Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Denver Broncos now clear AFC favorites with free-agent haul

The Denver Broncos already were the WagerWeb betting favorites to win the AFC for the second year in a row next season following the Super Bowl, but those odds are going to get shorter once free agency has totally shaken out as Denver has landed arguably the best free-agent cornerback in former Patriot Aqib Talib and top safety in former Brown T.J. Ward. It’s likely to get better: Former Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Ware is also likely to sign in the Mile High City.
The Broncos clearly saw how important a stellar secondary was when Seattle’s No. 1 defense, led by that secondary, shut down Peyton Manning and Co. in the Super Bowl blowout. Denver signed Ward first, which made the Talib signing even more shocking. Ward grew into his role at safety and had his best season in 2013 for Cleveland, with 112 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and two interceptions. Ward is a big, physical player who can play near the line of scrimmage in run support. He fits in a system that values aggressive safeties.
Talib got a monster six-year, $57 million deal, something that not only helps the Broncos but hurts the rival Patriots. Last year Talib shut down numerous high-profile offensive players with the Patriots, including Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. Talib was also knocked out of the AFC title game for the second straight season on a somewhat controversial play involving a pick from Denver receiver Wes Welker. So it’s ironic he will be facing Welker in practice every day.
Clearly the Broncos are in a win-now mode with Manning likely only having another season or two left in his Hall of Fame career (the team will lose WR Eric Decker). The team is confident about landing Ware as well. Ware, the Dallas all-time sack leader, was released by the Cowboys on Tuesday afternoon. From 2005 through ’12, Ware was one of the best and most consistent pass-rushers in the NFL. The first-round pick out of Troy had 111 sacks at the left and right outside linebacker positions in the Cowboys’ defenses those first eight years.
Despite being older (31) and showing some signs of slowing down in 2013 (he only played in 13 games), Ware can still get after the quarterback. He would fit an immediate need for someone to provide pressure opposite Von Miller. Ware spent the first eight years of his career in a 3-4 defense, playing outside linebacker. Last year, he moved to defensive end in a 4-3 and struggled with a career-low six sacks.
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