The Broncos traded away one of the faces of the franchise, and are now hoping a local can help make up for his absence as a pass rusher.
Shortly after general manager George Paton sent Bradley Chubb to the Dolphins in a deadline deal last week that netted Denver a first-round draft pick, the Broncos immediately filled Chubb’s roster spot with outside linebacker Jacob Martin. The New York Jets traded the outside linebacker and a 2024 fifth-round pick for Denver’s 2024 fourth-round pick.
Martin called suiting up for his hometown team “surreal,” and believes he can immediately produce for the Broncos’ defense.
“I like to think of myself as a very rare style of player,” Martin said. “I’ve played in many different fronts in my career. I was a starter last year in Houston. The year before that, I rotated positions. And I‘ve taken a deep dive into the (Broncos) playbook — it’s pretty straightforward because the verbiage is pretty much the same as my time in Houston.”
Martin, who starred for Cherokee Trail from 2010-13, was drafted by the Seahawks in the sixth round in 2018. After appearing in all 16 games as a rookie, he was traded to Houston and spent three years there before signing with the Jets in March. Martin also has extensive experience on special teams over 69 career games (15 starts) with 15 sacks, seven forced fumbles and 72 total tackles.
The Aurora native slides into a new-look edge rushing unit following the departure of Chubb, who signed a five-year extension with the Dolphins after last week’s trade. While the Broncos wait on Randy Gregory to get healthy again (he hasn’t played since Week 4 due to a knee injury), Baron Browning and Nik Bonitto are penciled in as the starting outside linebackers. But there are questions about both.
Browning, who had 2.5 sacks across Weeks 6 and 7, has been dealing with a hip injury and didn’t play in the Week 8 win over the Jaguars in London. Nathaniel Hackett said he’s “day-to-day” as Denver evaluates his status leading into Week 10 against the Titans. Meanwhile, Bonitto — the Broncos’ top pick this year at No. 64 overall — didn’t debut until Week 3, but his rookie season has picked up steam lately with 1.5 sacks over the past two games.
Gregory is eligible to return to practice this week off injured reserve, but the Broncos have been mum on his timetable for a return to game action. That leaves Browning, Bonitto and Martin as the main edge-rushers, though the Broncos also have depth in Jonathon Cooper, a seventh-round pick last year.
Safety Justin Simmons expressed confidence in the edge rushers left on the roster.
“From a defensive standpoint, nothing changes for us,” Simmons said. “We have all the guys in the (edge-rushing) room to reach the goals that we want to reach as a defense. It’s going to be up to the leaders and the rest of the guys in that defensive room to kind of get this thing going for the second half of the season to get us into the playoffs.”
For Martin, who played against the Broncos in Week 7 at Empower Field, the return to Denver brings him full circle back to the stadium where he helped lead Cherokee Trail to the 2012 Class 5A state title game as a star defensive lineman. The Cougars fell 9-0 to Valor Christian, an experience Martin reminisced on a few weeks ago while wearing a Jets uniform in the visiting locker room at Empower Field.
“It was Cherokee Trail against vaunted Valor Christian and Christian McCaffrey,” Martin said. “It’s kind of a sore subject still, but it was a great memory. Obviously, it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, but it was a great time and it was a great team…There’s a lot of cool memories coming back to this place.”
Speaking of the McCaffreys, Martin comes from a Colorado football family that’s in rarified air considering his older brother, Josh, played six years in the league between the Chiefs, Buccaneers and Jets. That fact alone makes the Martins a first family of Cherokee Trail football.
“The Martin family was critical in that whole process of putting Cherokee Trail on the map,” said Legend coach Monte Thelen, who coached the brothers at Cherokee Trail. “There’s not many families here in Colorado who can say they had two sons have that have played in the NFL. Josh, Jacob and their brother Elijah were all essential in building our program.”
Thelen said Martin was “without a doubt under-recruited” coming out of Cherokee Trail. Martin landed at Temple after no one in the state besides CSU paid any attention to him.
“He always had a great attention to detail and was an explosive athlete, but I guess CU (and major Division I schools) thought he was too light as a down lineman (at about 215 pounds then),” Thelen said. “But he showed the signs he was going to keep growing into the explosive and big (6-foot-2, 242-pound) player you see today. He was driven to succeed, so no one who knows him is surprised about the success he’s had or the opportunity in front of him with the Broncos.”