Six games into a season he hoped would lead to a multi-year contract with the Broncos or another team, Shaq Barrett had a talk with himself.
His production was lacking with only one sack and one quarterback hit.
His confidence remained high, but something was amiss.
“After the Rams game, I just talked to myself about the way I was playing,” Barrett said. “I didn’t like it. I felt I was pressing too much, trying to force plays. I just had to relax and play the game.”
Barrett responded to his self-analysis. He had a sack in the win at Arizona and two pressures in the loss at Kansas City, which he hopes is a catalyst for the final seven games.
“I had to make plays without trying to make plays,” he said. “For some reason, I lost my drive of being an undrafted free agent and now I’m back to playing with that same drive and that same mindset again.”
Earning $2.914 million this year, Barrett knew a consistently productive season would equal, life-changing money.
Was that on his mind? Did the desire to flash cause him to play himself out of position?
“That was probably one of the things initially, me saying, ‘Hey, I have to make some plays to set myself up for the future,’” Barrett said. “But (the contract) is going to happen so I’m not worried about that anymore. I have to take care of things, game in and game out, and that will set me up.
“I’m not worried about free agency anymore, just helping the Broncos win.”
Barrett played only 21 snaps in the Broncos’ first two games, but he has played at least 19 snaps in the last seven games. For the year, he is playing 32.2 percent of the snaps (191 of 594).
For his play time, he’s been productive — 18 tackles (three missed tackles), five run “stuffs” (gain of three or fewer yards) and two sacks, hits and pressures apiece.
Barrett had a coverage sack of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson in Week 1 (4.69 seconds), but had just one hit (against Kansas City) over the next five games.
“I wanted to be the guy that made a play every time,” Barrett said. “I wanted it too badly. I was playing outside of myself instead of within myself, which is what I’m doing now and it’s worked out pretty good.”
If Barrett finishes the season strong and becomes a reliable situational pass rusher who can win around the edge or when matched up against a guard in the Broncos’ “NASCAR” package, the Broncos will have a decision to make.
Barrett and Shane Ray are both free agents. Based on a player’s availability, Barrett would be the easy choice — he’s played 57 consecutive games. Thumb and ankle injuries have limited Ray to only 15 of the last 27 games.
Because so many draft needs are clear (quarterback, offensive line and cornerback) and the shallow free agent edge rusher pool (Brian Orakpo, Dante Fowler, Dee Ford and a bunch of backups), the Broncos would be wise to re-sign Barrett or Ray and then use the offseason to get another look at undrafted free agent Jeff Holland, who is on the practice squad.
“The bottom line with Shaq is, he has always had exceptional skills,” linebackers coach Reggie Herring said last week. “When he brings it, he has the ability to be disruptive as a pass rusher. We hope to see that more out of him as the season progresses.”
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