ENGLEWOOD—The Denver Broncos’ seemingly never-ending search for a tight end who fits in the Gary Kubiak offense continues.
The team acquired unproven tight end A.J. Derby from the New England Patriots on Tuesday in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick, a source told 9news. To make room for Derby on their 53-man roster, the Broncos released safety Shiloh Keo.
A former junior-college quarterback in Coffeyville, Kansas, Derby was converted to tight end during his senior year at Arkansas. He had 22 catches – enough for the Patriots to select him in the sixth-round pick of their 2015 NFL draft.
The team then stashed Derby on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury his rookie year.
Derby played sparingly in four games this season, but he never caught a pass.
Ordinarily, a fifth-round draft pick would be considered a steep price for a player with Derby’s background. Last year at the trading deadline, the Broncos surrendered two, sixth-round draft picks in exchange for two-time Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis and a seventh-round pick.
Davis didn’t work out as he had just 20 catches in nine games for the Broncos, none in three more postseason game.
However, the Broncos felt Derby was worth the price for three reasons: One, the team is expected to receive up to four compensatory draft picks in 2017 for losing the likes of Brock Osweiler, Malik Jackson Danny Trevathan, David Bruton and Ryan Harris to free agency.
Two, the Broncos clearly aren’t satisfied with their tight end position because of injuries to Virgil Green and injury and slow development of former third-round draft pick Jeff Heuerman. Veteran John Phillips was signed as a street free agent on the eve of training camp and has been getting decent playing time through the team's first seven games.
And three, the Broncos’ personnel and coaching staff either loved Derby’s talent either as they evaluated him as he entered the 2015 draft, or watched him have 15 catches for 189 yards during the 2016 preseason.
Broncos general manager John Elway and Kubiak have both said they expect Derby to contribute quickly. The Broncos have signed, acquired, drafted and waived numerous young tight ends since Kubiak became their head coach in 2015.