Grading the Denver Broncos in free agency

Free agency started out fast and furious for the Denver Broncos and then went quiet.  It felt more like a 40-yard dash instead of a marathon.

Who said free agency isn’t a sprint?  John Elway knew what he wanted and went out and got those players.  Who he brought in upgraded the team and gave them a better chance at winning it all.  However, the players did not come cheap.

I have been hearing statements thrown around about “winning now” and “salary cap hell” when others have evaluated what the Broncos have done in free agency.  I would first like to dispel that notion, as the Broncos’ are very smart with the salary cap. The free agent contracts were structured so that they will not be mortgaging the future.

Instead of giving big signing bonuses, that impact the salary cap in the future, the Broncos signed free agents with relatively small signing bonuses.  The Broncos used roster bonuses, which are more cap friendly.  The three big signings have contracts structured in such a way that if the Broncos cut the players after two years they save several million dollars in cap space.

Hopefully they play well and there will be no need to go that route.  Elway said it right when he stated he is in “win from now on” mode.  They have been in the playoffs every year since he took over and he is again putting them in position to win the Super Bowl.  What fan would no want that for their favorite team?  The only issue I see is possibly being a little strapped for cash next year, but the way Elway has worked free agency, he will probably come up with something.

On to the grades.

TJ Ward

This signing was excellent work by the Broncos.  Ward brings a physical nature to the secondary and solid tackling.  He is also better in coverage than some analysts think.

He is young and is a huge upgrade to what the Broncos had at strong safety last year.  He isn’t a ball-hawk, but the Broncos needed an intimidator at the position and Ward fits the bill.  The Broncos also got him at a steal.  He was ranked the second best safety in the market and the deal was for less money than some of the lower ranked safeties received.  For example his replacement in Cleveland, Donte Whitner, got more money.  Grade: A

Aqib Talib 

I had predicted that the Broncos would bring back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but he cost himself millions by not taking the Broncos’ offer.  When he declined, the Broncos moved on to Talib.

I like that Talib brings a lock down type presence with a physical nature for a cornerback.  He has the speed to stay with fast receivers and is a ball hawk.  He also supports the run better than DRC.

What I don’t like is his character issues, injury history and that he has trouble staying with quick receivers.  I am not sure he is an upgrade in coverage to DRC, but he is more physical and will support the run better.

Talib will be wearing a Broncos jersey this season

Talib will be wearing a Broncos jersey this season

Giving that much money to a player who is one dumb move away from being suspended for a year or in jail makes this a very risky deal.  I am not sure the reward outweighs the risk, but hopefully Talib learned something during his time in New England.  If he stays healthy and out of trouble for at least two years this would be a high grade, but at the moment nobody knows what is going to happen.  Grade: C

DeMarcus Ware

Ware filled a need for the Broncos is a big way.  He is an All-Pro at rushing the passer and an upgrade to any player on the roster (except Von Miller) who is tasked at getting after the quarterback.  The Broncos thought so too as they were very close to a deal with Jared Allen when Ware was released.  They put the brakes on that deal and went out and got Ware instead.

This deal was costly, but if he gives the Broncos two solid years it is well worth it.  Ware had a down year last year because of injuries, but he is still a major talent.

With the players the Broncos have assembled on the defensive line and with Miller healthy, Ware has the potential for a monster season next year.  He has a good character and I hope that he will have a good influence on Miller.  He will also be a great mentor to Quanterus Smith.  His age is a bit of a concern.  Grade: B+

Emmanuel Sanders

Sanders is not an upgrade from Eric Decker, but he will be productive in this offense a gives it another dimension with his speed.  He can also move to the slot if Wes Welker leaves after his contract is up.  The Broncos did not break the bank for him either.  This was a solid signing and fills a need.  Grade: A-

Andre Caldwell

The Broncos needed to bring Caldwell back and they did.  His role in the offense was on track to increase, but the signing of Sanders may have limited that now.  He will contribute and comes relatively cheap.  Together, Caldwell and Sanders will replace Decker’s production.  Grade: B

The Broncos filled holes in the roster with mostly upgrades.  They didn’t come cheap, but the contracts are structured in a way that isn’t destructive to the Broncos.  They added three Pro Bowl players with the potential to be huge contributors.

They do need to address a glaring hole on the offensive line with the loss of Zane Beadles.  There are no guards in free agency right now that would be an upgrade.  Moving Manny Ramirez from center to left guard would not be an upgrade either.  I have voiced my opinion about moving Orlando Franklin in a previous post.  The Broncos used free agency to fill most of their holes in a very strong way.  With the draft coming up, they won’t need to reach to fill remaining needs.

Overall free agency grade: B

  • eron

    Good article, but read the fine print on the Talib contract…there isn’t actually much truly guaranteed money going his way after the first year…if fact, Denver could pay him his 8 mil salary this year, cut him next year for any reason other than a catastrophic injury, and only be on the hook for a 4 mil cap hit (pro-rated signing bonus). I’m guessing all the out clauses in Denver’s offer is what scared off DRC and Revis in the first place.

    • MH11

      Very true.. All the radio talk shows (maddog on sirus XM) keep bad mouthing this contract when it is so TEAM friendly… All these contract can end when Manning wants to call it a career with minimal cap hit.