There was an expectation that the Denver Broncos would sign a cornerback in free agency. Bringing back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seemed to be the most likely option. It came as a bit of a shock that they signed former New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib instead.
As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Broncos signed Talib to a six-year contract worth $57 million that includes a record $26 million guaranteed. That’s $9.5 million per year, and the total value of the deal is the second largest for a cornerback behind Darrelle Revis, per OverTheCap figures.
By devoting such a large chunk of money to Talib, the Broncos are making a clear statement that they aren’t going to hold anything back in an attempt to win a Super Bowl next season. It makes perfect sense because the Broncos’ window of opportunity to win with quarterback Peyton Manning continues to shrink.
The Broncos just don’t have time to develop quality players at every key position.
And general manager John Elway's mentality on free agency is one that can't be matched. ESPN 102.3's Eric Weidner quoted the Hall of Fame QB as saying:
It may seem like the Broncos are trying to buy a Lombardi Trophy in free agency, but that’s not the case. The money they gave Talib is similar to what they had been paying cornerback Champ Bailey over the last few years.
|Top Cornerback Contracts 2014|
|Player||Total (rank)||Guaranteed (rank)||Average Per Year (rank)||Guarantee Per Year|
|Aqib Talib||$57M (2)||$26M (1)||$9.5M (7)||$4.3M|
|Darrelle Revis (likely to change Wednesday)||$96M (1)||$0||$16.0 (1)||$0|
|Brandon Carr||$50.1 (3)||$25.5M (2)||$10.02M (2)||$5.1M|
|Vontae Davis||$39.0M (9)||$20M (5)||$9.75M (3)||$5.0M|
|Brent Grimes||$32.0M (14)||$16.95M (8)||$8.0M (12)||$4.23M|
The Broncos released Bailey in part because the team needed the $10 million he was going to make to sign a cornerback in free agency. Since Kayvon Webster will be inexpensive for the next few years, the Broncos have the unique luxury of being able to pay a productive veteran at the position. That free agent just so happened to be Talib instead of Rodgers-Cromartie.
According to Vic Lombardi of CBS-TV in Denver, the Broncos had an offer on the table to Rodgers-Cromartie for around $9 million per year but with less guaranteed money than Talib. The Broncos must have liked Talib better, so they took the opportunity to sign him instead of waiting to see if they could get Rodgers-Cromartie to agree to their terms.
The deal shouldn’t have too much impact on the Broncos’ ability to re-sign key players in the next couple of years. They structure their contracts in such a way that they can get out of them after a few years without significant cap ramifications.
With the cap rising so much in 2014 and with future increases expected, the Broncos will be in good shape to keep players they want when the time comes. NFL teams handed out over a billion dollars in contracts on Tuesday, per Bill Barnwell of Grantland—but the spending isn’t going to slow down any time soon.
What’s interesting about Talib is the risk involved for the Broncos because he has never played a full season in his six-year career. Last season, he played just 13 games, but he may have been injured for most of the year.
For the first six weeks of the season, Talib was fantastic. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave him positive grades in five of six games. In those six games, Talib intercepted four passes and defended five others. He also allowed just one touchdown and a completion percentage of only 39.4 percent.
|Aqib Talib Before/After Injuries 2012-2013|
|Split||Games||PFF Grade||TD||INT||PD||Comp. %|
|2013 Prior to Injury||6||+13.3||1||4||5||39.4%|
|2013 After Injury||9||-13.9||2||0||2||66.7%|
|2012 Prior to Injury||4||+4.6||1||1||6||66.7%|
|2012 After Injury||8||-4.7||2||1||3||63.6%|
Thereafter, Talib was much worse. PFF gave him just one positive grade the rest of the way. He broke up just two more passes and allowed two more touchdowns. He also allowed a completion percentage of 66.7 percent.
Talib had a similar problem in 2012 when he played well for the first month, was injured and then wasn’t as effective once he returned in Week 11. If he can stay healthy, there’s reason to believe he could help the Broncos achieve their goals, but any type of injury could slow him down.
Considering his history of injury and its demonstrated effect on his play, it’s surprising the Broncos would be willing to give Talib such a big contract. Assuming the guarantees are for injury, the Broncos could end up regretting the deal if he doesn’t elevate the defense.
The good news for Broncos fans is that Talib fits the defense quite well. Along with the addition of strong safety T.J. Ward, the Broncos have the makings of a good secondary.
The addition of a pass-rusher to complement Von Miller would help, but there are plenty of veterans looking for a contender to join. Shaun Phillips was a one-year stopgap that performed well for the Broncos last season. Denver could land DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen or another veteran and be in great shape.
With Talib and Ward on the books, the Broncos have made a significant dent in their $25 million in salary cap space in 2014, according to Spotrac. Still, the Broncos should have plenty of wiggle room and can afford to add a pass-rusher and several other role players.
Signing Talib was a good step in the right direction for the Broncos defense—even if he’s not a huge upgrade over what they had in Rodgers-Cromartie in 2014. The Broncos got a quality player at a position of need without hurting their ability to add a veteran pass-rusher or keep key free agents in the future.