There is always talk about windows in the NFL. Windows close. They open. They partially open. They crack open so a nice breeze can blow through. Then there is what John Elway does to windows. He smashes them out of their frame with his boot.
Quarterback Peyton Manning has one or two years left. There's that window again. So what Elway has done is what Elway has always done—desperately, aggressively, passionately, fiercely try to win. This was The Drive. This was The Helicopter. As a player, Elway played—to borrow a phrase from Lawrence Taylor—like a bunch of crazed dogs. As a general manager, he is doing the same.
Signing Aqib Talib and then DeMarcus Ware is vintage Elway. An NFL source tells me Ware was signed to a three-year deal with $20 million guaranteed. This is about windows, but it's also about the personality of the man running the Broncos. He does nothing half-assed. As a result, Elway snagged Talib and Ware, and those signings give Denver the best moves of free agency thus far. And I don't think he'll be topped.
These moves are risky. The strategy better work out, because the Broncos could soon be in salary-cap hell. They could be the Raiders in a few years with no Manning and fat contracts invested in older players. But I think it will work, because almost everything Elway has done—his entire life, but especially as a general manager—has.
The crux of these moves is, of course, the Super Bowl. It wasn't just the Denver offense that got bullied and shoved. It was also that defense. The Broncos made a decent Seahawks offense look like Montana's 49ers.
There was always something missing from that Denver team overall, and it was toughness. Talib has been hurt. Talib has had some off-the-field issues, to be sure. There is risk in signing him to $26 million guaranteed. Still, not only have the Broncos added the best cover corner in the game today, a player I have watched, game in and game out, remove the best wide receiver from an opposing team's offense—they also added a tough, mean son-of-a-bitch.
And that's a good thing.
The Broncos need that infusion of nasty. They quickly collapsed once things went bad against Seattle, and there was no one there to pull the Broncos back from the ledge. They crumbled when shoved by a bunch of tough guys. Now, they have their own tough guy. Their own bully.
We know what Manning will do. He will put up 25 or 30 points every game. He will dominate the regular season. Maybe set a few records. We also know Manning isn't always the toughest mentally when things start to go bad in the playoffs. Talib is an infection that will spread across the entire team. A good infection. A franchise-altering one. He may even toughen up Manning.
It's also not just about helping the Broncos. What Elway also did was weaken a major competitor. Unless Bill Belichick can find even a pseudo-replacement, he can't run half of the defensive schemes he desires because they relied so heavily on Talib. If they find another Talib, that's different. Without Talib, that defense will be reduced to rubble.
Ware gives them another pass-rushing presence, a damn good one. T.J. Ward, another signing, is also solid.
When Elway lost those Super Bowls as a player, he lost because he was the only star on offense. Defenses could focus the majority of their tactics and resources on Elway. I remember Washington quarterback Doug Williams, who opposed Elway in one of those Super Bowls, saying he had never seen a player carry an entire team on his shoulders the way Elway did. Still, Elway fought.
Like he is now.
See you in the Super Bowl next year, Broncos.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.