For the third time this month, the Denver Broncos have acquired a defensive lineman from the Cleveland Browns, this time landing veteran end Ebenezer Ekuban in exchange for running back Reuben Droughns, who is coming off a 1,000-yard season.
The Broncos also receive defensive tackle Michael Myers in the deal for Droughns. All players involved passed their physical exams with their new franchises, who announced the trade Wednesday.
"I'm excited," Droughns told Denver station KCNC-TV on Tuesday night. "I get a new chance, a fresh start with a new team."
Because Ekuban underwent knee and shoulder surgeries since the conclusion of the season, and might not be completely rehabilitated until sometime in May, the swap might include a safeguard, in the form of a 2006 draft pick, to protect the Broncos against the injuries.
The Broncos worked out the financial details of the trade Tuesday night, managing to fit both Ekuban's and Myers' contracts under their tight salary cap.
Denver restructured the contract for Ekuban, who was scheduled to make $2 million this season. Myers was making the minimum of $665,000.
Ekuban and Myers will join a pair of former Cleveland linemates, tackle Gerard Warren and end Courtney Brown, with the Broncos as the team continues to rebuild its defensive front. Warren was acquired in a trade three weeks ago for a fourth-round draft pick. Brown reached a contract agreement in principle with Denver on Monday evening. All three of the players are former first-round draft choices.
Droughns, 26, enjoyed a career year in 2004, carrying 275 times for 1,240 yards and six touchdowns. He also posted 32 receptions for 241 yards and two touchdowns. All those numbers represented career highs for the five-year veteran, who had played fullback for most of his NFL tenure, but was forced to start at tailback in 2004 because of injuries.
Entering the season, Droughns, who began his career with the Detroit Lions in 2000 after starring at the University of Oregon, had just 40 rushes for 97 yards.
"It's a great opportunity for Reuben, because it allows him to stay at tailback, which was a big priority," agent Drew Rosenhaus said Tuesday night. "Given his production in '04, he really didn't want to go back to playing fullback. He felt like he established himself as a viable tailback, a guy who could carry a team's running game."
Earlier this offseason, the Broncos, at the request of Rosenhaus, granted permission for Droughns to explore potential trade scenarios with other teams. The Broncos tailback depth chart is certainly a crowded one and it is all but certain Droughns would have gone back to the fullback spot, and would have had to compete for the starting job there if he had not been traded.
There are two seasons remaining on Droughns' contract, with base salaries of $950,000 for 2005 and $1.15 million for '06. Rosenhaus said he has not yet discussed with Browns officials the possibility of an extension.
Droughns will serve as the backup to projected starting tailback Lee Suggs. His addition will likely spell the end of former first-round tailback William Green's oft-troubled three-year stint in Cleveland. The Browns probably will now release Green, their top choice in the '02 draft, but a player plagued by off-field problems.
Ekuban, 28, entered the NFL as the Dallas Cowboys' first-round choice in 1999. After five years with the Cowboys, he signed with Cleveland as an unrestricted free agent in 2004 and enjoyed a strong season, notching 39 tackles and a career-high eight sacks.
At 6 feet 3 and 275 pounds, Ekuban lacked the bulk to play in the 3-4 front Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel will install. The Broncos have said they will play some 3-4 fronts, but not necessarily as their base defense. Denver has been seeking to upgrade at end, and to add more pass-rush potential, since losing Reggie Hayward to Jacksonville as an unrestricted free agent earlier this month. They are hopeful that Brown and Ekuban will provide dual upfield rush threats.
In six seasons, Ekuban, who played collegiately at North Carolina, has 151 tackles and 20½ sacks in 76 games. Ekuban is scheduled to earn base salaries of $2 million in 2005 and $3 million in 2006.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton and The Associated Press was used in this report.