Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaq Barrett is leading the NFL in quarterback sacks, with an ultra-impressive eight in just three games.
That's eight more than Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and the rest of the once-vaunted Denver Broncos defense have recorded during the same period en route to an 0-3 start, the franchise's worst in twenty years.
This contrast is worth underscoring because Barrett could have been smashing those QBs while clad in orange and blue. After all, the onetime CSU Ram had been a member of the Broncos for the past five seasons and would no doubt have stuck around had he received a reasonable offer from the team. Instead, executive John Elway and company allowed him to sign as a free agent with Tampa Bay and received zilch in return.
This is hardly the first time the Broncos have seen talents to whom they no longer felt like writing checks pay dividends for other squads.
Below are our picks for the seven other players beyond Barrett whose free-agency exits have been the most painful — plus a coach whose departure was arguably the most agonizing of all.
As a defensive lineman well versed in wreaking havoc, Jackson was a key component of the Super Bowl 50 championship squad, and one of the first to cash in afterward, when the Jacksonville Jaguars presented him with a six-year, $85.5 million contract sweetened by a $31.5 million guarantee and a $10 million signing bonus that the Broncos brain trust felt they simply couldn't afford to match. Moreover, Denver showed no interest when Jackson returned to the market this past season; he wound up being acquired by the Philadelphia Eagles and promptly suffering a foot injury that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the season. But while he was solid but not spectacular with the Jags, a lot of us continue to feel that he would have made a greater impact had he been able to stay in Denver — and his ferocity has not yet been replaced.
7. Matt Paradis
The former Boise State center was drafted by the Broncos in the sixth round circa 2014 and went on to anchor the offensive line during the outfit's run to victory in Super Bowl 50 two years later. He was subsequently deemed expendable for health reasons; he had surgery on both his hips during the 2017 off-season and missed nearly half of the 2018 campaign after breaking his fibula. But the Carolina Panthers inked him to a three-year, $27 million contract, and he's currently opening holes for Colorado native Christian McCaffrey, who's having a tremendous season. The current Broncos running backs? Not so much, largely because of an O-line that's specializing in folding like a lawn chair.
6. Matt Prater
We get it. Placekicker Prater is a dumbass who once got into a hit-and-run alongside an employee of Shotgun Willie's and later became the rare player in his position to be suspended for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. But he's also a gifted long-range expert who's been a consistent blessing for the Detroit Lions since signing there in October 2014 and shows no signs of skill slippage. Meanwhile, Broncos kicker Brandon McManus missed an extra point in last Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The greatest tight end in Broncos history, Sharpe, who currently makes his living putting up with the insufferable Skip Bayless on the Fox Sports staple Skip and Shannon: Undisputed, started and ended his career with Denver. But longtime fans remember all too well that the Broncos thought he was finished several years before he actually was — and after the 1999 season, he hooked up with the Baltimore Ravens. He spent just two seasons with the team, but in one of them, he won a Super Bowl. Oof.
Defensive lineman Dumervil had some fine seasons with the Baltimore Ravens after departing from Denver, as well as a decent one for the San Francisco 49ers before officially retiring in March 2018. But his place on this roster also takes into account the circumstances of his March 2013 Colorado departure, which we described at the time as one of the most embarrassing and unnecessary in Broncos history. Essentially, Denver asked Dumervil to take a big pay cut, reducing his per-annum salary from $12 million to $8 million — and 35 minutes before the NFL deadline for the transaction, his agent agreed. Problem was, the signed contracts weren't faxed back in time. So, with one minute to go before the Broncos would have been stuck paying the original $12 million, the team cut Dumervil, making him a free agent. Yes, that really happened.
Linebacker Trevathan was the other big loss from the Super Bowl 50 defense, and while the Chicago Bears paid him a pretty penny, the total wasn't quite as outrageous as the one collected by the aforementioned Malik Jackson: $28 million over four years with a $12 million guarantee and a $5 million bonus for signing. But he's been a very good addition to the Bears and doesn't appear to have lost a step. Indeed, his performance on Monday night against the Washington Redskins, when he racked up seven solo tackles, a sack and a game-clinching forced fumble, included more highlights than the Broncos' 2019 D to date.
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2. Lyle Alzado
The most fearsome member of the original Orange Crush defense, lineman Alzado was once the pride of Denver. But after getting into a contract dispute with the Broncos, he jumped the pirate ship to the then-Los Angeles Raiders, where he won the Super Bowl that had eluded his former team up until that point. You can bet plenty of longtime Broncos fans cheered him for this accomplishment — but some of us hate the Raiders a little too much.
No, he's not a player, but Phillips was way more valuable than many on-the-field athletes. He failed as a Broncos head coach, but his return as defensive coordinator paved the way for that Super Bowl 50 win. Phillips remained in the fold the season after, but when his contract came due, Elway, who seemed upset that Wade had gotten so much credit for the Broncos' achievements, refused to pony up the relative pittance (in NFL terms) to retain his services. Phillips reacted by sliding over to the Los Angeles Rams, who now have the monstrous defense the Broncos no longer boast. That worked out great, didn't it, John?