By Chad Jensen

(247 SPORTS) – The Denver Broncos stunned many fans when they traded away a 2019 fifth-round pick during the NFL Draft to acquire linebacker Dekoda Watson from San Francisco. The 10th-year veteran was just as surprised, but pleasantly so, to return to the team he spent the 2016 season with.

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“It was kind of like a sigh of relief to be honest with you,” Watson said Tuesday following OTAs. “When you find out that you get traded you really don’t have a say to where you’re going. To be able to hear that they made some kind of deal to be able to come back to the Broncos was something phenomenal. They could have [traded] me anywhere else. To be able to go back to a system that you really, truly love and had a great time when [I] was here is nothing but a blessing.”

Dakoda Watson (credit: CBS)

Watson spent the 2016 season with the Broncos, leading the team in special teams tackles and notching a sack and forced fumble as a rotational pass rusher behind DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Following the Broncos’ 9-7 finish, which was just short of making the playoffs, Watson signed a three-year, $6 million deal with the Niners.

Although some questioned the Broncos giving up a fifth-rounder to acquire Watson, the team lept at the opportunity because of the intangibles he adds to the equation. Watson is a great locker room guy and an inspirational leader.

With both Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray departing in free agency, the Broncos felt like they needed someone more proven than Jeff Holland to back up Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Watson fits the bill, while also providing versatility and those intangibles as a bonus.

David Fales of the Chicago Bears is sacked in the end zone for a safety by Dekoda Watson of the Denver Broncos at Soldier Field on Aug. 11, 2016. (credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

He has experience playing off-ball linebacker, brings pass-rushing acumen and special teams prowess to the table. Watson doesn’t care what his role ends up being in Denver, or what Vic Fangio and company ask him to do. He’s just grateful to be a Bronco again and be back in the Mile High City.

“Whatever role that comes with that, playing special teams, I’m all for it,” Watson said. “One thing I know that I really want to make sure that I give to the younger guys and a lot of the young players—even the rookies—is that you can make a lot of money and a lot of your bones and a lot of your opportunities come from how hard you play on special teams. I’m a living testimony for that.”

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As a 2010 seventh-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Watson had to scratch and claw to earn a role. It started by distinguishing himself on special teams, but it didn’t end there.

Watson played out his rookie contract with the Bucs as a spot-starter and rotational linebacker. From there, he bounced around the league a bit, landing in places like Jacksonville, Dallas and New England before the Broncos scooped him up in 2016. His stint in Denver gave him the opportunity to earn what was for him, the biggest payday of his career with the Niners.

“I’ve been doing it for 10 years, and I’m still holding on,” Watson said. “I’m glad that I didn’t think that I was too good for it [special teams]. I’m glad that I didn’t think I was over it. And to be able to bring some excitement wherever I go when it comes down to special teams is something truly special. I just want to continue to be able to do that as long as I can.”

Watson will dutifully execute whatever role(s) the Broncos give him. And he’ll do his part to bring along the rookies and young players. In that sense, having Dekoda Watson is almost having another coach out on the field, similarly to DeMarcus Ware.

Now sporting the jersey No. 56, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Watson make a much larger contribution on defense this year than he did in his only season as a Bronco. Fangio, like most coaches, loves a savvy vet with experience who possesses X’s and O’s acumen. Watson will probably be the first outside linebacker off the bench to spell Miller or Chubb.

“I’m excited to be here, period,” Watson said. “I don’t care about all that other stuff that you said. No disrespect [referring to hoping for a bigger role than he had in 2016]… I’m going to enjoy the players that are here. It’s truly a blessing to be able to play in this league, to be able to say, ‘I played with this person, played with that person, did this.’ I know I’ve been around a few times, but at the same time, one thing that I can’t take out of it is the relationships I’ve built along the way. So when I do have this opportunity—when it’s dealing with a young guy, dealing with an old vet—what relationships can I [build]? What can I do to get you to trust me, to know that I have to do whatever I have to do no matter what the situation? And we’ll continue to get some W’s around here. And that’s what I go in with. It’s an honor to have played with [former Broncos OLB] Shaq [Barrett], an honor to play with [former Broncos OLB] Shane Ray, [former Broncos OLB] DeMarcus Ware—still talk to him to this day. Those are the relationships that will live on forever.”

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That quote alone exemplifies the caliber of football player — nay, the quality of man — the Broncos acquired via trade on draft day. Watson missed a lot of time in San Fran due to injuries, but since he’s slimmed down to the 250-pound range, I like his odds of staying healthy and available for the Broncos.