Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How the Broncos Fared with Free Agency Additions, NFL New Year, 2014

Broncos' free agency scorecard: Arrivals

In the it-seems-like-a-lot-longer department, NFL free agency will have been open for about a month by the time Wednesday afternoon rolls around.

And for the +Denver Broncos those six days were filled with plenty of negotiations and some big checks. As Broncos’ executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has put it, it was all in the name of filling “glaring needs’’ on the roster. The idea, Elway said, is to have enough salary cap space to participate in free agency if you wish, limit the dead money (salary cap charges for players no longer with the team) and position the Broncos to look at the draft board in May and select the best players available with each pick instead those who are needed the most.


What did he sign for? Four years, $22.5 million, $5 million to sign

Why him? Ward estimated he played “about 70 percent of the time’’ down in the box for the Cleveland Browns last season. And that’s just the kind of presence the Broncos want, and need, in a defense that spends much of its time in specialty looks.

He had 112 tackles last season in that role and will bring some toughness into the team’s secondary. The Broncos do prefer their safeties to be interchangeable if possible and able to line up as strong safeties in some situations and play out in coverage more as free safeties at times as well.

This will be the player, the casual fan suddenly falls in love with because of his intensity, physicality, and generally, great play that they overlooked (or did not really know of him) because of the other big splash free agent signings. He has just started his prime as well. Outside of Jarius Byrd, Ward was the best available safety and probably the best run support safety in free agency. The +Denver Broncos defense was more of an aberration than most last year. They've got talent at all positions and with the type of home field they've instituted as well as the NFL's record setting offense to use to their advantage. The main focus is stopping the run so teams cannot keep them off of the field. But creating takeaways and the turnover battle was the sole negative attribute to the AFC Championship squad. The special teams are included in that category as a turnover on special teams or even an allowed return is as good as a pick 6. These plays are that evident in teams win percentage when getting one or allowing one. 

What happened in the Super Bowl, they effectively turned it over 8 times in that game, by the special teams analogy mentioned above. They ranked #2 in the NFL the year before with a much healthier defense and the Broncos have as much talent, if not more on this side of the ball, when healthy. Elway did his usual thing, the first signing was a significant player, a bit unknown, but a major addition that will be a significant strength for them. Last year it was Louis Vasquez as +BRONCOS CR3W was very happy with. Similar to signing Ward. With a healthy Rahim Moore, Talib, Von Miller, Chris Harris, Pot Roast, Danny Trevathan, DeMarcus Ware, Sly Williams and co., they are a list of very stout, stellar defensive players.

While the game film shows Ward has clearly played the role of strong safety far more in his career, he has the ability to drop into coverage when asked. It was no accident he was the Broncos’ first target when the bidding began and after the team initially believed Ward would be out of their price range, the two sides found a deal to their liking.

Ward has $7 million guaranteed in 2014 with the potential for a $4 million guaranteed next March and a potential $2.5 million guaranteed in March of 2016.

At the moment Ward projects as the Broncos’ strong safety with Rahim Moore, former +UCLA Bruins standout, returning at free safety. Ward could also line up as a weak-side linebacker in some of the Broncos’ specialty dime (six defensive backs) and seven-defensive back looks.

Grade = A (9.5/10) (if a rating on a scale of 1 to 10 clarifies it better for some)

CB Aqib Talib

What did he sign for? Six years, $57 million, $5 million to sign.

Why him? Talib represents the Broncos’ biggest gamble in free agency. The deal is far more salary-cap friendly for the team than was initially believed when the numbers were first floated after the two sides agreed to terms.

If Talib plays every game in ’14 he gets $12 million guaranteed this season -- signing bonus, roster bonus and base salary to go with another potential total of $500,000 in game-by-game bonuses. If for some reason things don't go as hoped for them, the Broncos can part ways after ’14 with limited salary cap implications and the potential impact goes down significantly each year after that.

But Talib has never played 16 games in a season. He has said the hip injury many have cited -- that’s how the +New England Patriots listed him this past season on the injury report -- was not, in fact a hip injury, but rather a thigh injury and that he’s “100 percent’’ on his arrival to the Broncos.

He has top-level speed, has matched up with some of the league’s best -- he held the Saints’ Jimmy Graham without a catch last season -- and plays with a physical edge. It’s all needed in the Broncos defense and why the Broncos moved so quickly last Tuesday night when apprised of Talib’s interest in them.

But the injury issue is there. If he can consistently stay on the field, however, it’s a win at a high-need position for Broncos. Regardless, the +Denver Broncos released franchise All-Pro CB, Champ Bailey, and were in need of placing a top CB in the +NFL on their roster. Talib offers a lot of versatility. Much like +BRONCOS CR3W have mentioned on many occasions about Chris Harris. Talib is even a little bigger and longer. Giving the Broncos a CB that can go inside and play the slot WR/TE or go on the outside.

DRC provided the Broncos with an unexpected necessity of having a top CB in the lineup with all the injuries they suffered. Albeit, the Broncos pass defense was a below average 19th in the NFL last year. Talib, not only was plucked from the +New England Patriots as mentioned but also is signed to multiple years entering his prime. Many sources confirmed the Broncos had a very similar type offer to DRC, who signed later with the +New York Giants for much less. Elway isn't about to take a 'siesta' when the NFL "New Year" begins. If DRC hadn't panned out, they could have been looking at FA CB's that are not of that caliber and/or hoping to replace that big of piece through the draft. Fortunately, Elway doesn't play 'wait and see' and landed Talib who was a big time asset for the Patriots, now wearing Orange. Patriots were fortunate to land Darrelle Revis after being released and many sang the praises of Belichick, but overreacting would be putting it nicely. Originally thought to be 1 year, it is a 2 year deal with a significant cap hit. Manu oblivious statements like, "Broncos mortgage..." their cap and future by the contracts they putting out there.

For those paying attention though, after much more research into the specifics of the contracts and the cap space they were taking a hit on or risking next year or the following year showed nothing really of the sort. They were paying Champ a similar salary and released him. Essentially just retaining that contract. Cap space increases over the last two years and what is expected to be more again next. Silly thing is that if that were the case, why didn't the Broncos overspend on Decker, D'Qwell Jackson (now an +Indianapolis Colts LB), and Zane Beadles (+UTES CR3W). Basically scaling out the losses and releases to the additions of current free agent contracts, cap space. Looking into the cap for the following few seasons and Elway emphasized this by the jump to the conclusions, breaking second news reporters that often knee jerk react instead of waiting to hear out details. Not a surprise, "Elway Effect" is becoming a common phrase by the ability to land the big name free agents and navigating the salary cap to do so.

Talib is one of the best CB in the game and although +BRONCOS CR3W often referred to Chris Harris as the best kep secret in the NFL for CB's and thanks to Chris Harris and his awesome play, it is no longer remaining a secret. Some gasped at the signing bonus etc, but the bones includes a significant payout if he were to suffer a career ending injury. Writing in between the lines that no tweet or short paragraph posts from +Bleacher Report+FanSided, and/or +RantSports that has no depth or clarity. Just a headline grabber to stir the 'millenial' troll pot a little bit and to get a page driven click. We declare on the outset that we are not gonna blow minds with most articles, but we will do some diligence in the title or opening paragraph as to the nature of our posts. Read some headline from +Bleacher Report and it end up being completely irrelevant or lacking any cool graphic. pic. They are fairing off well and we enjoy some of their posts, but many of them use +Pro Football Focus rating to 'make it appear' like there is depth to their analysis with all PFF does it make rating that are so badly based from the out set, we are baffled they even attempt to pass them off as valid analysis or statistical analysis. That's the rag on the blog culture out there for the Broncos CR3W, "Monday Already" segment to roll out down the road.

It is the 3rd offseason 'pundits' have spoken such.  Elway certainly was adamant about that and he also has no fear of being fired or let go as a GM. Elway does not rely on this to give him creed for future GM slots around the league. This IS Elway's Broncos'. It's only appropriate that the team he would spend so much time performing his job is the franchise the he himself built as a Hall of Fame QB of the Broncos. Elway isn't afraid of being fired, he is an extremely successful philanthropist, entrepreneur, and business owner. He is not concerned about that or being fired and in some way, may gives him an advantage because Elway is a "football player" at heart. He always said that to critics during his playing days. He did not think of himself as a QB, he was a football player, first and foremost.

Grade: A (9.5/10)


What did he sign for? Three years, $30 million, $5 million to sign.

Why him? The Broncos had red-alert issues on the depth chart in the secondary and at defensive end when free agency opened. In terms of initial guaranteed money, the Broncos dove in with more for Ware than they gave to Talib.

Ware has $16.5 million guaranteed out the gate, including his $3 million base salary in ’14, his signing bonus, another $5 million bonus and $3.5 million guaranteed in his $7 million base salary for 2015. Ware also has and additional $6.5 million worth of potential guarantees in 2015 if he’s on the roster on the fifth day of the league year.

That’s a big commitment to a player who will soon be 32 years old, but the Broncos see a player with 117 career sacks who has missed just three games in his career and who was playing at a high level until he tried to play through an injury last season. Ware had elbow surgery early in the offseason and says “I’m ready to go’’ for the Broncos.

He’s a potential every-down player for the Broncos, but they will monitor how they use him to maximize his impact. A powerful and accomplished lead-by-example guy they believe will help mentor Von Miller as well as 2013 draft pick Quanterus Smith.

Broncos CR3W will be honest, at first, this signing and the expediency of it. Ware went through his first season with nagging injuries costing him playing time and quality of play. That said, Ware is not in his mid 30 that many start to see that decline of performance unfolding. He is still 31 and has pep in his step. He is very good rushing the passer obviously but he can remain in there for rushing personnel as well. Rushing the pass was possibly the biggest variable the Broncos need to address after coming up short in Super Bowl XLVIII last season vs the +Seattle Seahawks. Von Miller tore his ACL late in the season last year. Kevin Vickerson, Derek Wolfe were on IR as well. The signing in the secondary would be reckless if they didn't address this and the addition of Ware was massive. Peyton's window is shrinking as many would say. Without a pass rush and man know, Von Miller could be the best in the league when he is at his best. Miller demands double teams often and that luxury will be much tougher with possibly the best pass rushing interior DT's in the NFL, Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton, last year's #1 pick, Sylvester Williams, and a markedly improvement by Malik Jackson who can go outside and play DE on downs. The draft has some very deep talent and prospect pool for nearly all positions and many consider, as do we, the best draft class in 15 to 20 years. Initially, we gave this a B (8/10)

Grade: A- (9/10)

Miller's return is unknown and it could be very possible to see him need next season to get that last 5% that some with ACL repairs find missing less than a year removed from an ACL repair. Chris Harris suffered a torn ACL too, but he did not tear the MCL or PCL, so many suspect his return should be quicker an easier way to find the remaining 5% from that 100%. There's only one Adrian Peterson that comes back from 6 months removed of ACL surgery and is better than ever...

What did he sign for? 2 years, $3.45 million.

Andre "Bubba" Caldwell running for a TD after connecting with Peyton Manning. Baybay Thomas (right)
blocking Chargers DB. Week 15, 2013 +NFL season. Photo Courtesy: +NBC Sports (Sports Images/Getty)
Why him? The Broncos had just two wide receivers -- Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker -- on the roster when free agency opened who had also been on the team’s 53-man roster last season.

The Broncos see a deep and speedy class of big, physical receivers on the draft board and will give a long look toward using a premium pick on one of them. But signing Caldwell, a player quarterback Peyton Manning trusts in the offense, before free agency formally opened allowed the Broncos to have some patience in the opening waves of the bidding and as they prepare for the draft.

Grade = B+ (8.9/10) *with an even higher upside to the grade*

Caldwell has made the most of his chances when he has seen the field. The fact that he was signed the same off season as Peyton Manning (signed prior to Peyton signing) lends itself to have some very high upside here. Peyton showed many times, and even in the Super Bowl that he has confidence and is not going to hesitate throwing to Caldwell. He ended up with 3 TDs for 3 starts. Filling in when Welker sat out. The familiarity is there and Caldwell knows Peyton's checks, etc. Last year, during the off-season when Peyton set up throwing and practicing with his WRs, RBs, skill players, Caldwell was not there. Baybay, Decker, and +Wes Welker were. This year, Caldwell was invited in the same offeror dialogue with Demaryius, Welker, and Julius Thomas. Caldwell is now in his 3rd year with the Broncos and really in the prime of his career at this moment. He's shown he can grab receptions in live action and we do not see why it would not be the same. Hard to argue for a select few that others' offer what Eric Decker did as a receiver.

Broncos record-setting offense would probably find Caldwell putting up some nice stat line if he saw the field as often. Maybe a bit of a stretch. Not too mention the draft as we've pointed out, is so deep at WR talent, it is hard to fathom some are going to be a late first round to even mid round selections. Just one year earlier, WR's picked well into the 2nd and 3rd rounds this year cold have been one of the first 5 WRs chosen last year. Position is pretty locked up and some potentially raw, unpolished talent in the practice squad ranks. Julius Thomas, Rod Smith are just a couple names to come from such places. After signing the speedy, just entering his prime/peak of his career and had the best season statistically of his career, the Broncos added to, fortify, having Caldwell (whose grade became an A (10/10) after Emmanuel Sanders was signed to terms.


What did he sign for? 3 years for approximately $17 million.

Why him? The league is abuzz with the fact he had agreed to terms with the +Kansas City Chiefs, but he agreed to terms with the Broncos Sunday.

The two sides had agreed to terms Sunday and he was scheduled for a physical Sunday at the team’s Dove Valley complex. The Broncos discussed plenty of receivers in the opening days of free agency and had Sanders at, or near, the top of their list, but waited for some of the dust to settle a bit.

Sanders is undersized so the Broncos will be a smaller group overall, at least until the draft, than they were with Eric Decker in the mix last season. But he has versatility in that he can play, with production, both the outside and slot positions.

He does drop some passes at times, but he gives the Broncos more speed on the depth chart with the ability to play all over the formation.

Grade = A- (9/10)

There is no denying that the +Chicago Bears+New England Patriots, +Tampa Bay Buccaneers amongst others did well in free agency, but it is very difficult to dispute the +Denver Broncos did not address their needs and depth via free agency for what it is already a loaded roster. As we always say at +BRONCOS CR3W, "Time will Tell..."