Exclusive: here is an inside look at the Denver Broncos’ front offices during a strategic meeting this off-season.
The Broncos, along with every other team in the league, will make most of their impact moves in two windows of time. The first is free agency and the second is the upcoming draft. As we know by now, John Elway and the Denver front office made quite the splash in free agency. With some time for consideration, let’s break down the moves and just how “all in” the Broncos are.
The totally reasonable, totally necessary move
The Broncos sign safety T.J. Ward to a four-year, $23 million deal.
Excited to announce we’ve agreed to terms with strong safety T.J. Ward. He’ll bring energy and toughness to our secondary.
— John Elway (@johnelway) March 11, 2014
It’s almost difficult to dub this as one of the “all-in” moves, as it was a steal financially for the Broncos. They got one of the best safeties on the market, filling a huge need by adding the former Cleveland Browns standout. The support he will bring in the run game is elite, and he will be a significant upgrade on the back end as well.
The Broncos entered the off-season with a clear understanding that they need to improve their defense, especially their secondary. This was step one, and while it was more understated than the others, it was just as important.
The move that could make this a top-5 defense
The tales of Ware’s decline seem overstated indeed; only two seasons ago Ware recorded 11.5 sacks, and three years ago that number was 19.5 sacks. He missed the first three games of his entire career this past season, meaning he was playing through injury for much of the time he was on the field.
If Ware is 85-90% of the player he was a couple years ago, with Von Miller taking much of the attention and double teams on the other side of the line, this is the kind of move that could turn the Broncos into one of the best defenses in the NFL. On its own that pass rush won’t be enough, however, which brings us to…
The riskiest, highest variance, true all-in move
The Broncos sign Aqib Talib to a six-year, $57 million deal
Talib has the goods to be the best cornerback in all of football. Yes that includes Darrelle Revis and yes that includes this guy.
The problem is, between health and issues off the field, Talib has never been able to sustain that elite level of play for a full season (or even half a season for that matter).
At first blush this deal looked downright crazy, especially with the fact that it had the highest guarantee ever given to a corner. It turns out that Elway pulled some more of his contract wizardry and that this could end up being a deal more along the lines of the one-year, $12 million deal that Revis ended up getting from the Patriots.
It’s still risky. If Talib puts together 16 games as a top corner he will live up to his contract. It will justify Denver’s decision to go with him instead of some of the other understated but more predictable free agents at the corner position. But if Talib falls off for one reason or another, it will leave Denver thin in the secondary once again. Presumably Elway and the front office will account for this risk in the upcoming draft, but that doesn’t change the fact that this Talib deal is high-high risk and high reward.
The Broncos likely have two years to take their best shot with Manning. Because of their offense they are a safe bet to make the playoffs regardless. That leaves them in the position to make risky moves on the defensive side of things that, if they pop, will make them Super Bowl worthy. It seems silly to say the Broncos are “all-in,” because the immediacy of today’s NFL means (almost) every team is all-in every year.
What it does mean is that the Broncos had the chance to gamble on upside on the defensive side of the ball, the kind of upside to try and create a Super Bowl worthy defense in one off-season. It may or may not work out, but that looks like the philosophy behind the moves, a philosophy the Broncos hope is the difference between being one of the best teams in the AFC and being world champs.