ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Anyone who saw Cleveland Browns third-string running back D’Ernest Johnson gouge the Denver defense on Thursday night knows the Broncos were in woeful need of inside linebacker help.
But to get Kenny Young, a starting inside linebacker and second-leading tackler of the 6-1 Los Angeles Rams, essentially for nothing in return? What gives?
Not only did the Rams send Young to the linebacker-depleted Broncos, they kicked in a 7th round draft pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. In return, the Broncos sent their 6th round pick from the 2024 draft to Los Angeles.
By 2024, even Sean McVay will be considered a grizzled, old coach for the Rams.
Turns out, Young, who has 46 tackles and 2.0 sacks while starting all seven games for the Rams this year, was moved because one, he is in the final year of his rookie contract that pays him $2.183 million this year and Los Angeles only has $3.1 million in salary cap space, and, two, Los Angeles wanted to make playing-time room for two young linebackers, third-round rookie Ernest Jones and Travin Howard.
It’s the second, run-stopping linebacker trade Broncos general manager George Paton made since Johnson filled in for injured running back stars Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and slashed the Denver defense for 146 yards on 6.6 yards per carry.
The Broncos and Rams began discussing the Young trade on Friday-Saturday -- after Denver was stampeded by the Browns and before Los Angeles beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Young played very well, compiling 7 tackles and a sack. Shortly after the Rams' game was finished, the trade was made.
Not only had the Broncos lost their two starting inside linebackers, Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell, to season-ending pectoral tear injuries, their backups began dropping, too. Third-round rookie Baron Browning should return from concussion protocol this week but the Broncos’ coaching staff may not consider him quite ready for game time as he’s suffered a variety of injuries since he was drafted. Another backup, Micah Kiser, who was signed off the Rams’ practice squad a month ago, suffered a groin injury early in the game against the Browns and was placed on injured reserve. Special teams inside linebacker Jonas Griffith is also on IR with a hamstring injury.
When Kiser went down, the Broncos were forced to play undrafted Curtis Robinson, who spent most of this season on the practice squad, next to Justin Strnad, a tall, rangy linebacker who is considered better in coverage than as a run-stopper, against the Browns.
On the outside, starter Bradley Chubb and newly acquired backup Aaron Patrick went down with ankle injuries and undrafted rookie Andre Mintze is on IR with a hamstring injury. Another starting outside linebacker, Von Miller, also went down in the Browns’ game with an ankle injury, although there is hope Miller will return to play Sunday against Washington at Empower Field at Mile High.
Paton replaced his outside linebacker void Saturday by acquiring Stephen Weatherly from the Minnesota Vikings.
Ordinarily, a player acquired in a trade needs a week or two before he’s ready to contribute to his new team. But Young played in 16 games, with six starts, last year for the Rams when Brandon Staley was their defensive coordinator. Staley learned his defensive system from Broncos coach Vic Fangio so Young is expected to quickly pick up Denver's system and start Sunday against Washington.
To make roster room for Young, the Broncos waived linebacker Barrington Wade.
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