- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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In the it-seems-like-a-lot-longer department, NFL free agency will have been open for all of six days by the time Monday 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.
So, as the first official week of free agency draws to a close Tuesday afternoon, here’s a scorecard of the major Broncos’ arrivals thus far:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
What did he sign for? 2 years, $3.45 million.
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.
What did he sign for? When filed it is expected to be a three-year deal.
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.