CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Looking to bolster a disappointing position this season, the Broncos acquired tight end A.J. Derby from the New England Patriots for a 2017 fifth-round pick Tuesday.
A strong running game and versatile tight ends have long defined coach Gary Kubiak's offensive attack. However, Virgil Green missed three games with a left calf injury, and second-year player Jeff Heuerman remains dogged by injuries that have prevented any meaningful contribution.
The pair has combined for 12 catches for 143 yards and no touchdowns. Veteran John Phillips started in Green's absence, producing five receptions for 40 yards. In Monday's victory over Houston, the playing time was divided as follows: Green 39 of 64 snaps, Heuerman 22 and Phillips 12.
Derby, 25, landed with the Patriots as a sixth-round pick in 2015. He is a former converted quarterback at the University of Arkansas. Broncos general manager John Elway believed enough in Derby to surrender a valuable pick, though Denver will receive multiple compensatory choices following the free agent departures by Brock Osweiler, Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan. It would not be a stretch to see Derby play right away given his promise and athleticism.
"A.J. is a young talent who can help us immediately," Elway said. "He has tremendous upside and will fit in well with our team."
To make room for Derby, the Broncos cut safety Shiloh Keo. Derby has logged just 36 snaps with the Patriots this season, playing behind Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. Derby is 6-foot-5, 255 pounds. He is relatively new at his position, playing quarterback his first three seasons for the Razorbacks.