack, who landed on injured reserve in Week 18, also didn’t join the team until October.

Yet the Broncos became an effective ground team. Some contributions from Russell Wilson helped, but in the final five weeks of the season, the Broncos found their rushing groove:

  • Yards per attempt: 5.3, 5th
  • Rushing yards per game: 140.0, 8th
  • First-down rate: 1 first down every 3.09 carries, 2nd

This happened despite continued instability on the offensive line. Murray, Edmonds and Mack finished the season averaging at least 4.4 yards per carry apiece. Edmonds and Mack each averaged more than 10.0 yards per reception.

The Broncos can’t rely on Williams being healthy for the start of the season. His injury was more complex than a simple ACL tear; he also tore the lateral collateral ligament and posterolateral corner in the knee.

Thus, the Broncos could face the reality of starting the 2023 campaign with Williams on the physically-unable to perform list. And even if Williams makes it back, there is a question of whether he will return to his pre-injury form.

Simply put, the Broncos need a contingency plan. Don’t be surprised to see them draft a running back on Day 3. (Which is something you should always do, regardless of the quality of a first-team running back.) But a viable veteran alternative is already in their midst.

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BRIDGING THE GAP

Murray was more than the Broncos could have possibly expected. Despite not having the same breakaway speed he possessed in his salad days, he still had some explosive runs. He notched five carries of 20 or more yards — four of which came in the season’s final four weeks. He didn’t break tackles like Williams; per SportRadar.com, Murray had just one broken tackle after the bye (although he had four in his Broncos debut in London in Week 8).

And he protected the football. His only fumble came on an attempted handoff to Jerry Jeudy, who was running a reverse. Because fumbled handoffs land on the ledger of the last player with possession, Murray had just his second fumble in the last five seasons.

But there was more to Murray than his on-field play. He also emerged as a leader. In the Christmas Day Massacre against the Los Angeles Rams, it was Murray who stepped in between Brett Rypien and Dalton Risner to break up their sideline scuffle.

“Hopefully we’ll have Latavius Murray,” left tackle Garett Bolles said after the season ended. “You saw what he can do. He’s a leader in this locker room and a guy who has been there.”

The only thing working against Murray is his age. He turned 33 on Jan. 18. Last year, just four running backs age 32 or older carried the football in a regular-season game. And Murray had more rushes (171) than the other three combined (Rex Burkhead, Mark Ingram Jr. and Brandon Bolden had 105 carries among them.

But Murray has a history of durability. And as he showed late in 2022, he remains effective. Re-signing Murray to be the primary running back until Williams returns makes sense.

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CONTRACTUALLY SPEAKING

JAVONTE WILLIAMS: Under contract for 2023 and 2024.

Williams is on his rookie deal, and given his rookie-season promise, the Broncos will likely give him every possible chance to recapture that in the wake of his injury.

LATAVIUS MURRAY: Unrestricted free agent.

If the Broncos could sign him to a similar deal as they did Gordon last year — one year, $2.5 million — Murray should return. Many teams will cross him off their list because of age. The Broncos shouldn’t. And if Sean Payton becomes the Broncos’ next head coach, a Murray return makes even more sense; he played two seasons in New Orleans (2019-20) under Payton.

CHASE EDMONDS: Under contract for 2023.

The third-down back is a prime restructure candidate. He has a $5.92-million cap charge, but none of that money is guaranteed. The Broncos could cut that figure down by half, build some incentives and offer a decent guarantee — say, $2 million — to bring him back. Otherwise, he appears set to be a cap casualty.

MIKE BOONE: Unrestricted free agent.

If the Broncos don’t bring back Edmonds, there could be an opening for Boone to return. However, after two years in which he missed as many games as he played, Denver seems likely to move on. He had two high-ankle sprains in 2022 alone.

MARLON MACK: Unrestricted free agent.

Like Murray — albeit at lower numbers — it would make sense for the Broncos to facilitate a return of the Mack.

TYLER BADIE: Under contract for 2023.

He showed a spark on his Week 18 touchdown catch-and-run. His 4.45 speed warrants a legitimate look this year. Would be an exclusive-rights free agent in 2024.

DAMAREA CROCKETT: Under contract for 2023.

He spent 2022 on injured reserve with a torn ACL suffered in training camp. He becomes an exclusive-rights free agent in 2024.

TYREIK McALLISTER: Signed to reserve- future contract.

If McAllister sticks, he would be an exclusive-rights free agent in 2024.

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