A void at the cornerback position became official Wednesday when the Broncos released veteran A.J. Bouye.
The transaction was first reported by 9NEWS with the team later announcing Bouye’s release. After his two-game suspension deduction, Bouye had been owed $11.69 million in non-guaranteed pay in 2021.
The Broncos gain some financial flexibility, but they now must replace one of their two starting cornerbacks. Bouye was acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for a 4th-round draft pick last year as the Broncos had him replace Chris Harris Jr., who became a free agent and signed with the Chargers.
Bouye’s season was marred from the start as his shoulder popped out late in the first half of the Broncos’ season-opening game against Tennessee. He missed five games, then struggled upon his return while trying to cover and tackle with one arm as his injured shoulder was braced up. But beginning with the Broncos’ 20-13 win against Miami in late-November, Bouye started playing to his Pro Bowl-caliber self.
He played extremely well against the Chiefs in a 22-16 loss at Arrowhead in game 12 – only to receive a six-game suspension couple days later for violating the league’s performance-enhancement policy. Bouye said he took a supplement from a trusted doctor that was flagged by the NFL.
He doesn’t turn 29 until August so Bouye is expected to have plenty of suitors as a free agent, although his value may be less than the $13.5 million average he had been playing on the previous four seasons in Jacksonville and Denver.
While Bouye’s departure was expected because of salary ramifications, it appears the Broncos would like to bring back their other starting cornerback, Bryce Callahan. Callahan was terrific in the 10 games he did play as an every-down outside and slot corner but he missed six games because of an ankle and foot injuries.
The slightly-built Callahan has never played more than 13 in a season and has missed an average of nearly 7 games a year because of injuries. Callahan is scheduled to make $7.2 million in the final year of his contract in 2021. He took a pay cut to play last year.
The Broncos other top cornerbacks are coming off checkered rookie seasons. Undrafted Essang Bassey played well in the slot until he suffered a torn ACL in the December game at Kansas City. Third-rounder Michael Ojemudia was having a tough rookie season until the final month, when he made some adjustments that improved his play.
The Broncos are expected to sign one veteran cornerback through free agency this year and the position could again be addressed with their No. 9 overall pick in the first round of the draft. Virginia Tech’s Caleb Fairley, Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn are widely considered the top three prospects at that position.