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Rypien emergence leads Broncos to release Bortles

Former first-round pick Sylvester Williams replaces Bortles on team's 53-man roster. TE Noah Fant downgraded to out. Watson, Cox promoted from practice squad.
Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos quarterbacks Blake Bortles, left, and Jeff Driskel chat during NFL football practice Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Englewood, Colo.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When Blake Bortles first signed with the Broncos after their Pittsburgh game in week 2, it appeared then the veteran quarterback would get a great opportunity to resurrect his career.

As it turned out, the former Jacksonville first-round draft pick and five-year starter would get zero chance with the Broncos. The emergence of Brett Rypien as the Broncos’ No. 2 quarterback made Bortles expendable. The Broncos released Bortles on Saturday before he even got a chance to dress for a game.

The truth is, the Broncos didn’t think Rypien was ready to become a No. 2 QB/fill-in starter when they signed Bortles on September 24. No. 1 quarterback Drew Lock had suffered a strained rotator cuff early in the Broncos’ game 2 loss at Pittsburgh, leaving backup Jeff Driskel to fill-in.

Driskel played well in relief against the Steelers, and with Lock still mending, started game 3 against Tampa Bay. Because the COVID-19 entry testing protocols delayed Bortles signing until the Friday before the Tampa Bay game, he didn’t have enough preparation to serve as Driskel’s backup.

Rypien was called up from the practice squad on an emergency basis. With Driskel struggling to get rid of the ball against a fierce Tampa Bay pass rush and the Broncos trailing 28-10, Denver head coach Vic Fangio sent Rypien in for the fourth quarter in what was essentially a what-do-we-have-to-lose opportunity.

Rypien then completed 8 of 8 passes before throwing a fourth down interception. Still, with the Broncos playing on a short week – and Bortles still not having a full week of practice before the Thursday game against the New York Jets -- Fangio thought enough of Rypien’s brief audition to give him the emergency start in the Meadowlands.

Rypien threw two touchdowns and though he also had three interceptions, he guided the Broncos to a season-most 37 points and their only win of the season.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien (4) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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Following a two-week delay  for the Broncos next game at New England that will now be played this Sunday, Lock got healthy enough to return. With Rypien now the established No. 2 QB and Driskel the No. 3 who can also play a party-time, read-option role, Bortles became expendable.

The Broncos replaced Bortles on their 53-man roster by promoting defensive lineman Sylvester Williams from their practice squad. Williams was the Broncos’ first-round draft pick in 2013 who started for the team in Super Bowls 48 and 50. He became a free agent and signed with Tennessee in 2017, then bounced from the Lions to Dolphins to Chargers the past two years before signing back with the Broncos on their practice squad two weeks ago.

The Broncos also temporarily called up linebacker Josh Watson and running back Jeremy Cox from their practice squad for the purpose of activating them for their game Sunday against New England. The plan is to send Watson and Cox back to the practice squad on Monday. 

The extra bodies were needed in part because starting tight end Noah Fant was downgraded from questionable to out this Sunday because of a high ankle sprain. Fant suffered the injury in the Broncos' 37-28 win at the Jets on October 1.

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