Line­backer to be­come un­re­stricted free agent fol­low­ing this sea­son

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Kyle Fredrick­son

Shaquil Bar­rett isn’t a na­tive Coloradan, but call him an honorary son. He has earned the ti­tle.

Bar­rett, born and raised in Bal­ti­more, spent three sea­sons at out­side line­backer for Colorado State, went un­drafted and now en­ters his fifth sea­son with the Bron­cos. Af­ter 123 tack­les, 11 sacks and seven forced fum­bles while in a Den­ver uni­form, how­ever, he faces a cross­roads.

Bar­rett is set to be­come an un­re­stricted free agent af­ter this sea­son. His per­for­mance this year will dic­tate whether he re-signs with the Bron­cos or gets of­fers else­where. If Bar­rett had it his way?

“The plan is to stay as long as pos­si­ble,” he told The Den­ver Post on Tues­day fol­low­ing Day 1 of Bron­cos’ manda­tory mini­camp in Dove Val­ley. “I love it here.”

Now, more than ever, the Bron­cos love Bar­rett, too, and more specif­i­cally the depth he brings to the lineback­ing po­si­tion. News that Shane Ray will have a fourth wrist surgery that is ex­pected to keep him out be­tween two and three months only am­pli­fies Bar­rett’s role, which is sim­i­lar to his 2015 Bron­cos’ de­but when Bar­rett was pro­moted from the prac­tice squad and asked to fill the shoes of in­jured edge rusher DeMar­cus Ware.

“No, no, it doesn’t change my ap­proach,” Bar­rett clar­i­fied, “be­cause you know you’re al­ways one play away.”

He’s ac­tu­ally root­ing for Ray’s quick re­cov­ery.

“Shane is an im­por­tant part of our de­fense,” Bar­rett said. “With our de-

fense at full strength, there’s pretty much no­body who can han­dle us. Hav­ing him go down is go­ing to leave a lit­tle hole in the de­fense right now.”

Bar­rett, 25, re­mains con­fi­dent re­gard­less of the com­pe­ti­tion within his po­si­tion group. That in­cludes No. 5 over­all NFL draft pick Bradley Chubb. “I’m pretty sure he’s wor­thy of the No. 1 pick,” Bar­rett said. “We got lucky.”

And, over the course of or­ga­nized team ac­tiv­i­ties and one mini­camp prac­tice, Bar­rett has show­cased ver­sa­til­ity that should al­low him to be in­serted how­ever the Bron­cos best see fit. Coach Vance Joseph told re­porters Tues­day that Bar­rett has lined up at Sam and Will line­backer — plus as an off­ball line­backer in “dime” pack­ages on pass­ing downs.

“I al­ways ap­proach it the same way and I al­ways know I need to get bet­ter,” Bar­rett said. “Trim my body up a lit­tle bit and keep watch­ing film as much as I can. If I just stay ded­i­cated through­out the whole sea­son, no mat­ter how we’re do­ing as a team, I think I’ll have a pretty good year.”

Added Joseph: “Shaq can be a spe­cial player. He’s shown over the years, the more he’s played, the more plays he can make. I’m ex­cited to see Shaq get more op­por­tu­ni­ties be­cause in my mind, he can be a top­tier rusher in this league.”

In March, the Bron­cos placed a sec­ond-round ten­der on Bar­rett which gives him a one-year, $2.91 mil­lion con­tract. Bar­rett un­der­stands the ur­gency to pro­duce. High ex­pec­ta­tions are among the top rea­sons he aims to re­main a Bronco for the long haul.

“We don’t ac­cept medi­ocrity and we al­ways want to con­tend for a cham­pi­onship,” Bar­rett said. “I don’t want to be on a team that’s re­build­ing or los­ing. We al­ways fight ev­ery year.”

Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos line­backer Shaquil Bar­rett runs drills on the first day of manda­tory mini­camp Tues­day at Dove Val­ley.

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