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NFL sack leader Shaq Barrett on Broncos: 'I knew I was going to be a backup no matter what I did'

Tampa Bay gave Barrett the full-time edge rush job and he responded with NFL-best 19.5 sacks.
Credit: AP
Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) and San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley (74) work during the second half an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

MIAMI — Even if there was nothing the Broncos could have done to retain Shaquil Barrett, it was a shame, wasn’t it?

A shame that after spending five years developing the former undrafted prospect from Colorado State University – the first year on their practice squad, the next four as their backup -- the Broncos watched him lead the NFL with 19.5 sacks in his first year in Tampa Bay this past season. Or 5.5 more sacks than he had in his four playing seasons with the Broncos.

“He could have played on the field, it was just the way things were set up,’’ Von Miller said Saturday while moving a step ahead of Barrett on the NFL Honors red carpet. “But you saw when he got his own situation, he started to develop and he just blew up. It’s not really a surprise to us because we saw it all the time in practice going against  the 1s.”

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Barrett occasionally flashed while coming off the bench to spell the likes of Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Bradley Chubb at the edge-rush positions for the Broncos. The Cleveland Browns were so impressed after future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas struggled against him in a 2015 game, they tried to acquire Barrett in a deal that involved Thomas and draft picks.

But nobody ever thought he would be this good. Miller, for all his greatness the previous 9 years, never had as many as 19.5 sacks in a single season.

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller reacts as he takes the field before an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Denver.

What’d Barrett do, take some kind of super vitamins or something?

“I did not take super vitamins,’’ Barrett said, smiling at the playful question. “If I did they would have caught me. They (the Bucs) just welcomed me with hugs and I felt the security and support from Day 1. And it was (an) opportunity where I knew I had the opportunity to start from Day 1.

“Like with (the Broncos), I knew I was going to be a backup no matter what I did. And I had an opportunity to start in Tampa and it let me spread my wings a little bit.”

Know how they say a running back needs 5, 10, 15 carries to get a feel for the game? As it turns out, even a pass rusher needs 20 plays or so to establish a rhythm.

“It’s hard to come off the bench and do that,’’ Barrett said. “You’ve got to set them up.’’

After last season, Barrett wound up signing a one-year, $4 million contract with Tampa Bay. He got another $1 million in incentives, which he met and then some. In hindsight, it was regrettable the Broncos didn’t try to match the Bucs’ offer, although they were told as Barrett entered free agency his priority was finding a place where he had a chance to start.

“No, they didn’t,’’ he said. “I didn’t want to – I wanted to be in Denver 100 percent for my teammates, the city, but just the situation wasn’t good. That’s why I had to get out of there.”

In one sense, Miller hindered Barrett’s potential during his five years in Denver because he kept him off the field. In another sense, Miller helped Barrett become the sack leader he became.

“Oh yeah, everybody did,’’ Barrett said. “I took a piece from his game … I know I might be under Von’s shadow because I was in Denver, but I’m trying to build my own lane. Now, he did do a good job and told me a lot of stuff that I still take with me to this day.”