Vasquez is how free agency should work


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It would seem anybody as big as Denver Broncos guard Louis Vasquez -- "he's huge," 290-pound defensive end and teammate Derek Wolfe said -- would have a difficult time squeezing anywhere under the radar.

Sure, when Vasquez signed with the Broncos a little more than a year ago, he had been their top target in free agency. Of all the players they reeled in that offseason, he got the longest deal (four years) and the most money ($23.5 million). Yet in all of the chatter around the league about who signed for what that March, it was barely a ripple in the pond.

But Vasquez is a 6-foot-5, 335-pound shining example of how free agency is supposed to work, for the team and for the player.

"We like the way that has worked out," Broncos executive vice president/general manager John Elway said. "We always want them to work out like that."

In theory, if you play well, you get to the open market and you get paid. If you play really well, you get paid really well.

Ideally, you play even better than what you did to draw interest in the first place. And right there is the rub, because the trouble with free agency from a business standpoint is a player who gets signed for big money rarely plays better than he did before he signed the contract.

Think about it. It’s a short list, just a handful of names, of unrestricted free agents who played better after the new deal. Not the same as before. Better.

Take former Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker. The New York Jets didn’t shower a $30-something million deal on him to get the Broncos’ No. 2 receiver. No, they want better. They want a No. 1 receiver.

Vasquez has been better, a win-win for the Broncos. He was the only unrestricted free agent in 2013 who changed teams and was selected to the Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro. He was the first Broncos guard to be named first-team All-Pro since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

In short, the Broncos scouted a player who fit what they wanted and also had the makeup to improve once he arrived. He was young enough to have room on the developmental curve to grow, and the ability to flourish with an expanded role in a more diverse offense than what he was in before he arrived.

Vasquez, who played his first four seasons with the San Diego Chargers, got a top-tier contract for a team in the Super Bowl conversation. Everybody was, and still is, happy.

Asked this week if he believes he truly played better with the opportunity to play in a high-flying, record-setting offense, or if folks simply noticed him more as the Broncos roared toward 606 points, Vasquez was understated, as usual.

"That’s kind of hard for me to say," Vasquez said. "I feel I learn something new every year. I pick up something to add to my game. So every year I like to think I’ve built on the previous year before."

"We were having trouble with teams getting stunts on us, teams were getting penetration, then the loopers were getting to us," Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "When we watched him on tape in those situations before he got here, he was just snatching those guys and shutting it down right there, and then he could pass a guy off and take over the next guy. Then we saw him in the run game, so powerful. We knew he was going to bring a different element."

Vasquez also holds a rather remarkable distinction of having been flagged just five times in 70 regular-season games, and only four of those penalties were assessed. He was flagged three times last season -- two false starts and a holding penalty -- but none was after Week 7. Before he arrived, he had been flagged just twice -- a false-start penalty on a field goal attempt Oct. 24, 2010, against the Patriots, and a holding call in Week 6 of his rookie season that was declined.

"Just [having] great technique, that’s my biggest focus, is playing with technique, every play, every down," Vasquez said. “The results show for themselves. My only concern is to play with good technique and everything else will follow."

Said Gase: "He’s a hard guy to get around, he does a good job of moving his feet, and when he gets his hands on you, he’s able to keep himself out of trouble. That’s where you get holding calls or just penalties in general, when a guy gets an edge on you and you have to react to recover and drag people down.

"He’s a really good athlete. And I just didn’t realize how big he was. Some guys are listed big, made themselves big, [Vasquez] is just big, physical, he looks the part. Well, really, he's everything you want in the part."