The Denver Broncos made arguably the biggest splash on the opening day in free agency. They kept free-agent wide receiver Andre “Bubba” Caldwell, but their biggest moves were the additions of safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib.
Ward was arguably their primary target once the floodgates opened up. His prior working relationship with director of pro personnel, Tom Heckert, made the connection easy.
The biggest shock was when the Broncos scooped everyone and added Talib. He was largely considered the best cornerback on the open market, and the signing in Denver sent shockwaves around the league.
On Wednesday, the Broncos showed they weren’t done yet.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Broncos came to an agreement with free-agent defensive end Demarcus Ware.
Filed to ESPN: Pending a physical, former Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware reached agreement with Broncos on 3-year, $30M contract include $20M gtd.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 12, 2014
This was another bold and high-priced move for the Broncos.
General manager John Elway had quite a bit to say before he introduced Ware to the Denver media.
We are absolutely thrilled to have a player like this, to be able to have the opportunity to have him come play for the Broncos because of the career that he’s had—seven-time Pro Bowler, [seven]-time All-Pro. We know from watching on tape how much more football he has in him. So we are extremely excited to have DeMarcus here. Also the ability and the leadership qualities that he’s going to bring to the defense, the toughness that he’s played with throughout his career—he is going to be able to get after the passer. He told [Secondary Coach] Cory Undlin, give him two-and-a-half seconds, he’ll be there in two-and-a-half seconds. I don’t doubt him when he says that (laughing). It really, truly is an honor to be able to say that DeMarcus Ware is now a Denver Bronco.
Ware has been one of the best pass-rushers in recent NFL history. His addition will give the Broncos a much-needed boost when rushing the quarterback.
His career totals include 576 tackles (445 solo), 117 sacks, two interceptions, 23 passes defensed, 32 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. Ware also compiled 16 tackles (10 solo), four sacks and one forced fumble in four postseason starts.
Ware checks in at 6’4”, 258 pounds. The 10-year pro has appeared in seven Pro Bowls. He started 140-of-141 regular-season games played during his first nine NFL seasons with the Cowboys.
Ware was so excited about being in Denver, he was shaking at the podium during his introduction.
I thank John Elway and Coach [John] Fox and [Owner] Mr. [Pat] Bowlen and the Broncos organization for this great opportunity. I’m really excited about it. I’m shaking right now. Just shows how ecstatic I am about this opportunity. Just being able to play with guys like [QB] Peyton Manning and [T Ryan] Clady and ‘Bay Bay’ (WR Demaryius Thomas). You can go down the list—[WR] Wes Welker—just the tradition that the Broncos have. Just being part of the tradition, it feels really good to be part of that.”
Let’s reflect on Ware’s football career to this point, while also looking ahead to what is next for the Broncos in free agency.
During his prep career, Ware was awarded for his play as a linebacker and wide receiver at Auburn High School. In addition to being a star on the football field, Ware also participated in baseball, basketball and track.
He began his college career as a reserve defensive end. As the years passed, Ware became a well-rounded player with time and experience.
An all-conference performer at Troy, Ware finished his collegiate career with 201 tackles, 27.5 sacks, 58 tackles for a loss and nine forced fumbles.
He ended his senior season in 2007 by leading the Trojans to their first-ever bowl appearance and earning Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. Starting every game at left defensive end, Ware led the team with 16 stops for losses of 54 yards along with 32 quarterback pressures.
He has accumulated seven double-digit sack totals during his nine seasons in Dallas. Ware owns the second-most sacks in the NFL since he entered the league in 2005. Coming out of Troy, the Cowboys decided to select him with the 11th-overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.
He is the Cowboys’ franchise sack leader. His 117 sacks currently rank 18th all time in NFL history. His 0.83 career sacks per game trail only Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White (0.85/game) among players appearing in at least 50 games.
His career-high 20 sacks in 2008 are tied for the eighth-most all time for a single season. In 2008, he became the first player since at least 1994 to post 15 sacks, 25 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles in a single season. In 2012, Broncos linebacker Von Miller became the second player to accomplish that feat.
Ware has been named an All-Pro selection by the Associated Press following seven of his nine seasons in the NFL. He also was named as a member of the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team.
Ware has the strength and length to get to the quarterback in a hurry. He’s a fluid and flexible athlete who can change direction without losing much speed.
He has an array of pass-rush moves to get to the quarterback, and Ware loves to set up tackles during the game. He has excellent snap anticipation and is an intimidating presence who will command regular double teams.
Ware can set the edge as a run defender. He can also make plays that go away from him. His long arms help him gather in ball-carriers that are running in the opposite direction.
He’s an instinctive player who does an excellent job of peeking in the backfield. He diagnoses plays quickly, and Ware has a great understanding of blocking angles and how to win with leverage.
Most of all, Ware has incredible desire on the football field.
At 31 years old, Ware’s best days are behind him. Many are wondering what he could possibly have left in the tank after a career-low six sacks in 2013.
Durability is a concern for Ware after he battled through an elbow injury last season. At his press conference, Ware commented on how the injury slowed him down.
The first few games it was fine. I had four sacks in the first two games. Then it started getting a little bit worse and it was more like an older nerve. Sort of like when you sort of hit your funny bone every single time. So going against a tackle, it was pretty painful, but I got through the season with it. Now, I had the surgery. I don’t have that feeling anymore. I feel really good about it and I’m just glad that it’s behind me now.
Ware had surgery on the elbow earlier this offseason, and he’s well on the road to recovery.
How Does He Fit in Denver?
Ware will be an immediate starter, and he should be an immediate impact player for the Broncos. He’ll provide a strong pass-rush opposite Miller, and Ware can also set the edge as a run-defender.
His addition means that Robert Ayers is unlikely to come back to the Broncos in 2014. Ware is far superior to Ayers as a pass-rusher, and even at his advanced age, a better run defender too.
Adding Ware means the team may not be able to retain Shaun Phillips. Many expected the team to keep Phillips around after he led the team in sacks with 10 in 2013.
The Broncos get an added benefit with Ware—his leadership. He can be a mentor for Miller on and off the field. This added bonus is really beyond price if it gets the best out of Miller.
What’s Next for the Broncos?
Now that they’ve added a pass-rusher, the Broncos should continue to focus on the defensive side of the ball. This next wave of free agency could see them add a middle linebacker.
Daryl Smith is arguably the best middle linebacker on the open market. The veteran is smart, tough and knows how to “scrape and flow” to get to the ball quickly. Smith also has experience working under Jack Del Rio from their days together in Jacksonville.
In addition to adding a middle linebacker, the team may turn their attention to the wide receiver position. Some players the Broncos could have interest in at that position include Hakeem Nicks (Giants), Kenny Britt (Titans) or Brandon LaFell (Panthers).
This free agency season has been full of moves on the defensive side of the ball. The Broncos have seriously improved that side of the ball with only a few moves. The next wave of free agency will see them add bits and pieces to both sides of the ball.
Adding Ware was by far was the highest praised move by Broncos Country. Here’s what a few fans had to say on Twitter.
@cecillammey The last 24 hours have rescued me from my post SB depression. Von on one side, Ware on the other......scary! Thanks, Mr. Elway!— Shawn Cathcart (@mizzoupoke) March 12, 2014
@cecillammey Love it! He wants to win as badly as Peyton and Elway...— Lon Anderson (@Landers07) March 12, 2014
@cecillammey 2 Words … Super Bowl— Eduardo Murillo (@LEG1ONOFDOOM) March 12, 2014
@cecillammey Small window, why not? Could be ugly in three years. Win a Bowl it works.— eric lavine (@ericlavine) March 12, 2014
Blockbuster doesn’t even begin to describe the Broncos’ activity in free agency. Elway has a clear plan in place—not only for players, but what he’s willing to spend at a position.
The mantra for the Broncos is clear; go all in while Peyton Manning is your quarterback.
No team has made it back to the Super Bowl after losing since the Bills did it way back in 1993. The 2013 season ended bitterly for the Broncos, but they are making the moves to insure that doesn’t happen again.
Ware summed it up best on Wednesday. When asked about the statement the Broncos have made with this flurry of big-name additions, Ware said, “I think the thing is we’re trying to make a statement. A statement that we’re a team this year to be reckoned with. It hurt hard enough playing as well during the regular season and not being able to finish, and they’re saying we’re going to act right now and not let that happen again.”
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. All contract information for individual players is from Spotrac.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.