ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' hopes that Randy Gregory could become an elite pass-rusher were dashed Wednesday, as the team planned to release the outside linebacker, coach Sean Payton confirmed.
"Something we felt was just best for our team right now timingwise,'' Payton said Wednesday. "It hasn't been finalized because, typically, before a transaction takes place, there may be some teams interested in a trade, but if any if that came to fruition ...
"We just felt some of our younger players and where we're going, it was best for our team."
Gregory and his representatives had asked for his release earlier this week, sources told ESPN. Payton, general manager George Paton and owner/CEO Greg Penner discussed Gregory's contract, his potential playing time and his mindset and decided that releasing him was the way to go, sources told ESPN.
"This was something we made and decided,'' said Payton, who denied that Gregory had requested the release.
Gregory, 30, signed a five-year, $70 million contract in March 2022. His $14 million base salary this season and another $5 million next season are fully guaranteed, according to the Roster Management System.
He was pulled from the starting lineup this past week versus the Chicago Bears and replaced by second-year outside linebacker Nik Bonitto. Gregory played 33 snaps on Sunday and finished with three tackles and one quarterback hit. He has just nine tackles in four games this season and one sack.
"We just felt like these other guys were playing better,'' Payton said. "It happens in this league. Shoot, we want the best players possible. There's was a combination of things, but yeah, those other guys stepped up and are playing better.''
The Broncos' defense is last or near last in the league in every major statistical category, including scoring defense, total defense and run defense. The defense is last in the league in ESPN's pass rush win rate at 30.5%.
Bonitto finished Sunday's win with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Jonathon Cooper.
Payton had said the team's outside linebackers, Gregory included, had been rushing too deep at times, allowing quarterbacks lanes to escape. Bonitto and Cooper are now the starters at outside linebacker.
Frank Clark (hip) has played in one game this season, and Baron Browning, who had arthroscopic knee surgery after OTAs, is still on the team's physically unable to perform list. The Broncos are hopeful both can return in coming weeks.
Undrafted rookie Thomas Incoom has had spot duty on defense, as well.
Gregory had not played more than 47 snaps in any game this season, with his highest total being 47 (64% of the defensive snaps in the game) in Week 2 versus the Las Vegas Raiders. He had not played more than half the defensive snaps in either of the past two games.
Gregory had vowed in training camp to have a better year than in 2022, when he played in just six games because of a knee injury suffered in Week 4 that required surgery. He also had a one-game suspension for throwing a punch at Los Angeles Rams lineman Oday Aboushi after a 51-14 Christmas Day loss; Gregory had been pulled from the contest after multiple penalties.
It's an enormous fall for Gregory in the Broncos' eyes. When he signed last year, the Broncos had hopes he could be a replacement for Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, who were traded in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Gregory has never played a full season in his career because of injuries as well as 54 games of suspensions for violations of the league's substance abuse policy. He has never started more than 11 games in a season and never finished with more than six sacks.