It was the first and only time I ever saw Aqib Talib outside of the practice facility in Englewood, Colo., or the stadium in Denver. We were at Blackstone Country Club in Aurora, in mid-July 2016 for a teammate’s charity golf tournament. A little more than a month earlier, Talib had been shot in the leg while leaving a Dallas nightclub, telling police he’d been so intoxicated he couldn’t recall any details.
On that day at the country club, Talib told the Denver Post he expected to be ready for training camp in a few days, and the leg was healing nicely. I was sitting in the restaurant area waiting to interview another member of the reigning Super Bowl champions when Talib stumbled to the bar, crashing against a stool. After a few drinks, he crossed his arms on the bar, rested his head atop his forearms and went to sleep at 4:30 in the afternoon. That’s Aqib Talib.
Another story, second-hand this time: Talib got wind of a Broncos rookie having been late to the facility. He stormed into a meeting attended by all the rookies on the roster and took the offender to task. This is not how you do it. This is not how you be a pro. That’s also Aqib Talib.
Talib never fit into a nice little box. He’d rip a chain off Michael Crabtree’s neck, just because, then mentor a young player on proper film study the next day. He was a respected member of the player leadership, someone you could expect to hold the rest of the secondary accountable, yet he was a nightmare for the brass in the offseason. I’m using the past tense here, because he was a Bronco for four seasons, until Thursday night. Now he’s a Ram after a trade that sends a 2018 fifth-round pick Denver’s way. Los Angeles is the fourth stop in the colorful career of a modern football mercenary.
It’s rare that a single trade speaks such volumes about the direction of two franchises. For Denver, Talib’s signing in 2014 represented one of the final pieces of the puzzle. There was Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, and Talib—three expensive free agents who would help Denver to a Super Bowl 50 victory.
Trading Talib is a tacit admission on the part of John Elway that the search for a quarterback could get expensive in free agency, or cost a high draft pick. In the case of the former, the 32-year-old Talib's contract ate up too much cap space. In the case of the latter, Talib is too impatient. After all, it was Talib who shouted down offensive tackle Russell Okung following a 16-3 loss to the Patriots in December 2016, setting off an offense vs. defense shouting match, the root of the conflict being the offense’s struggles with Trevor Siemian at quarterback.
For the Rams, adding Talib signals loud and clear the belief they are one Pro Bowler away from winning a Super Bowl, and are willing to take on a handful of mercurial personalities to reach that goal. Head coach Sean McVay’s and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ jobs just got easier, but Rams public relations boss Artis Twyman’s job just got harder. Talib isn’t just unpredictable on the field and at home in Texas, he’s a wild card in the locker room during media sessions. You never know what you’ll get, but you know it will be the truth. One day he might share a little too much about his own injury status. Or he might share the source of his admiration for Bill Belichick, his former coach (Bill didn’t mind if players wore slippers in meetings). After that Super Bowl thrashing of the Panthers, I headed down to the Denver locker room at Levi's Stadium and pulled up the video of Cam Newton hesitating to dive on a fumble with the game on the line. The first person I showed was Talib. “He didn’t want it,” he said of Newton between swigs of Cognac from the bottle.
Talib is one of those rare athletes who’s such an open book, the reporters who cover him actually get to know him beyond the 30-second sound bite. NFL Network reporter and Denverite James Palmer soon realized he could go to Talib for some prophetic NFL takes based on Talib’s meticulous film study.
“I think what is overlooked is his football IQ,” Palmer says. “People look at the off-the-field mistakes or the chain-snatching and jump to a certain conclusion. But all he does is study film, and other corners. During  training camp he told me A.J. Bouye was going to have a breakout season with the Texans. No one had heard of Bouye. Bouye balled, and was the top free agent corner after the season.”
Talib also told Palmer two years ago he could tell Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters wasn’t watching film properly, and he believed Peters had the potential to be the best corner in football with the right guidance. Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby got a heavy dose of that guidance during their four years together in Denver—ironically, it’s Roby’s emergence as a quality NFL starter that lessens the blow of Talib’s departure. Now, since the Rams traded for Peters (who has his own off-field baggage), Talib can tutor Peters full time. It’s a match made in football heaven, probably.
Here’s what I know: Hire Aqib Talib if you’d like to win a championship, now. Hire Aqib Talib if there are chains that need snatching. Hire Aqib Talib if there are young corners who need molding. But for God’s sake, only hire Aqib Talib if you’re sure you can handle the drama.
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