Injuries put damper on Broncos' work in free agency

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In a season where so little has gone the way the Denver Broncos had hoped or expected, their work in free agency this past offseason is now another item that has taken a significant hit along the way.

With guard Ron Leary's move to injured reserve this week with a back injury, it means four of the Broncos’ most significant signings in free agency have had the misfortune of missing time with injuries, and two -- Leary and tackle Menelik Watson -- will finish out the season on injured reserve.

The Broncos quickly signed both Leary and Watson shortly after free agency opened this past March as the team looked to reshape its offensive line into a more physical group. Leary signed a four-year, $36 million deal, and Watson signed a three-year, $18.375 million deal.

Watson missed time early in the season with a calf injury and then went to injured reserve on Nov. 7 with a foot injury. The Broncos formally moved Leary, who had missed the last two games, to injured reserve on Tuesday.

The Broncos’ other two primary targets in free agency -- nose tackle Domata Peko and defensive lineman Zach Kerr -- have also battled injuries. Peko, who has helped the Broncos significantly upgrade their run defense, had played in 123 consecutive games until he missed the Broncos’ Week 13 loss in Miami with a knee injury he had suffered in the loss to the Oakland Raiders the week before.

Kerr, who had a knee injury in the preseason that kept him out of four of the Broncos’ first five games, has rounded into form down the stretch. He had five tackles against the Raiders, a half sack against the Dolphins and started his first game of the season this past Sunday against the Jets.

“He’s worked hard," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “It takes time to get used to (defensive line coach Bill) Kollar’s coaching style. He’s a tough guy to play for. Zach came in and he wasn’t sure what Bill wanted. Now you watch the guy after coming back from injury, he’s played at a high level the last three weeks. It’s been fun to see. We brought him here to be the fourth guy. It’s fun to see him take his role and play so well for us."