Why the Broncos chose running back Mike Boone over Phillip Lindsay

Injuries, a need for impact special teams players and a desire for a pass-catching running back all led to Phillip Lindsay's exit from his hometown. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The timeline for running back Phillip Lindsay and his hometown Denver Broncos is filled with odd twists and turns that inevitably resulted in his departure.

Lindsay rushed for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019.

Despite that, the Broncos signed Melvin Gordon for two years and $16 million in 2020, just weeks after saying the organization would take a look at re-doing a contract they said Lindsay had out-played.

In 2021, the Broncos tendered Lindsay at the lowest possible level -- right of first refusal with no compensation for the Broncos if he was signed elsewhere.

Last week the Broncos signed Mike Boone who had 71 carries with the Minnesota Vikings during three seasons when new Broncos general manager George Paton was the Vikings' assistant GM. After discussions with Lindsay and his representatives, a decision was then made to rescind the tender and allow Lindsay to become an unrestricted free agent as both he and the Broncos posted very public goodbyes all over social media.

"He's been a great player here and he's been great in the community, he's one of the more popular players for the Broncos the last few years," Paton said this past Thursday. "And we wanted to let Phillip hit the market and maximize his value, so that's what we did. He deserves that."

On Friday night, Lindsay agreed to a deal with the Houston Texans.

When Gordon had DUI charges in Denver County Court dismissed last month any threat of a suspension from the NFL was largely removed for the upcoming season. And both in word, and in deed, since the end of the 2020 season, the Broncos have treated Gordon as if he is their No. 1 back and Lindsay was not.

Boone, who didn't get many carries as Dalvin Cook's backup in Minnesota, made his way as a special teams multi-tasker, which is the kind of player the Broncos do need on units that have struggled to reach even middle-of-the-pack status in recent years.

As he was formally introduced by the team Thursday, Boone found himself uncomfortably being referred to as the guy replacing Lindsay, the first player from the middle school program the Broncos sponsor in metro Denver to go on to play for the team.

"That's my boy, shout out to Phil. We trained together our rookie [year], coming into the NFL together," Boone said. "I'm here to be me. Shout out to Phil. Major respect and great athlete, but I'm just here to be me and do what I can.

"I'm excited," Boone added. "I'm thankful for the opportunity from George [Paton], from head coach Vic [Fangio]. I'm coming in to do whatever the organization asks of me, whether that's the No. 2 [running back] or special teams. Wherever they see me fit, I'm excited and I'll give my best effort towards it."

As free agency continues over the next few weeks, the Broncos could still grab another back, but it won't be Lindsay. Boil it down -- injuries, special teams and the desire for more potential impact in the passing game at running back -- and it all seemed to outweigh Lindsay's obvious explosiveness. Lindsay led the team in runs of at least 20 yards last season despite having 97 fewer carries than Gordon did.

Lindsay played 15 and 16 games respectively in his first two seasons in the league -- he started 16 in '19 -- but had wrist surgery after each of those seasons. This past season he had a concussion that de-railed his momentum in the offense as he finished the season on IR with knee and hip injuries.

He also, after an offseason when he had spent a great deal of time working on his receiving skills, turned 14 targets into just seven receptions in the passing game. Add in he played one special teams snap in the past two years combined and the recipe was in place for his departure.

Paton has referenced, both publicly and inside the Broncos' complex, the need for more players on offense to play on special teams.

"[Boone] is going to add some special teams to the offensive side of the ball, which we lack," Paton said Thursday. "I'm really excited to have Mike Boone here."

As a running back, beyond work in preseason games or the occasional flash filling in for Cook on a smattering of snaps, Boone's résumé is thin even as he hopes to have a more prominent role.

"I consider myself a one-cut back. I like to make my cuts and then get downhill," Boone said. "That fits the scheme of this offense and I feel like I can be versatile and come in and make the offense a little more explosive whenever my number is called."