Upended to the tune of a 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl -- and primarily by the league's best secondary -- the Denver Broncos took decisive steps in the first day of free agency to build their own defensive backfield to a slightly similar model. Denver signed former Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward to a four-year, $23 million deal, with $14 million guaranteed. And on the first evening of free agency, the Broncos made a far bigger splash by signing ex-New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib to a six-year, $57 million deal with $26 million guaranteed.
It's the most guaranteed money ever given to a cornerback, and it's a lot of money for a player who's never played all 16 games in a season since he was selected in the first round of the 2008 draft out of Kansas. Talib had league suspensions before he got his act together, and he played very well for the Patriots after New England traded for him in November 2012. He had been given a four-game suspension the month before for a violation of the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
"This is especially regrettable because, for the past several months, with coach [Greg] Schiano's help, I've worked very hard to improve myself -- professionally and personally -- as a player and a man,'' Talib said when he was suspended. "I am truly sorry to my teammates, coaches and Buccaneers fans, and I'm disappointed in myself. I will work diligently every day of this suspension to stay in top football shape and be ready to help this team in the second half of the season.''
But it was the Patriots that he helped, especially in 2013 -- Talib was targeted 89 times in 486 passing snaps and allowed 38 receptions and a 72.3 opponent quarterback rating. He played through a hip injury in-season, and was knocked out of the AFC championship game against the Denver Broncos when former Patriots receiver Wes Welker ran a pick play. New England's secondary struggled without Talib in the lineup, and the Broncos clearly noticed. In other Denver secondary news, the Broncos have ended talks with former cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, also a free agent, which means that Chris Harris will likely line up opposite Talib, with Talib shadowing opponents' number-one receivers. And one never knows -- the large hole in New England's secondary might be filled by Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis, should Revis be released soon as is expected.