The recent history of the Broncos’ big deals as deadline sellers: Two losses and a TBD
The Broncos’ tradition used to be playoff bids, division titles and more Super Bowl appearances than losing seasons over a four-decade span.
Now, the annual rite of autumn is being sellers at the trade deadline.
Few expected this of the 2022 Broncos when they traded for Russell Wilson in March. Their compromised draft capital because of the trade would have prevented them from being aggressive buyers, no doubt.
But a 2-5 start and the worst scoring offense for any Broncos team through seven games in 30 years changed that. And now, it’s another late October like the last few, in which contending clubs call Broncos brass to see if they’ll play “Let’s Make a Deal.”
So, just how did the previous deadline trades of stars Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Von Miller, work out? Did they help? Hinder?
Or did they do almost nothing in the grand scheme of things?
So far in deals of core franchise players, the Broncos are 0-2. But both of those deals were made in the John Elway era.
They’re behind on the third — made by George Paton — but have plenty of time to change that. And in a fringe deal sending away a deep-reserve player for capital, Paton is likely to score a win.
Let’s dive into it:
- To Denver: A 2019 fourth-round pick (No. 125) and a seventh-round pick (No. 237)
- To Houston: WR Demaryius Thomas and a seventh-round pick (No. 220)
Thomas was moderately productive in Houston. He caught 23 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns before rupturing his Achilles tendon late that season. He posted an AV (approximate value) of 2 for Houston, per pro-football-reference.com.
- Thomas’s AV as a Texan: 2
Denver didn’t actually use either of the picks it got from Houston, dealing both during the 2019 NFL Draft.
The No. 125 pick was part of the compensation to move up 10 slots in the second round to select Drew Lock. Denver sent the No. 125 and No. 182 picks to Cincinnati as compensation for a 10-choice rise from No. 52 in the second round.
Based on the widely-used draft-value chart — with pick 52 worth 380 points, pick 125 worth 47 and pick 182 worth 18.6 — the pick acquired from Houston was worth 10.5 percent of Drew Lock.
Thus, the choice from Houston is 10.5 percent of Lock’s AV, which was 12 over three seasons.
- Lock’s percentage AV as a Bronco: 1.26 (10.5 percent of 12)
Denver used the seventh-round pick it got from Houston — No. 237 — to move up 25 slots from No. 212. With pick No. 187, Denver selected Juwann Winfree. He played 14 offensive snap with no receotions in three games for the Broncos before they waived him in 2020.
- Winfree’s AV as a Bronco: 0
Houston, meanwhile, took the seventh-rounder it got from Denver — pick No. 220 — and chose FB Cullen Gillaspia. He played 20 offensive snaps in two Texans seasons, with most of his work coming on special teams.
- Gillaspia’s AV as a Texan: 0
- BRONCOS AV: 1.26
- TEXANS AV: 2
- ADVANTAGE: Houston, plus-0.74 AV
With Lock, Winfree and Gillaspia no longer with those teams and Thomas moving on to the Jets in 2019 before passing away in 2021, the deal is complete and slightly in favor of Houston.
- To Denver: Third- and fourth-round picks (Nos. 95 and 137) in 2020
- To San Francisco: WR Emmanuel Sanders and a fifth-round choice (No. 156)
Veterans ended up being involved with this at both ends of the draft capital acquired by each team.
Denver held on to the 95th pick and chose DL McTelvin Agim. He played 17 games in his first two seasons and notched 1.5 sacks. But he currently sits on Denver’s practice squad and is two 2022 draft picks on the Broncos’ depth chart: sixth-rounder Matt Henningsen, who has played every game this season, and fourth-rounder Enyi Uwazurike.
- Agim’s AV as a Bronco: 2
The Broncos traded the No. 137 pick to Jacksonville for veteran CB A.J. Bouye, hoping he would fill the void created by Chris Harris Jr.’s free-agent departure. Bouye succumbed to injury in Week 1 and played just seven games before the Broncos released him the following February.
- Bouye’s AV as a Bronco: 3
Sanders was on an 800-yard pace with Denver before the trade. He remained at that level with the 49ers, catching 36 passes for 502 yards and three scores in 10 games. But San Francisco did not re-sign him after Super Bowl LIV; he moved on to the New Orleans Saints.
- Sanders’ AV as a 49er: 5
But the fifth-round pick San Francisco received was part of the package to obtain offensive tackle Trent Williams, who missed all of the previous season. The 49ers sent a third-round pick in 2021 — which turned out to be pick No. 74 — and that fifth-rounder to Washington for Williams.
As with Lock, we take the value of the picks and add them up. The No. 74 choice is with 220 points; pick 156 is worth 29. So, the pick was 11.6 percent of the draft capital surrendered for Williams. Williams earned first-team All-Pro honors last year with San Francisco, collecting an AV of 22 over his first two seasons. He will continue adding to that this year.
- Williams’ percentage AV with 49ers: 2.55 through 2021 (10.4 percent of 22)
- BRONCOS AV: 5
- 49ERS AV: 7.55
- CURRENT ADVANTAGE: San Francisco, plus-2.55
Williams is the entire difference in the deal.
Agim’s trend line doesn’t look promising, as the first defensive lineman called up off the practice squad for active game-day duty this season was Jonathan Harris. Agim may not have even been on the practice squad if not for its COVID-era expansion to 16 players.
The scorekeeping isn’t over, but all signs point to San Francisco winning the swap.
- To Denver: Second- and third-round picks (Nos. 64 and 96) in 2022
- To the Los Angeles Rams: Edge rusher Von Miller
This is the most difficult to quantify, because AV doesn’t measure playoff contributions. One can argue that the Rams won Super Bowl LVI because of the Miller trade. For the second time in his career, he went on a sack-a-game pace in the postseason. Both times, Miller’s teams hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.
Of course, Los Angeles did not re-sign him. Subsequently, Miller shuffled off to Buffalo for $51.4 million guaranteed. And while the Rams could have gotten a third-round compensatory pick back, they canceled that out by signing Allen Robinson, per comp-picks guru Nick Korte of overthecap.com. Thus, the Rams’ tally from the swap is complete.
- Miller AV with Rams: 4
Just as you can find echoes and rhythm in the Shanahan offensive scheme, you can also find them in the Broncos’ personnel dealings. So, it all began by using pick No. 64 on an edge rusher — in this case, Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto. It wasn’t the Broncos’ only offseason move on the edge; they also signed free-agent Randy Gregory and shifted 2021 third-rounder Baron Browning from inside to outside linebacker. And now, with Bradley Chubb on the trade block, it’s possible that all of the offseason maneuvering could be further connected.
- Bonitto AV with Broncos: TBD
Denver took the third-round pick (No. 96) and sent it to Indianapolis for a fifth-rounder and a 2023 third-rounder. With the fifth-round choice, the Broncos selected Luke Wattenberg. He hasn’t played — yet. Denver did give him some brief first-team run during training camp. However, if Lloyd Cushenberry continues to struggle and the team continues languishing, don’t be surprised if Wattenberg gets a longer look as the season progresses.
If the 2023 draft were held tomorrow, the Broncos pick from Indianapolis would be choice No. 77.
- Wattenberg AV with the Broncos: TBD
- BRONCOS AV: 0
- RAMS AV: 4
- CURRENT ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles, plus-4
In terms of AV, there is a decent chance this eventually becomes a big win for the Broncos, largely because Miller’s time in Los Angeles was so brief.
The Broncos will begin finding out about Bonitto in London on Sunday. There, he is expected to play extensively due to injuries for Gregory and Browning. Further, they may find out even more if Bradley Chubb becomes the next big-time Bronco to head elsewhere at midseason.
A trade of Chubb is not only a vote of confidence in Baron Browning and Randy Gregory, but Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper, too.
However, Lombardi Trophies are forever. Therefore, the Rams will forever gaze at their second set of Super Bowl rings and know that this midseason trade made it possible.
But there was one more deal of a non-star player last year sending a player away for draft compensation …
- To Denver: Sixth-round pick (No. 206)
- To Philadelphia: CB Kary Vincent Jr.
Vincent played in 2 games for Philadelphia, starting one. He is currently out of football. The genius of this swap is that George Paton effectively turned a seventh-round pick buried on the Broncos’ depth chart into a sixth-rounder.
- Vincent AV with the Eagles: 0
Denver took Wisconsin DL Matt Henningsen with that pick. He’s already become a solid rotational defensive lineman and notched his first career sack against the Chargers.
- Henningsen AV with the Broncos: TBD
- BRONCOS AV: TBD
- EAGLES AV: 0
- CURRENT ADVANTAGE: TBD, but virtually guaranteed to be in Denver’s favor
Denver is likely to have a significant AV advantage with this deal. Anything they get from Henningsen furthers that. At minimum, it seems likely that he remains a key rotational piece. But it would not be a surprise if he grows into a starting role in the coming years, as he could be a solid complement to the Joneses on what appears to be one of the Broncos’ finest position groups.