Broncos sign tryout standout at position with concerning lack of depth

Andre Smith impressed the Broncos in a short time
Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos / Chris Graythen/GettyImages

The Denver Broncos have a concerning lack of depth at the off-ball linebacker position. On paper, it doesn't seem all that bad because Broncos fans are familiar with some of the names, but the team obviously needed to add someone -- and they did.

According to multiple reports, including the player and his own agency, the Denver Broncos have agreed to a deal with free agent linebacker Andre Smith, who has bounced around the league a bit but played last year for the Atlanta Falcons.

Denver Broncos sign much-needed depth at linebacker after minicamp

Last season with the Falcons, Smith appeared in 11 games and recorded 19 tackles as well as a forced fumble and pass defended. He played the most extensive defensive snaps of his NFL career to this point -- 112 total snaps -- and contributed heavily on special teams as he pretty much always has. He's played at least 200 special teams snaps in four of the last five seasons, which could ultimately be where he's most valuable to the Denver Broncos in the immediate.

When asked about the competition at the inside linebacker position, head coach Sean Payton noted that a number of guys were in the mix to start, including Jonas Griffith, Cody Barton, and undrafted rookie Levelle Bailey out of Fresno State. The Broncos lost Drew Sanders -- a player whose role at linebacker or EDGE was somewhat unknown going into the offseason -- before the NFL Draft due to injury. He won't be back until later this season, if at all.

The plan was effectively compromised and complicated at off-ball linebacker especially with Josey Jewell leaving for the Carolina Panthers in free agency. The Broncos needed to add someone to give them options on special teams if either Griffith or Barton ends up playing a bigger role defensively. Both of those guys have tons of special teams ability and experience as well, and Sean Payton noted that was a major part of the equation regarding Barton, specifically, earlier in the offseason.

Smith was a 7th-round pick by the Carolina Panthers back in the 2018 NFL Draft, so in a way, the Broncos are replacing one player from the class of 2018 with another (Jewell was a 4th-round pick that year). Smith was only out on the field for the two days of mandatory minicamp, and Sean Payton has emphasized on a variety of occasions that one thing he doesn't ever want to do is have a guy in the building/on the field and let them get away to another team.

Clearly, the coaching staff agreed that Smith was a player they couldn't live without going forward. That's pretty impressive when you consider the pads weren't even on for practices. We'll see how much more Smith can endear himself to the staff once the pads come on at training camp.