Why Broncos' John Elway values getting players via trades over free agents

Casey fills need for Broncos defensive line (0:46)

Jeff Legwold analyzes what the signing of Jurrell Casey means for the Broncos defense. (0:46)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have been busy this month, but not just on the open market.

While they spent the bulk of their free-agency money on offense, the Broncos also bolstered their defense through trades by adding cornerback A.J. Bouye in exchange for a fourth-round pick and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey for a seventh-round pick.

Each player has reached the Pro Bowl -- Bouye once and Casey five times -- and each deal cost the Broncos a single draft pick.

The acquisitions also kept Broncos general manager and president of football operations John Elway's trade streak alive.

The trades for Bouye and Casey make it 10 consecutive years in which Elway has made at least one deal to acquire a player (as opposed to a trade for a draft pick). In all, Elway has made 17 trades during his tenure to acquire players, which is the seventh most in the league since he took the job in 2011.

According to ESPN Stats & Information data, the Broncos' total is well behind the two most active teams since 2011 -- New England Patriots (42 trades to acquire players in the deals) and Philadelphia Eagles (32) -- but it still makes Elway one of the most active executives in this regard.

"Trades, you have to look at a lot of things," Elway said earlier this year. "There's if you think the guy is a fit, does it make sense in the contract and what are you giving up? A lot of times you start to talk about [a trade] and what people want just doesn't make sense for us. It has to make sense -- is it worth trying for what you're giving up? -- and it has to be a guy we think could help us if it all works out."

Bouye and Casey will be walk-in starters for the Broncos. Casey, who brings a four-year, $60.4 million deal he signed with the Tennessee Titans, is a significant investment. That contract is the biggest reason the Broncos were able to acquire a five-time Pro Bowl selection and six-time team captain for a seventh-round pick.

The Broncos had tried to negotiate with former Houston Texans defensive tackle D.J. Reader, but they bowed out before Reader agreed to a $53 million deal with the Cincinnati Bengals and moved on to acquire Casey. They considered Bouye -- a player Broncos coach Vic Fangio had wanted the Bears to acquire when Fangio was Chicago's defensive coordinator -- a better fit financially and in their scheme than some of the front-line names at the position in free agency.

"Most definitely, it feels good to be wanted," Bouye said. "I'm definitely excited. [Fangio has] done great things at Chicago, and he's doing them there in Denver. I'm definitely looking forward to that. That's pretty much what I can say about it. It feels good when you're wanted."

Bouye and Casey are upper-tier guys, but most of the time Elway has traded for middle-tier players. His successes include place-kicker Brandon McManus, whom the Broncos acquired for just a conditional seventh-round pick in 2015, and tight end A.J. Derby, who had 35 catches in 15 games for the Broncos.

That's not say every deal Elway has made has been perfect. The Broncos sent a fourth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens a year ago for quarterback Joe Flacco, believing Flacco would calm the rough waters at the position since Peyton Manning's retirement in 2016. Flacco lasted eight starts, suffered a herniated disc in his next, finished the season on injured reserve and was waived last week with a failed physical designation.

The deal for safety Su'a Cravens in 2018 didn't work out; he ended up playing five games, as he and the coaches never really saw eye-to-eye.

Then there was guard John Moffitt in 2013, who suddenly retired during that season citing health concerns and his frustration with playing in the NFL.

Still, Casey and Bouye have an opportunity -- if they play close to their best seasons -- to be the best deals Elway has made. Elway has always said he likes to find players "with a chip on their shoulders" in free agency or trades, which can be how some players, especially those with some of the better résumés, react to being traded to a new team.

"It made me super motivated," Casey said this past week. "You're always surprised when it happens. It definitely was a shocker, but you know, it is part of the business. Would I say I expected it? No. But did I know it possibly could come? It's just how business works ... and business has got to be done."