George Paton’s offseason moves prepared Broncos to trade Bradley Chubb
Trading Bradley Chubb one day after Halloween wasn’t the Broncos’ first plan.
Of course, nothing about the Broncos’ season has gone according to plan. They didn’t expect to be 3-5. They didn’t expect to have just 11 touchdowns in eight games. And most of all, they didn’t expect Russell Wilson to reach midseason mired in mediocre form. And while injuries were expected, they didn’t expect to face a scenario in which just one of their offensive linemen made it through the first eight games without missing at least a half due to injury.
But they were prepared.
And the truth is this: They had been planning for life without Chubb since the spring.
Yes, Broncos general manager George Paton repeatedly said Chubb was one of the team’s “core players.” And quite often when the subject of adding edge rushers arose, he leaned on the stock sentiment that you can never have enough.
But as always, it’s key to focus on what is DONE, not what is SAID.
And circumstances change.
In the span of a month and a half last spring, the Broncos signed Randy Gregory, moved Baron Browning from off-ball linebacker to edge rusher and used their first draft pick on Nik Bonitto. By the time that triumvirate of moves ended, an alternate path existed.
Yes, the Broncos could have still extended Chubb at a contract that could be worth beyond $20 million a year. But after those three moves, they didn’t HAVE to. Chubb was in position to fetch the largest contract for a defensive player in Broncos history. But that would have come with significant risk, given a series of injuries that cost him 24 of 49 games played from 2019-21.
All of that factored into the equation.
Had the season gone as expected, the Broncos didn’t even have to let Chubb walk in the offseason, either. A franchise-tag-and-trade deal could have allowed them to get more than the end-of-Round-3 compensatory pick that Chubb’s potential free-agent departure would have yielded.
But at 3-5, reality wielded a tack hammer to the temple.
And with the chances of the postseason remote and a chance to get a first-round pick back as part of the deal, the Broncos had to be sensible.
If there is one quibble to the trade, it is this: If it’s true that you can’t have enough pass rushers, why jettison one who is fifth in the league in sacks? After all, edge rushers are like pitchers in baseball. If you think you have enough, you can always use one more. The explosive nature of the position lends itself to heavy rotational use — and a fair amount of injuries, too.
Nobody knows that more than the Broncos. In the previous 12 seasons, they lost 91 man-games from intended starting edge rushers. Five times — including in each season from 2019-21 — they saw one of their edge rushers miss at least half of the season. And endemic to Chubb specifically, he missed at least half of the games in two of the last four years.
But the Broncos needed to use the depth they had to search for long-term fixes at deficient areas of the roster.
With Browning, Bonitto and seventh-round pick Jonathon Cooper coming aboard in Paton’s two drafts, the Broncos know how to find edge rushers to add to the rotation. One wouldn’t doubt that they could add another mid-rounder to the room next spring and feel comfortable about the depth. Browning, Bonitto and Gregory actually have better pass-rush win rates than Chubb does so far this year.
Trading from a surplus area to fill another of dire need is practice.
Furthermore, the first eight games of the season laid bare some lingering Broncos issues. The battered offensive line appears in need of significant retooling. It would be no surprise if at least three of the five spots up front in 2023 feature starters who were not in the Week 1 starting lineup at Seattle.
The Broncos need draft capital and cap space to fix the line. They also need cap space to accommodate Dre’Mont Jones. His play is pushing him towards a massive payday. Further, his skill set might be rarer than that of Chubb himself. And then there is Chubb’s own injury history.
And it’s that reality — punctuated by a 3-5 record – that led the Broncos to be sellers once again.
Yeah, trading Chubb wasn’t the Broncos’ plan at one point in time.
But it became the best plan. And to his credit, Paton was prepared for it.