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Broncos Mailbag: No preseason did not prevent injuries to stars

Barron vs. Cravens. The most pleasant surprises and headscratchers of camp. Lindsay's contract situation. Von's replacement possibilities.
Credit: AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
AFC players from the Denver Broncos, wide receiver Courtland Sutton (14) and outside linebacker Von Miller (58) strike a pose during player introductions before the NFL Pro Bowl football game against the NFC Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020 in Orlando, Fla.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — With so much breaking news in recent weeks, the Broncos’ mailbag overflowed.

Let's catch up before the Broncos open their regular season Monday night against the Tennessee Titans at Empower Field at Mile High. The game will be televised on Channel 20.

On to the Broncos Bag:

Wanted to say I’m glad that the ‘no preseason games’ thing has worked out so well. First Von and now Courtland. What else will happen before Monday evening?

-- Dennis DeJulio

Dennis – The NFL  has seemingly warded off the virus, at least so far and perhaps in part because it eliminated preseason games as COVID-19 was finishing up a second-wave spike.

But making a full-speed, athletic play can cause injuries whether it's in a preseason game, practice or pickup game on a nearby field.

On Thursday, the Broncos were in a seven-way tie for 6th place with six players on their injury report. No other team, though, has its No. 1 defensive player, Von Miller, about to be moved to the more permanent injured reserve list, and No. 1 offensive player, Courtland Sutton, in jeopardy of missing the season opener.

Neither injury involved contact with another player. Miller was pass rushing when an ankle tendon blew. Sutton made an off-balanced catch and fell awkwardly. When the best player on each side of the ball experiences such injuries, there’s some bum luck involved.

Vic Fangio said Saturday that Sutton is “questionable in the truest sense of the word, 50-50,’’ for the Titans’ game. I still wouldn’t play him on your Fantasy League team this week.

Everything just got sucky, I want to cry.

-- Eldon Ware

Eldon – Fear, yes, Eldon. Yet, all is not lost. No player was more irreplaceable than Tom Brady entering the 2008 season. He suffered a season-ending injury halfway through the first quarter of the first game. The Pats still went 11-5.

The 2017 Vikings lost their franchise quarterback Sam Bradford and had to plug in a journeyman named Case Keenum for 14 ½ regular season games. With offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur coaxing the most out of Keenum, the Vikings reached the NFC Championship Game.

Having attended every game of the Broncos’ training camp in August and the beginning portion of each practice this week, the talent is noticeably better than what I was seeing the past two or three years. Especially on offense. And there is more speed everywhere.

I like what head coach Vic Fangio said after Miller’s injury. After paying his proper personal regards for Von, Fangio said: “We have a better team this year overall. So I expect us to still be a good team without Von.”

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos linebacker Mark Barron, second from left, joins his new teammates, from left, linebackers Josh Watson, Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson in a break from drills during an NFL football practice Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Englewood, Colo.

What does Mark Barron bring that Su’a Cravens didn’t?

--Steve Swendler

Steve – Proof. When the Broncos acquired Cravens in 2018, he had played in just 11 games, only three as a starter, and none the season before as he battled concussions. He played in just 5 more games for the Broncos and hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2018.

Barren is an eight-year starter and a former No. 7 overall draft pick. Cravens was a second-round pick.

Granted, Cravens was 23 when the Broncos acquired him for essentially a late, fourth-round pick. And Barron is closing in on 31. Still, Barron figures to give the Broncos more than Cravens did.

Providing Barron gets on the field, of course. Not surprisingly in this COVID season, Barron pulled a hammy soon after he was signed off the street. The last time he was seen playing though – last season for the Steelers – he was still an instinctive, tough linebacker who could cover the tight end. He will not play Monday night against Tennessee. After that, we’ll see.

Mike, who was your biggest surprise of Broncos camp and biggest head scratcher, so far? Thank you for the inside information and great job that you do.

--Todd Allerdings

Todd – Tight end Jake Butt and cornerback Bryce Callahan were the biggest surprises with rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry III a mild surprise.

I’m skeptical with players who have an injury history. Callahan was not only healthy after missing the entire 2019 season with a foot injury, he played quick and fast.

I expected to see Butt hobbling around after so much knee trouble. And while by his own admission he was a tad rusty catching the ball in traffic, he moved well. He blocked well and after a couple early drops in camp, he caught everything after that. Neither Butt nor Callahan missed a practice. Impressive.

I was slightly surprised Cushenberry beat out the more experienced Austin Schlottmann, who started the final four games at right guard last season, if mostly because there weren't any offseason practices and center is such a mental position. But Fangio and several offensive linemates have spoken to how smart Cushenberry is and that was the difference.

Head scratcher? There wasn’t one. I could see Todd Davis was in trouble after the Broncos signed Barron. The Broncos had tried to replace Davis a couple times over the previous 17 months, as they gave strong consideration to drafting Devin Bush and Patrick Queen and signing Christian Kirksey. And the more the Broncos moved Justin Hollins from outside to inside to outside again – and with it becoming obvious they would keep a fourth tight end in Butt and sixth receiver in rookie Tyrie Cleveland – I thought Hollins was on top of the roster bubble. I did think he would barely make it as he was a fifth-round draft pick. Apparently, so did the Rams.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay waits to take part in drills during an NFL football practice in empty Empower Field at Mile High, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Denver.

How is Phillip Lindsay feeling seeing how the Broncos are PAYING their ROOKIES more than he will be earning this coming season? I personally would be insulted that the Broncos seem to think more of their ROOKIES than their ALL-PRO running back who has given them his all every season.

-- Fred Valdez

Fred – Lindsay doesn’t begrudge what any of his teammates make. He wants every player to get his due. But by ‘every player’ that includes himself. He also wants his due.

Funny how the pay system works in the NFL. All draft picks are essentially slotted into their contracts. First round pick Jerry Jeudy got a four-year, $15.2 million contract with an $8.61 million signing bonus as the No. 15 overall selection. But Jeudy will actually make less in his third season ($1.99 million) than as a rookie ($9.22 million).

It all starts with the signing bonus. Lindsay wasn’t drafted so while he got a “premium” undrafted bonus of $15,000, that’s still well below what drafted players get.

There is zero doubt Lindsay with 2,048 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns, plus another 437 yards receiving in his first two seasons has far outperformed his contract. He is scheduled to draw a modest $750,000 salary this year. The Broncos did talk internally about re-doing his contract immediately after last season but backed off as they set their sights on Melvin Gordon, eventually signing the former Charger to a two-year, $16 million deal that pays him $9 million this year.

My guess is the Broncos didn't want to pay Lindsay what he deserves – which based on production is starting tailback money -- if he’s going to be a backup. If he emerges as the team’s top rusher in 2020 – and no one besides presumably Gordon is counting him out – then the Broncos may talk contract with Lindsay before he becomes a restricted free agent next year, where he figures to get a $3 million to $3.5 million salary depending on where the salary cap falls.

The Broncos know Lindsay is their most popular player, at least within their local fan base. With his energy, spirit, smile and underdog status, he’d be lovable if he came from Biloxi, never mind Boulder, Denver and Aurora.

It does make sense for the Broncos to work out a deal with Lindsay while they still can. But let’s see how the first four or five games play out and then revisit the Lindsay contract/playing time situation.

So who do you think will be his replacement?  I am guessing they were not close financially with Clay.

They have to know they will overpay first anybody now.

-- Jon Cornbleet 

Jon – The Broncos made a strong one-year offer to Clay Matthews III but he didn’t take it. They made another much lower offer to veteran Cameron Wake and he passed, too. (The Broncos sent word to several reporters, including this one, they only made an “exploratory” inquiry on Wake. But I was also told there were three discussions, a firm offer was made and the plan was to begin his COVID testing Saturday and sign him Tuesday. But the two sides couldn't agree to terms.).

And don’t forget, the Broncos made an offer to Aldon Smith before he signed with the Cowboys on April 1.

The next two veteran edge rushers available are Ezekiel Ansah and Terrell Suggs. As of Saturday, the Broncos had not reached out to either. Ansah is working out with the 49ers, along with Dion Jordan.

For the game Monday night, the Broncos will use both Malik Reed and Jeremiah Attaochu with rookie Derrek Tuszka expected to get called up from the practice squad to be available if they need a fourth.

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