STATE OF THE ROSTER

Will Dre’Mont Jones remain in the Broncos’ defensive-line plans?

Jan 30, 2023, 10:48 PM | Updated: Jan 31, 2023, 12:48 am

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: DEFENSIVE LINE

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THE NEXT STANDOUT TO GO?

Dre’Mont Jones arrived in 2019 just as the Broncos began making shedding star players a habit.

A year earlier, they dealt the late Demaryius Thomas at the trade deadline. In Jones’ rookie season, they shuffled Emmanuel Sanders off to the San Francisco 49ers. Two years after that — under a new general manager, George Paton — the Broncos shipped Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams. And finally, in 2022, Bradley Chubb joined them.

Chubb didn’t even get a second contract with the Broncos.

At the time they traded Chubb, Jones knew his future was in question. A year earlier, the Broncos gave contracts to Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick, two players with expiring deals at the time. But in 2022 … crickets.

That’s why Jones was so matter-of-fact when asked about the subject in November. As written then:

“I view my standing with the franchise as, ‘This is Dre going into Year 4,’” Jones said. “That’s all I can say.”

When asked whether he wanted to stay with the Broncos long-term, his reply was quick and blunt.

“I’m here right now,” he said.

Jones’ season ended four games early due to a hip injury. And while he matched his career high in sacks — with a team-leading 6.5 — it was a season of relentless loss. He lost his close friend Chubb to a trade. A midseason contract offer never materialized. And of course, the team’s struggles hung over everything; when Jones suffered his injury, Denver was on a 5-game losing streak.

“The only thing that was good about the season was that we ended on a win — even though I wasn’t involved,” he said immediately after the season.

And that leads to free agency.

“I’m looking forward to March,” Jones said.

But March may see him wait. The Broncos have the option of slapping the franchise tag on him — even though it would chew up $19,727,000 of cap space. Denver would have to make some moves to fit that under the cap.

“The tag’s been talked about,” Jones said earlier this month. “We see the trend, so we’re just going to see how that goes.”

Still, Jones has a premium skill set. Interior defensive linemen with pass-rushing skill have value — more now than ever. When he worked alongside D.J. Jones, Denver’s defensive line was a core strength and helped set up ILBs Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton for big years.

“I approach the situation with open arms, open eyes,” Jones said. “Just looking to see what my future holds. There’s a lot me and my agent have to discuss.”

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HOWEVER, DRE’MONT JONES ISN’T THE ONLY FREE AGENT …

DeShawn Williams is, too. Down the stretch, he delivered some of the best play of his career to date. Cut 11 times in his career — including four times by the Broncos — Williams started 15 games and closed the season with a flourish, logging 4.5 sacks in the final six games.

“Me, I just did what I had to do,” Williams said. “I just wanted to help the team when Dre went down, and then D.J. [Jones] went down these last couple of weeks. I just wanted to show what I could do.

“… The film don’t lie.”

What Williams wants is a chance to build off of the work that led him to the most expansive role of his career.

“Oh, yeah, for sure. Not even a question. I definitely want to be back,” Williams said. Y’all have seen my growth coming in. This fanbase has opened its arms to me and my family. It’s great. I would love to be here.”

But at the age of 30, he knows that the clock is ticking. When it comes to getting a contract that offers financial security for his family, it could be now or never.

“I’m not going to take nothing cheap, I know that,” Williams said. “George [Paton] gave me the opportunity to show what I could do. Whatever coach comes in, they just turn on the tape and see what nine-nine [himself] did this year.”

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IS THE YOUNG DEPTH READY TO STEP FORWARD?

The Broncos got flashes from Day 3 draft rookies Enyi Uwazurike and Matt Henningsen.

At minimum, both appear poised to become quality rotational pieces. Henningsen said a day after the season that he plans to focus on strength training in the offseason; a bit more bulk and power to go with the boundless energy he brought could nudge him toward the starting lineup.

In his rookie season, Henningsen found his niche.

“I tell you what, Matt’s is one of the best rookies I ever had [as a teammate],” Williams said. “You could see his personality come out at the end of the year.”

It took a little longer for Uwazurike to become comfortable. As the No. 6 defensive lineman, the Broncos frequently deactivated him; he played in just two of the first 10 games. But he saw action in six of the final seven weeks. In Week 17, he blocked a Harrison Butker field-goal attempt. A week later, Uwazurike logged 4 tackles.

“That last game, Enyi put on a show,” Williams said. “The game is slowing down for him. He started making plays and things like that.”

So, the Broncos have their young depth covered.

“They’re only going to get better,” Williams said.

But if the Broncos don’t re-sign Williams or Dre’Mont Jones — or if they make Mike Purcell a cap casualty — that depth may have to start.

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CONTRACTUALLY SPEAKING

DRE’MONT JONES: Unrestricted free agent.

If the Broncos tag Jones, he would count for a cap charge of $19,727,000.

DESHAWN WILLIAMS: Unrestricted free agent.

Unfortunately for Williams, he’s on the wrong side of 30; he hit that milestone age in December. But that could make bringing him back a more viable possibility despite the Broncos’ cap crunch and other needs.

D.J. JONES: Under contract through 2024.

The 2022 free-agent pickup carries a cap charge for $12,988,333 for 2023, per OvertheCap.com. All of it is guaranteed, including his salary and the prorated portion of his signing bonus. But in the final year of his contract, the Broncos could save $10 million by releasing Jones, with just under $3 million in dead money. Jones’ solid play makes him a good bet to remain a stellar contributor into 2024. That means that the Broncos could restructure his contract, convert some of his salary into a bonus and create some cap space this year if they need it.

MIKE PURCELL: Under contract through 2023.

To their credit, the Broncos brought Purcell back after a brief, procedural release at the roster deadline on the same contract terms as existed before that move. The Broncos released Purcell so they could carry players on the regular-season roster for one day before placing them on injured reserve. Purcell responded with a solid season that saw him play every game for the first time in his NFL career. However, he could be a candidate for at least a restructure; the Broncos would save $3.5 million of cap space with just over $286,000 of dead money by releasing Purcell.

MATT HENNINGSEN: Under his rookie contract through 2025.

ENYI UWAZURIKE: Under his rookie contract through 2025.

JONATHAN HARRIS: Under contract through 2024.

ELIJAH GARCIA: Under contract through 2024.

Harris and Garcia become eligible for restricted free agency in 2024 and 2025, respectively..

Denver also signed Jordan Jackson to a reserve-future contact after the season.

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