The Denver Broncos bolstered their glaring weakness in the secondary this offseason by signing Pro Bowl free agent cornerback Aqib Talib. With shutdown corner potential, Talib’s playmaking ability will help Denver not only put the clamps on opposing receivers and tight ends, but also it will also help create more turnovers for a team with a historically great offense.
The Broncos are hoping that Talib’s physicality and toughness will rub off on the rest of the team, especially after their embarrassing loss in last season’s Super Bowl. Durability is a concern with Talib, but if defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio can keep him fresh for the postseason, the Broncos will be able to neutralize almost any offensive threat they face.
According to Football Outsiders, Denver was ranked 21st in pass defense last year in the regular season. This was partly due to teams throwing the ball more on the Broncos in order to keep pace with Denver’s historically potent offense, but a lack of true playmakers in the defensive backfield also played a large part. Injuries during the back end of the season depleted a secondary that was reliant on its depth in order to make up for its lack of star power. Losing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who had a very nice season for the Broncos, will be tough, but they won’t lose too much sleep over it after signing Talib.
Talib is a hard-nosed corner capable of shutting down an opponent’s No. 1 wide receiver or tight end for an entire game—an invaluable asset for any team. In today’s NFL, tight ends are such a mismatch for most defenses because they are too big for defensive backs and too quick for linebackers. Talib’s ability to cover the TE position will pay huge dividends when the Broncos play teams like New Orleans, San Francisco, New England, and Dallas.
Plucking the Pro Bowl cornerback from their arch rivals in New England also makes the signing that much sweeter for the Broncos.
Talib ended last season with four interceptions and one forced fumble in 13 games with the Patriots. The Broncos finished tied for 16th in the NFL in defensive takeaways last season. Adding a true No. 1 corner that can take away an opponent’s top threat, along with an improved pass rush and safety play, will only help in this department.
The Broncos have the advantage of knowing how most teams will attack them every week because of their No. 1-rated offense scoring quickly and in bunches. The majority of teams in the NFL cannot keep up with Denver’s pace and, therefore, must consistently try and throw the ball on Denver’s defense. Knowing this, the Broncos should be able to apply pressure on the quarterback and sit on routes to create turnovers. With the addition of Talib and other defensive pieces, the Broncos are hoping to see more turnovers created in the secondary.
After getting punked by the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, the Broncos were in desperate need of a more physical, tough identity for their football team. Adding Talib is absolutely a step in the right direction. His coaches and teammates raved about his leadership during his stay in Foxborough and Talib has an edginess to him that has hindered him at times, but it has also helped turn him into the player he is.
Signing Talib came at a somewhat large, and very long, price—six years and $57 million, to be exact. Though there are numerous incentive clauses in his deal, the Broncos created an out for themselves if their experience with Talib is unsatisfactory, according to USA Today. “Just $11.5 million of the contract is fully guaranteed and he’ll get all of it in 2014…the Broncos could cut Talib after this season, not pay him another dime, take a $4 million cap hit and move on.”
The biggest knock on Talib is his inability to stay healthy—especially when it matters most. Talib has had his past two seasons end unceremoniously in the AFC Championship game due to injuries. If he can stay healthy for the Broncos in the playoffs, his game-changing skills could be enough to get Denver over the hump this season. Fortunately for Talib, Wes Welker is on his team this year.