ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The math still doesn’t seem to add up.
The Denver Broncos acquired Jurrell Casey — a five-time Pro Bowl selection with 51 career sacks who at age 30 is still considered among the best interior defensive players in the league — from the Tennessee Titans … for a seventh-round pick in April’s draft?
“That’s crazy, when you think about it,” said new teammate Von Miller.
At the time of the trade, Casey was not happy about it, saying the Titans had thrown him away “like a piece of trash.” But one team’s trash is another’s treasure, and the Broncos are more than happy to be on the receiving end of what has the look of a straight salary dump by the Titans.
Casey’s arrival could gives the Broncos the best interior presence they have had since Trevor Pryce was moving up and down the defensive line on the way to four consecutive Pro Bowls between 1999 and 2002.
“I feel like they just went and got a phenomenal player,” said Broncos linebacker Todd Davis. “Already … I’ve seen how much he can impact our team as a whole, defense in particular, but definitely me. I feel like when I’m lined up behind him, if they stay on the double-team, then that allows me to make a play. If they don’t stay in the double-team, he’ll definitely make the play. I love playing behind a dominant, physical player like that.”
Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell put it far more simply earlier this offseason when he offered that acquiring a player like Casey for the team’s defense “was really important to us.”
Some of it is the physics of the pass rush. The Broncos have a top-shelf tandem of starting edge rushers in Miller and Bradley Chubb.
Often last season — a season Chubb only played in four games due to a torn ACL he suffered in a Week 4 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars — the Broncos saw their ability to pressure the passer with Miller or anyone else on the outside limited by an inability to consistently challenge an offensive line in the middle of the field.
Miller often said a healthy Derek Wolfe was a key part of the Broncos’ success. Casey, if he plays to the level of the last few seasons, should create more single blocking for others along the defensive front, most notably Miller and Chubb.
More single blocking on Miller and Chubb should add up to far more sacks for the Broncos — they were tied for 17th in the league last season with no sacks in three of the four games Miller and Chubb played together. Early indications in camp are that Casey hasn’t lost a step.
“It’s the exact same guy from the Pro Bowl,” Miller said. “Some of the games we talked about, some of the drills that we worked on at the Pro Bowl, we talk about the same stuff here. He just gets it. It’s just instant. When you’ve played as long as Jurrell and you’re played as long as me, it’s just instant. We don’t have to work on stuff. I can say something and he’ll pick it up instantly. He’ll say something to me, and I’ll pick it up instantly. It’s great to have a guy like that.”
“When we get out there, I’m quick on my toes,” Casey said. “They confided and trusted in me early, knowing that I understand the concept of the schemes they’re putting out there for us.”
What the Broncos do could look similar to Fangio’s last season as the Chicago Bears‘ defensive coordinator (2018), when he deployed Akiem Hicks at defensive end, Khalil Mack at outside linebacker and Eddie Goldman at nose tackle. That year the Bears led the league in scoring defense, sacks and interceptions as Mack finished with 12.5 sacks with six forced fumbles while Hicks and Goldman had 7.5 sacks and three sacks respectively.
Chubb’s return from his knee injury — he has 13 sacks in 20 career games — gives the Broncos the potential for more explosiveness on the edge at outside linebacker than the 2018 Bears had alongside Mack. But Casey is a significant part of the plan and has to be if the Broncos eventually get all they hope to from one of the league’s most surprising offseason trades.
“Chaos, man, I’m excited for it,” Chubb said. “It’s going to be fun. Just to see the things he did for however long he’s been in the league — five straight Pro Bowls. One of the best [defensive] tackles and pass-rushing [defensive] tackles and run-playing [defensive] tackles in the league. It’s going to be fun to mix that with me coming back even hungrier, Von coming back even hungrier and a defense that feels like it has something to prove. It’s going to be chaos for others.”