ENGLEWOOD — Few things bring less joy than crushing dreams. The NFL is as sympathetic as a parking ticket, and Saturday brought a sobering reminder as the Broncos shaved their roster to 52 players.
The Broncos faced difficult decisions on backup quarterback, linebackers and injured reserve candidates.
Keeping quarterback Kevin Hogan was nixed given his sporadic play in the preseason (33-for-65, 50.2 rating). Brett Rypien is not ready. The rookie was cut and is a practice squad candidate. Rookie Drew Lock will land on the injured reserve -- after six weeks a team has to decide if it designates the player to return, allowing him to practice for two weeks before a decision is made.
So now full transparency exists. The Broncos are seeking a backup quarterback.
They have interest in Brian Hoyer, cut by the Patriots earlier today. He has worked with offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello in the past. If the 49ers elect to go with two quarterbacks in the coming days, the Broncos could be in play there since Scangarello coached C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens last season. And former Broncos backup Kyle Sloter is available after the Vikings cut him. The Broncos are keeping an open mind, and general manager John Elway said the preference is someone who has experience in this offense.
"With Drew being out 6-to-8 weeks, the best thing is to use that roster spot. So we will keep looking. We are exploring our options," Elway said.
Added coach Fangio with a smile, "I am getting my arm loose. ... We will figure it out."
Elway talked to Lock about not seeing this as a lost year. He could return midway or be sidelined for the season, with no decision necessary right now. If the Broncos prefer Hoyer they will have to pay his $1 million salary. There's no way they could wait until after the first week when veteran contracts are no longer guaranteed given the interest in him.
With the inside linebackers, Todd Davis' health remains a concern. He hurt his calf in the first training camp practice on July 18. That leaves the Broncos lacking experience at inside backer. They are bringing in veteran Corey Nelson, who played previously with the Broncos as a backup and special teams ace. They moved safety Jamal Carter to the spot, but he was cut Saturday. Second-year pro Keishawn Bierria was also waived, clearing a spot for Josh Watson from CSU to make the team. Malik Reed and Watson made it as undrafted free agents, the 15th time in the past 16 years that has happened for the Broncos. Denver figures to play plenty of nickel, leaving only linebacker Josey Jewell on the field with a safety or possibly Justin Hollins, who showed progress in the role during the preseason.
As for the injured reserve, Elway indicated Theo Riddick (shoulder), tight end Jake Butt (knee) and Lock (thumb) will go on the IR. That means the Broncos have three rosters spots they can fill without cutting anyone. A reminder, a team can only bring two players back from IR during the season. Fullback Andy Janovich (pectoral) is expected to be inactive for only the first few weeks, and same for linebacker Joe Jones (triceps). One of the spots where the Broncos might add is punt returner. Elway said River Cracraft has the role "for now." The Broncos are open to adding waiver wire help at punt returner, tight end and fullback.
Perhaps the move made with the highest upside this weekend was the acquisition of cornerback Duke Dawson from the Patriots. The second-round pick in 2018 will provide depth, and was not brought in because of concerns about Bryce Callahan's foot injury, Fangio told me.
"(Dawson has) played both nickel and corner. He was a guy a lot of teams had good rankings on in the '18 draft. To get a guy like that to work with and all we had to do was flip sixth and seventh (round draft picks in 2020), it was worth a shot," Fango said. "It was a guy who was available at a position of dire need for all teams."
The cuts began Saturday morning. The Broncos moved on from former local prep star Sam Jones, an offensive lineman they'd like to bring back on the practice squad. Here is the 52-man roster (Nelson is in line to be the 53rd player) along with the cuts:
QBs (2): Joe Flacco, Drew Lock
RBS (5): Devontae Booker, Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay, Theo Riddick, Andy Janovich.
WRS (6): Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, Juwann Winfree, River Cracraft
TES (4): Noah Fant, Troy Fumagalli, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt
OL (8): Garrett Bolles, Ja'Wuan James, Ron Leary, Connor McGovern, Dalton Risner, Jake Rodgers, Austin Schlottmann, Elijah Wilkinson
DL (6): Adam Gotsis, Shelby Harris, Dre'Mont Jones, DeMarcus Walker, Derek Wolfe, Mike Purcell
LBs (9): Bradley Chubb, Todd Davis, Justin Hollins, Josey Jewell, Alexander Johnson, Joseph Jones, Von Miller, Malik Reed, Josh Watson
DBs (9): De'Vante Bausby, Bryce Callahan, Duke Dawson, Chris Harris Jr., Kareem Jackson, Trey Marshall, Will Parks, Justin Simmons, Isaac Yiadom
Kicker Brandon McManus, punter Colby Wadman, longsnapper Casey Kreiter.
WR Trinity Benson, RB Devontae Jackson (practice squad candidate), OL Tyler Jones, CB Alijah Holder, DL Deyon Sizer, RB Khalfani Muhammad (practice squad candidate), OL Sam Jones (practice squad candidate), OLB Ahmad Gooden, DL Deyon Sizer, FB George Aston, CB Alijah Holder, ILB Keishawn Bierria, ILB Jamal Carter, WR Kelvin McKnight, OT John Leglue, QB Kevin Hogan, LB Joe Dineen (injured reserve), S Dymonte Thomas (injury waived), S Shamarko Thomas, T Quinn Bailey (practice squad candidate), QB Brett Rypien (practice squad candidate), DL DeShawn Williams, WR Fred Brown, FB Orson Charles.
S Su'a Cravens, WR Brendan Langley, RB David Williams, G Don Barclay, WR Steven Dunbar, CB Linden Stephens, OL Jake Brendel, OL Chaz Green, OL Adam Bisnowaty, OLB Dadi Nicolas, OL Ryan Crozier.