The Denver Broncos’ Lombardi Trophy window rests on the surgically repaired neck of soon-to-be 38-year-old Peyton Manning. That neck, mind you, was good enough for 55 touchdowns and a trip to the Super Bowl last season.
Still, these aren’t the days for the slow build or the long-term plan. And John Elway, the team’s current executive vice president and former quarterback famous for his last-minute heroics, has never been one to shy away from daring.
So here is Elway’s Broncos on Tuesday making their annual splash in free agency. This time he shored up the Denver defense by snagging Aqib Talib, the top available cornerback, fresh off the rival New England Patriots, and tough safety T.J. Ward from Cleveland.
The Broncos are also heavily involved with former Dallas pass rusher DeMarcus Ware and are expected to get a visit in the coming days from the Cowboys’ all-time sack leader.
The money getting thrown around is big – Talib picked up a reported $26 million guaranteed, more than a 28-year-old with a spotty history, was likely getting elsewhere. Ware would demand plenty too. The money is being – and will continue to be -- spread out over multiple years as best as possible, which makes next season work but means a salary cap hell is almost inevitable on the horizon.
Colorado produces some epic sunsets, but no one cares about the horizon right now. Not when a title is within its grasp.
One day, soon enough, Denver won’t possess a Peyton Manning capable of putting up huge numbers and will have to find a Plan B quarterback. In the meantime, the Broncos are all in on winning it all now because focusing on anything after that is a crapshoot.
Grabbing Talib, a big (6-foot-1), strong (205-pound) cover man bolsters the Broncos with the kind of corner that Elway believes he lacked and takes New England’s best secondary player away from the Patriots. This comes just a year after Elway and Manning lured Tom Brady’s favorite receiver, Wes Welker.
For the Broncos this is addition (Denver’s) and subtraction (New England’s).
Talib was so valued in Foxborough that Bill Belichick accused the Broncos, or Welker specifically, of trying to injure Talib during the AFC championship game. True or not, it worked. Denver won, 26-16, although that likely would've happened no matter whether Talib played all 60 minutes or not.
Now it’s a moot point – other than a perhaps awkward conversation between Welker and Talib.
They’ll get over it because the focus in Denver is winning a championship and in addition to money, that’s what Elway is selling. Offensive players want to be part of the Manning barrage. Defenders want to ride a hot offense to a Super Bowl title. Everyone knows that this team is built to win today, and with Manning as the unquestioned leader, the focus will not wane.
And the Broncos aren’t asking anyone to take a discount to win.
Denver, which watched its season get blown up by a superior Seattle defense, and pass rush in particular, knew it needed to be better on that side of the ball. A Talib-Ward-Ware trio of signings is about as good as they could reasonably do in free agency.
So Elway, who, of course, used his status as an all-time great to sell Manning on signing in Denver when he was a free agent in 2012, is working his recruiting magic with a willingness to spend money today like perhaps no other franchise. This isn’t designed to be a dynasty.
Manning isn’t going to last forever, or even for long. Everyone understands this.
On Tuesday, Denver doubled down. Tomorrow is tomorrow. When it comes, it comes; preferably the day after a championship parade.