- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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For the second time in three seasons a high-profile veteran player -- identified with a high-profile franchise and a perennial Pro Bowl selection -- has followed his stunning release with a trip to Denver as his first visit of free agency. And for the second time in three seasons, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway closed the deal.
In 2012 it was a still-reeling Peyton Manning who toured the Broncos facility in his first trip following his release by the Indianapolis Colts. And this week it was defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who made Denver his first stop after his release by the Dallas Cowboys.
Ware signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Broncos without leaving the building.
ESPN.com Dallas Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and Denver Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a look at the move.
Archer: Ware's best seasons came in a 3-4, but the Broncos are a 4-3 base team. How much do you think that will matter?
Legwold: Todd, with head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, the Broncos are a traditional-looking 4-3 when they line up on early downs. But they spend much of their time in specialty packages like nickel and dime, given how often their opponents try to spread them out and throw the ball in order to try and keep up with Peyton Manning and the Broncos' offense. They had four games last season in which they were in their base defense 12 or fewer snaps, and three games when they were in the base defense nine or fewer plays. That total will go up in the coming season with the NFC West on the Broncos' schedule, but they see Ware as a fit in a mutli-faceted front that spends a lot of time in specialty looks. And they do drop 3-4 looks on people from time to time, so he'll find a place in the scheme and the Broncos will structure things however they need to in order for Ware to have a chance to flourish. With Michael Strahan when Fox was the Giants' defensive coordinator, Julius Peppers and Von Miller, Fox has routinely found a way to free up the rushers to get the quarterback.
When Ware was formally introduced as the newest Broncos pass rusher, he thanked the Cowboys, Bill Parcells and Jerry Jones in his first appearance as a newly-minted Broncos' player. How hard was it for the Cowboys to release him?
Archer: Extremely hard. Jerry Jones isn't one to want to part with stars if it might be a year too early. He's waited a year too late in some cases. I don't doubt Jones was conflicted with the move. Ware is one of his best draft picks in 25 years on the job. He was a guy who was great in the locker room and great in the community and, most importantly, great on the field. Jerry is loyal to guys sometimes to a fault. But I think he was convinced it was time to move on because of Ware's age and cap figure. He could have restructured the deal and pushed more money into the future, but they felt like that would not solve anything. Ware will always be a Cowboy. He'll re-sign with the team in a few years to make sure he retires as a Cowboy and he will go in the Ring of Honor.
In his new locker room, how much can Ware benefit Miller and is this protection in case Miller has another off-field incident?
Legwold: At its root this is a move based on the idea that Elway believes, like many personnel executives, edge rusher is still a foundation position in team building, along with quarterback and left tackle. Shaun Phillips, with 10 sacks last season, and Robert Ayers, with 5.5, are both free agents after finishing first and third, respectively in sacks for the team last season. The Broncos haven't really pursued either to bring them back at this point. With Miller coming back from ACL surgery, it was one of the biggest needs on the roster. All of that said, they also see a player like Ware as key to re-setting Miller after a difficult year in 2013 that included a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, several off-the-field incidents -- including a missed court date -- and multiple traffic infractions even after his suspension was revealed. That's not to mention spotty play when he came back from his suspension to go with his injury. Ware knows Miller and has already said he wants to be a mentor. It's needed, especially with the Broncos facing a decision about Miller for the long-term when he's a free agent after the '14 season.
With Champ Bailey's release, Chris Kuper's retirement and Wesley Woodyard leaving for the Titans in free agency, the Broncos have three former captains no longer on the roster. From your perspective, what can Ware provide on that front?
Archer: He is not the most vocal guy, but he has grown in that area as he has gotten older. When he did speak, guys listened. But I would say he was mostly a lead-by-example type. He played hurt. He probably came back too soon from the quadriceps strain that bugged him last year and that affected his play. He is naturally gifted but he also works even if guys don't see it all the time. As a pass rusher, he's always asking questions and always looking for different ways to attack offensive linemen. It doesn't matter if the guy is on the practice squad or not, Ware will listen to what he has to say. And he's not afraid to tell people what he knows. He'll be good for the offensive line, too. He was always talking to Tyron Smith or Flozell Adams or Doug Free or Marc Colombo about what they did against him or helping them with what he saw they were doing.
I hate the "all-in" term, but are the Broncos making their push with their free-agent signings because they know the window with Peyton Manning is short?
Legwold: Elway's most common response to any question about whether the team is in "win-now" mode is to say "it's win now on" and they didn't mortgage the future, give up draft picks or artificially create cap space to make the signings. Aqib Talib's six-year deal is one the Broncos can get out of after this season with minimal impact to the cap and can get out of after three years with almost no impact on the cap. Safety T.J. Ward signed for less than many expected him to get. And the signings of Talib and Ward carried similar cap charges as the Broncos would have had if Champ Bailey and Kuper were on the roster. They gained $10 million worth of room on the cap with Bailey's release and about $4.1 million worth of room when Kuper retired -- both things happened in the days before free agency opened. They already had $28.7 million or so of workable room even before the Bailey and Kuper moves. So they were not stressed to make the signings and after Andre Caldwell, Ware, Ward and Talib signed, with their draft class taken into account as well, they still had about $10 million in workable cap space for any other moves they want to make.
Elway said this week "we think [Ware] has got a lot of football left him." In the end, how much football did the Cowboys coaches believe Ware had left in him?
Archer: It kind of depends on who you ask, but at the combine Jason Garrett said he has no doubts Ware can be an elite pass rusher again. I don't think that was just coachspeak. Where I think Ware suffered was his lack of practice the last two years. He was banged up with shoulder, elbow, hamstring, quadriceps and stingers during the week that he could not practice. I think he got out of a rhythm and could not get it back. Ware had four sacks in the first three games. He had a pick on the first play of the season. Then the injuries started to wear him down and he wasn't the same player. But I always go back to training camp. He lit up Tyron Smith every day in practice. Every day. It got to the point where you wondered if Smith was going to be considered another offensive line mistake. And then Smith ended the year as one of the best left tackles in football. I think there is plenty of tread left on Ware's tire, but the Broncos will have to be smart in how they use him. I can't see him playing every snap. He will need some rest in games.