The Denver Broncos made the biggest waves in the first two days of free agency, netting not only some of the biggest stars and best talents available but also shelling out some serious cash in the process.
Aiming to spruce up its defense with a better pass rush and secondary, the Broncos signed seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, and safety T.J. Ward to contracts totaling $110 million, with $60 million guaranteed.
Now those numbers might seem daunting and even irresponsible, but in the NFL teams still have lots of options to shed players and their expensive contracts. Upon closer inspection, the Broncos essentially loaded up for a one-year title run and hoped to quickly patch up a defense embarrassed during the Super Bowl.
Denver also left itself wiggle room to re-sign receiver Demaryius Thomas when he hits free agency in 2015.
As the Denver Post pointed out, only the first year of all three players’ deals is fully guaranteed against injury. The final total in the first year is $35 million, with Ware counting the most at $16.5 million.
Ware, who spent nine seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, is expected to spruce up a defense that failed to force a single sack in the 43-8 loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl, and a pass rush that was 13th overall in the league with 41 sacks.
Talib and Ward, each major free agent targets in the offseason, replace outgoing veterans Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and immediately improve Denver’s 27th ranked pass defense. There was far more pressure on Denver’s secondary last year since opposing teams were forced to throw with quarterback Peyton Manning creating deep deficits.
All three signings help the Broncos in the short-term, and Talib’s rich deal can be wiped away after one season.
Outbidding rival New England, the Broncos signed Talib to a six-year, $57 million deal with $26 million guaranteed. But according to USA Today the deal is frontloaded with only $11.5 million fully guaranteed for the 2014 season. More than half of the rest of the dollars are tied to base salaries.
The Broncos now have just over $5 million in cap space to spend on rookies in the draft. Depending on how those contracts are structured, the Broncos could rollover some of their cap space and free up even more money for Thomas.