Broncos sign tackling machine Cody Barton as surprising replacement

The Broncos have a new starting linebacker next to Alex Singleton

Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos / G Fiume/GettyImages

The Denver Broncos have lost a number of key players from last year's roster in NFL Free Agency, including starting linebacker Josey Jewell. Jewell landed a nice three-year deal from the Carolina Panthers worth more than $7 million per season, a price range the Broncos weren't interested in going to, apparently. They've now made a somewhat surprising replacement by signing veteran Cody Barton, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Commanders.

And when I say surprising, there are a couple of reasons for it.

First of all, it's just a little jarring these days when the Broncos make a move. It feels like they are really slow-playing the offseason.

Second of all, and minus the sarcasm, this move seems to signal that the Broncos are indeed moving forward with Drew Sanders transitioning full-time to the EDGE position. Sanders was a third-round pick in 2023, and a high one at that. He was a player the Broncos clearly prioritized in last year's draft, and their vision for Sanders -- a successor to Josey Jewell -- appears to be changed.

And that doesn't feel like great news.

Sanders is going to have a hard time cracking the rotation off the edge where the Broncos have at least three players -- Baron Browning, Nik Bonitto, and Jonathon Cooper -- ahead of him on the depth chart. We'll see how he progresses in his second NFL season.

But let's focus on Barton.

Barton is one of just three outside free agents the Broncos have signed this offseason as they've been seemingly "running it back" with a lot of guys who were on the roster last season. Mostly role players, but some starters as well.

Barton was actually a third-round pick (88th overall) by the Seattle Seahawks back in the 2019 NFL Draft. He scored a 9.3 on the RAS scale coming out of Utah back then, and his elite athletic traits immediately led him to special teams success at the NFL level. He became a full-time starter in his fourth NFL season in Seattle and started for the Washington Commanders in 2023 as well.

He's been a tackling machine the last two seasons, racking up 257 total tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 4 QB hits, 2.0 sacks, and three interceptions. That kind of productivity will play well next to Alex Singleton as Barton figures to take over as one of the two starting inside linebackers this year, but he will have competition.

Specifically, his only competition right now appears to be Jonas Griffith, who signed to a one-year deal to return to Denver this offseason. But Griffith hasn't played much the last couple of seasons, and with Barton reportedly signing a deal worth up to $4 million (per Mike Klis), the money would tell us pretty clearly who's starting.

Commanders fans don't seem too sad to see Barton leave, but that was the same sentiment Eagles fans had toward Alex Singleton when he came to Denver back in 2022. Singleton has played outstanding for the Broncos and been a great addition to the defense. Perhaps Barton will follow suit.