ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos signed linebacker A.J. Johnson on Monday, less than three weeks after Johnson was acquitted of aggravated rape charges on July 27.
Johnson, who last played in a game in 2014 at the University of Tennessee, was added to the Broncos roster on Monday and participated in the team’s afternoon practice. He was suspended from the Tennessee football team in November 2014 after rape charges were filed against him and his former Vols teammate Michael Williams.
Johnson was not selected in the 2015 NFL draft and has not played since.
“A.J. hasn’t had the opportunity to play football for the last three years while resolving a serious legal matter,” Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway said in a statement. “We’ve had several conversations with him since he’s been cleared and have become very familiar with his background and character. Our organization is confident A.J. is ready to move forward and resume his playing career.”
The Broncos released linebacker Stansly Maponga to make room for Johnson on the roster.
“It was a three-year legal battle for this young man, he was cleared in June,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said after Monday’s practice. “He wants to play football again. We talked to a lot of his coaches … everyone spoke highly of him, so we’ll see … we’ll see how he fits in.”
Johnson and Williams were indicted in February 2015 after a woman said both men raped her during a party at Johnson’s apartment in the early morning hours of Nov. 16, 2014. Johnson and Williams were suspended from the team less than 48 hours after the party and never played for Tennessee again.
Johnson was a three-time All-SEC selection from 2011-14. He was a four-year starter in Knoxville whose 425 tackles ran second among any Volunteer since the school started keeping track of the statistic in 1970.
In 46 career games at Tennessee, he had 30½ tackles for loss, three sacks, an interception, 11 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. He posted double digits in tackles 23 times.
After a jury of seven women and five men found Johnson and Williams not guilty, Johnson said, “I just knew God was going to take care of it.”
The Broncos listed the 6-foot-2 Johnson at 243 pounds, but he said at his trial last month that he weighs 255 as he sought to revive his dream of playing in the NFL.
“We’ll see, it’s been three years since he’s actually played football,” Joseph said. “At that time three years ago, he was a serious prospect … we’ll see, he’s been here for three or four hours.”
First-year Broncos wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni was on the Tennessee coaching staff during Johnson’s time at the school. Joseph’s cousin, Terry Joseph, was also an assistant coach on that Tennessee staff.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.