After washing out with six NFL teams, and a stint in the failed AAF, Mike Purcell made the most of his opportunity with the Broncos in 2019. The Denver native made the team out of camp, earned a role on a vulnerable defense in Week 5 and proceeded to cement himself in the lineup at nose tackle.
While the Broncos consider Purcell’s proving round passed — as evidenced by the second-round tender ($3.25 million) the team placed on the restricted free agent Wednesday — the Highlands Ranch High School product is eager to build off his best professional season.
“I know the way I can perform, and I don’t believe I’ve ever gotten the full chance to really show what I can do in the NFL,” Purcell said in a telephone interview. “This past year gave me that opportunity to show it, and show it to a full extent. But I’m certainly not done yet.”
The 28-year-old entered the league in 2014 as an undrafted free agent out of Wyoming, latching on with Vic Fangio’s defense in San Francisco. He appeared in 25 games (eight starts) from 2014-16 with the 49ers, but then didn’t see regular season NFL action again until last year.
That absence included practice squad stints with Chicago, Carolina, New England and Kansas City in 2017, and then being cut by the Chiefs after training camp in 2018. So it’s easy to understand why Purcell views this week’s tender — the Broncos can now match any team’s offer to Purcell, and if they choose not to, they’d get a second-round pick — with zero sense of complacency.
“Coming here last year, in the same defense as I was in during my time in San Francisco, everything clicked and fell into place for me,” Purcell said. “With that considered, now I just want to make sure I can repeat that performance next year, and hopefully even add to that.”
The second-round tender salary isn’t guaranteed, but one possibility is Purcell signing a two-year contract that includes a guaranteed 2020 salary.
Considering Purcell was the Broncos’ top run defender in 2019, and that he led the team with 20.5 run “stuffs” (gain or one yard or fewer) despite playing less than half of the total snaps, Purcell’s return to Denver is a solid investment by John Elway. The general manager praised Purcell at the end of last season.
“We had a bunch of guys that stepped up, but Mike Purcell came in and was tremendous at nose guard,” Elway said.
Purcell was playing for the Salt Lake Stallions in the AAF at this time last year, but this NFL offseason, he gets to rest and re-build himself for the Broncos. That included a family vacation to Hawaii, heading to Mexico for Derek Wolfe’s 30th birthday bash, and hitting the weight room. Purcell is fully recovered from minor knee and rib injuries suffered in the latter half of 2019.
Speaking of Wolfe, Purcell knows the defensive line is bound to look much different next season. Both Wolfe and fellow defensive end Shelby Harris are free agents and unlikely to return to Denver, especially with this week’s trade for Tennessee Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey.
“We were a great unit and we had a good run — we gelled together, and (Wolfe and Harris) both had stellar seasons,” Purcell said. “They’re great players, and whether they sign back (with Denver) or whether they don’t, I’m excited for them and their career opportunities.”
Even with those likely departures, as well as cornerback Chris Harris Jr. signing with the Chargers, Purcell is high on Denver’s defensive prospects in 2020.
“(Casey) has been doing this for a long time, and he has the stats to prove it,” Purcell said. “The pass rush he brings, and his ability to stuff the run, there’s a reason he’s been to five Pro Bowls. Plus we get (Bradley) Chubb back (from knee injury), Justin Simmons is back (via franchise tag), Bryce (Callahan) is back (from foot injury). Next year will be different, but I think it will be a change for the better.”