ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Menelik Watson chose Denver in free agency not just for the $18-plus million contract over three years but also the chance to work with the Broncos’ renowned training staff.
Yet, Watson’s first season in Denver was marred by injury just like his four years in Oakland were and the Broncos placed him to injured reserve Wednesday with a torn foot tendon he sustained Sunday in Philadelphia. He was also bothered by a strained calf that sidelined him against the Chargers last month and limited him at practice.
When Watson signed he said he was lured by the chance to work with the Broncos’ training staff led by strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson: “That is why I’m here,” Watson said in March. “We’ve got the best strength staff in the world.”
Yet, after a series of injuries in Oakland limited him to an average of just 6.75 games a year with the Raiders, Watson played in just seven games this season in Denver.
Although he was dominant at run-blocking, Watson struggled in pass protection like the rest of Denver’s O-line. The Broncos’ 28 sacks allowed are among the most in the league.
Coach Vance Joseph insisted Watson’s long injury history wasn’t a red flag when the Broncos targeted him in free agency even though he’d been hurt every year in an NFL career dotted with calf and groin injuries and a ruptured Achilles tendon that sidelined him all of 2015.
“Most of his issues were soft tissue stuff. It was hamstring, it was calf injuries. Those things are preventable,” Joseph said. “So, I wasn’t overly concerned when we signed him.”
Joseph said Watson would have missed at least six weeks with conservative treatment plan and surgery would end his season, so “we thought as a team it was best for him to go down and to bring a fresh body in for us.”
So, the Broncos signed free agent tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (pronounced KWAN-jo), who was Buffalo’s second-round pick out of Alabama in 2014 but struggled for playing time with the Bills and also dealt with injuries.
“He is a big guy, a talent and a former second-round pick,” Joseph said of the 6-foot-7, 325-pound newcomer. “He’s a young guy. It’s definitely worth bringing him in and looking at him. He’s a young guy with no miles on him.”
Kouandjio had hip surgery in January after falling at his home and the Bills released him in May, a month after police found him partially clothed wandering in a field.
“I’m excited about Denver. I like Denver. It’s fun, it’s a nice city and it’s high altitude,” Kouandjio said. “I think it’s the first team I ever played Madden with as a child.”
Joseph, who wasn’t sure if Watson would elect to have surgery, said it would be hard for Kouandjio to play Sunday when the Broncos (3-5) host the New England Patriots (6-2). So, 10-year veteran guard Allen Barbre is expected to make his second start at right tackle this weekend.
Swing tackle Donald Stephenson returned to practice Wednesday after missing a month with a torn calf although center Matt Paradis (back) and right guard Ron Leary (elbow) were held out.
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