ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — At first glance, acquiring another backup player from the Minnesota Vikings, as Broncos general manager George Paton did Saturday when he picked up outside linebacker Stephen Weatherly as a freebie, doesn’t seem to do much for a Denver team reeling with four consecutive losses.
But then you look at the nine linebackers the Broncos have lost either an extended time or for the game in which they got run over by the Cleveland Browns in a 17-14 loss Thursday night, picking up a big-bodied backup from another team is not insignificant.
In the second half against the Browns, the Broncos played backups at three of their four linebacker positions – Malik Reed, Jonathan Cooper and Justin Strnad – and a fourth stringer, Curtis Robinson, at the other. And so Paton went to the well of backup players he and scouting assistant Kelly Kleine know best and picked up Weatherly from the Vikings.
Paton served 14 years as the Vikings’ assistant GM and when he got the top football job with the Broncos, he eventually brought with him rotational players Shamar Stephen, a defensive tackle; running back Mike Boone; center Brett Jones (who is on injured reserve) and now Weatherly. Paton also brought along Kleine, who spent the previous 9 years with the Vikings.
In picking up Weatherly, the Broncos also swapped 7th round picks, sending their 7th round pick in the 2022 draft to Minnesota in exchange for the Vikings’ 7th round selection in 2023.
Weatherly himself was a 7th-round draft pick by Paton and the Vikings in 2016. A special teams player his first two seasons, Weatherly started seven games in 2018-19 combined when he had 3.0 sacks each season, plus one more in a 2019 playoff loss against the 49ers.
A free agent after the 2019 season, Weatherly signed a two-year, $12.5 million contract that included a $4 million signing bonus with Carolina. He started nine games for the Panthers last season before suffering a season-ending finger injury. Weatherly was then released after last season and re-signed with the Vikings.
Remember when the Broncos whipped the Vikings’ reserves, 33-6, in the preseason opener Aug. 14 at Minnesota? The Vikings played just one starter as listed on their depth chart in that game – Weatherly, who wasn’t a starter in the regular season. Weatherly did play in the Vikings' first six games, registering nine tackles. So he should be ready to play as soon as next Sunday when the Broncos play Washington at Empower Field at Mile High.
What Weatherly gives the Broncos is a 6-foot-5, 262-pound body who can help set the edge in the running game, and also play special teams. The Broncos have six linebackers on injured reserve, including starters Bradley Chubb, Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell, plus backups Jonas Griffith, Andre Mintze and Micah Kiser (a seventh, Nantrez Patrick, a longshot to make the team, suffered a season-ending injury during the team’s minicamp in mid-June).
Moreover, two backup linebackers, third-round rookie Baron Browning (concussion) and Aaron Patrick (sprained ankle) missed the Browns game with injuries and Von Miller suffered an ankle injury late in the first half and didn’t return. Miller, Browning and Patrick are expected to return at various practice participation levels next week. Chubb is expected back from ankle surgery after the week 11 bye.
Paton is also expected to be looking to add another inside linebacker.
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