HBO's 'Hard Knocks' is always interesting. Seeing the NFL from the inside makes for compelling television, for any fan of the professional football. Denver Broncos fans have been given the collateral gift of seeing their team grace the show's last two episodes.
And last night was most illuminating.
The Broncos traded offensive tackle Chris Clark to the Houston Texans on Monday, in exchange for a 2016 seventh round pick. The trade conversation between Broncos GM John Elway and Texans GM Rick Smith gave us insight into how the Denver front office views their inside linebacker corps.
SMITH: “I looked at that deal last night. I want to do it, I just have a hard time giving up a pick — even though it’s out there—I have a hard time giving up a pick for a guy that’s going into the last year of his deal. You’re good at inside linebacker—you like what you got?”
ELWAY: “Yeah, I’d do the player for player, but you know what, we’re in good shape. But I’m actually trying to move one or two there, too. I’m in a battle for the 52 right now, you know? Who’s going to make that 53?
SMITH: “I think it makes sense if we’re going to do it to do it. The quicker I can get him into our building and in the program, the better off we’re going to be.
ELWAY: “We can make it happen fast.”
Of course, the "him" they're talking about is Clark. But this conversation shows Smith's reticence to trade a draft pick in exchange for a player in a contract year. And yet, Elway still got it done.
However, the most intriguing nugget comes in the form of Elway's statement on "trying to move one or two" inside linebackers. It's doubtful Elway was talking about the starting duo, Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan.
More likely, he's talking about Todd Davis and Steven Johnson, because their trade value would be higher than Corey Nelson and Lamin Barrow's. Nelson and Barrow are both 2014 draft picks—true—while Davis and Johnson are both former undrafted rookies.
But it's Davis and Johnson who've put impressive preseason performances on tape this year, especiall Davis. Nelson and Barrow are both on the roster bubble. Their respective fates rest on how many ILBs the Broncos choose to carry on the final 53-man roster.
Most NFL teams aren't keen on making trades for players on the roster bubble, because they know they can possibly bide their time and eventually pick them up off the waiver wire. So, why give up valuable trade capital, whether it's a player or a draft pick?
Zaire Anderson's development also factors into Elway's confidence in the ILB depth, and why he'd be comfortable moving "one or two" players ahead of him on the depth chart. The next week will be a busy time in the NFL, with final roster cuts coming on Saturday by 2 p.m. MST.
We'll know soon enough whether Elway succeeds in moving an inside linebacker. However, we can't discount the possibility that Elway was paying Smith lip service, in an effort to close the Clark deal. The reality is, both Marshall and Trevathan are coming off of offseason surgeries, and the Broncos would be tempting fate if they dealt one of their better backups before the season starts.
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