This is what you want from a franchise if you dare to be a sports fan. You want the decision-makers to ease the pain of an abysmal, championship-game blowout with an immediate money spluge. When the Denver Broncos lose Super Bowls, they tend to do so with uncommon ignominy, but this time, knowing the clock is ticking on Peyton Manning’s arm strength and quarterbacking twilight, they responded by pouring resources into a problematic defense.
There’s no better way to purge the lingering demons of Feb. 2 — Seattle 43, Denver 8 — than by signing pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward for a collective $110 million, $60 million guaranteed, in the opening nanoseconds of NFL free agency. That quickly, a soft, aging and erratic defense, which relinquished 24 points and 356 yards a game, became hungry, physical, mean and worthier of supporting the most potent regular-season offense in league history.
“That’s why me, Talib and Ware were brought in, three physical players. It’s going to help this defense, it’s going to help this team,” Ward said. “I think you see with Seattle’s defense last year — definitely, defense wins championships.”
Said Ware, released by Dallas in a rare acknowledgment by owner Jerry Jones that the Cowboys foolishly overspend: “(The Broncos) are trying to make a statement — a statement we’re a team to be reckoned with. Their mentality is a `now’ mentality. Not looking forward to next season or the season after that, the time is now.”
As if channeling the bitterness he felt when taking Super Bowl lumps as a quarterback, Broncos boss John Elway instantly gave his team a better chance of winning the next Super Bowl. By stealing Talib, the shutdown corner, from beneath Bill Belichick’s hoodie in New England, the Broncos reaffirmed their status as the AFC’s best team and forced Belichick to reply with his own big move. He and Patriots owner Bob Kraft desperately needed to replace Talib if they want any chance of slowing down Manning in the conference playoffs. So they had no choice than to ignore what Darrelle Revis once said of Belichick and sign the best cover corner available.
One year, $12 million.
A lot less money than he made last season — but a lot more potential to win a championship after wallowing in dysfunction the last two years.
“Jerk,” is what Revis called Belichick, twice, in a 2012 ESPN interview. He was with the New York Jets at the time and thus was locked into the Rex Ryan-inspired mode of hating all things New England. Given the choice of holding a grudge or signing someone who can defend Demaryius Thomas and other top wideouts, Belichick is turning the other cheek. Revis is doing the same. He’s taking $4 million less than he made last season in Tampa, where he did little more than rehab his surgically repaired knee, but he’s also getting his freedom at season’s end. And he’ll receive a higher salary than Sam Shields, who got $10.5 million a year from the Packers last week, and Talib, who will make $9.9 million a year in Denver.
Do not make the mistake of thinking Revis is the same dominant player he was before his torn ACL. He will have to regain that rep after an uninspired season in Tampa, where he was burned royally by Larry Fitzgerald in one loss and did a lot of yapping, not that it was undeserved, about since-deposed coach Greg Schiano. Smith will say they wanted to get younger and cheaper at the position with Alterraun Verner, a Pro Bowler at 25, who signed a four-year, $26 million deal with $14 million guaranteed. But it’s possible Verner simply will be the better player the next few seasons.
Smith and the team’s new general manager, Jason Licht, have joined Elway as the early management stars of free agency. In signing Josh McCown, the Bucs have a quarterback who played as well as anyone in a one-month stretch last season, in place of injured Jay Cutler in Chicago, and can help them win immediately in a difficult division while project Mike Glennon watches and learns. By adding several new pieces, including pass-rusher Michael Johnson for $43 million, Smith could have a premier defense immediately. If McCown gets more out of an offense that has serious weapons in Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson, don’t be shocked if Tampa Bay has a Kansas City-like turnaround.
The Broncos aren’t trying to resurrect a franchise. They’re trying to delete a bad memory. In the process, they forced their nemesis, Belichick, to sign a player who once called him a jerk.