ENGLEWOOD—As recently as 2012, Stevan Ridley was a 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown running back for the ever-mighty New England Patriots.
On Thursday, an unemployed Ridley was so thrilled with a potential job prospect, he took a morning flight out of New Orleans to Denver and arrived at Broncos headquarters a little before noon.
He then ran through a 20- to 30-minute workout in front of the team brass at the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse, signed a one-year, minimum contract worth $775,000, hastily put on a No. 47 orange jersey – the first number the equipment staff could find for him that wasn’t used up by a 90-man roster and minutes away from the team’s walkthrough – all for the chance to add depth to a running back group depleted by the unexpected wrist injury to Devontae Booker.
"It was very unexpected,’’ Ridley said after observing the Broncos’ afternoon walkthrough. “I've been at home the last couple of months, just training and trying to stick to what I know. The right thing to do is train and it's hard when the phone is quiet but the man upstairs always has a plan and I believe in it. I stuck close to my loved ones and got the call from the Broncos. I told my mom about it at Subway.’’
Booker, who started six games a rookie running back last year, will undergo surgery to repair a wrist fracture Friday. It was a break suffered in June, although the pain seemed minor until he arrived for his physical exam.
With Booker out and veteran running Jamaal Charles coming along slowly, the Broncos need running back depth at least for the preseason.
It was Wednesday when Ridley – who is still only 28 – got the call from his agent Andy Simms that the Broncos wanted to work him out the next day. He waited at his parents’ house in Mississippi for mom to get off work. After their celebratory lunch at one of America’s healthiest fast-food restaurants, Ridley had to drive three hours to the New Orleans’ airport.
A third round pick out of LSU by the Patriots in 2011, Ridley broke out in 2012, suffered a nasty, helmet-to-helmet hit in the AFC Championship Game that left him with a concussion, then started having fumble problems the next year.
He rushed for 773 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, and 340 yards in six games in 2014 when he suffered season-ending, torn right knee ligaments.
He played little for the New York Jets in 2015, and in only one game for Atlanta last year when he was released in November. He was without a job until the Broncos called Wednesday.
"This game, you can't take it for granted,’’ Ridley said. “It's all about opportunity. To be in an organization where you're getting the ball 12 to 15 times a game, you're young and you're enjoying it and then you get an injury. Once you get an injury it's like things go south and you really never know. It's been a long journey and I'm excited about it. I'm not scared of challenges at all. If this is the opportunity that's at stake, I'm diving into it full speed and I'm going to do my best to help out."