Jamaal Charles, Broncos stay patient, see it pay off with perfect fit

Jamaal Charles had been waiting a while for a second NFL team to sign him. The Broncos were a little late to add running back help.

That makes them a match made for the final wave of 2017 NFL free agency.

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For Charles, released by Kansas City on the last day of February, Denver's delayed decision to sign him — ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Tuesday evening the Broncos gave Charles a one-year deal — ends two months of wondering whether, at age 30, he would get a chance to play another NFL down.

Before Charles got his chance, he saw the Raiders (Marshawn Lynch) and Saints (Adrian Peterson) choose other big-name, aging backs. His one early suitor, the Seahawks, went with Eddie Lacy. The Eagles, an expected suitor, went the way of the draft and used a fourth-rounder on scatback Donnel Pumphrey.

The Broncos, despite a backfield need, didn't really pursue any notable veteran, old or young. They waited until the sixth round of the draft to go the rookie route with smaller small-school back De'Angelo Henderson.

But Denver still needed someone to challenge for a viable role right away. Charles' continued lack of employment could not have been more convenient.

Jamaal Charles


C.J. Anderson, the Broncos' presumed returning lead back, is coming off right knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Second-year man Devontae Booker, who showed some flashes but struggled with pass protection and ball security, was overwhelmed as a rookie.

Although the Broncos' blocking bears significant blame, Anderson and Booker combined were ineffective making up the league's No. 27 rushing attack in 2016. Beyond that, Anderson and Booker provided little as receivers, with only 47 combined receptions.

That won't fly under new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who is ready to ramp up the passing game. Dump-offs and other quick passes to backs in 2017 will be a much bigger part of what Denver does. In the running game, with McCoy and new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, the Broncos are transitioning from zone blocking to gap-based power blocking.

Both the passing attack and the run-blocking scheme fall in line with Charles' strengths. The Broncos can't afford to trust Booker in a bigger role or give Henderson too much of one early in his career. Charles is looking at a No. 2 role at worst as the preferred primary insurance to Anderson.


As Anderson and Booker adjust to an altered scheme and rebound from their respective adversities, Charles is an ideal, low-risk, high-reward signing. The only question mark regarding Charles' production in Denver in a complementary role is health. But at this point, it's not like his immediate durability is more questionable than that of Anderson.

Throughout the offseason, it had been uncertain whether the Broncos would go big and bold to address their backfield. It came down to being aggressive early in the draft and selecting either Christian McCaffrey or Dalvin Cook. They picked neither.

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It's not surprising, with shrewd John Elway running things, that the Broncos waited to go more understated in improving their running back situation — especially given how they've stayed the course at quarterback.

Charles' versatility and leadership are bonus assets that made him attractive as an older back. It also doesn't hurt that signing with the Broncos gives him a chance to run hard against the Chiefs a couple times in the loaded AFC West.

Things were looking bleak for Charles, but he got a perfect ending; a chance to continue his career with a contender.

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