This is the time of year again when fans huddle around the internet and read the morning Twitter-verse in search of the off season answers that will lift their team to victory when the new NFL season embarks this September. As usual there is always a team that begs the age old question, “Can you buy a championship in the NFL.” This off season that team is without question the Denver Broncos. This same title was also given to the Philadelphia Eagles. This example showed that clearly winning in March doesn’t always mean winning in January. Additionally, sometimes free agent spending can handicap your team for years to come without actually assessing a need in the current season. Will the Denver Broncos be any different?
After getting stomped in the Super Bowl by the Seattle Seahawks there was no question that Denver was outmatched and needed to get tougher and faster on both sides of the ball if they were to have the same success and hopefully overcome the powerhouses of the NFC West next year. With that in mind the Denver Broncos and general manager John Elway began free agency by “making it rain” so to speak at prospective free agents. As soon as 4pm Eastern time struck on Tuesday March 8th the Denver Broncos began their new league year quickly by acquiring: safety T.J. Ward for 4 years $22.5 million, cornerback Aqib Talib (from the nemesis Patriots)for 6 years $57 million and defensive end Demarcus Ware for 3 years $30 million. They let the dust settle and checkbook rest only for a moment before re-upping on the loss of Eric Decker with Emmanuel Sanders for 3 years $15 million. What happened to the good old days of broken fax machines and lost contracts? Over the span of 48 hours the Denver Broncos spent approximately $125 million dollars on 4 players and signed those players for a collective 16 years. From a monetary standpoint this doesn’t seem to be a sustainable business practice for the future of the franchise but it was the design and target of the spending that makes these acquisitions intriguing.
The Denver Broncos were as we all know the best offensive team in the NFL last year and arguably the best offensive team of all time by averaging 457 yards per game and 37.9 points per game which was good enough for 1st in both categories. Defensively though the Broncos allowed 356 yards per game and 24.9 points per game which place them 19th and 22nd in the league respectively. The most staggering defensive statistic comes from the secondary where the Denver Broncos were 27th out of 32 teams giving up approximately 255 yards a game and only 10 (non-playoff) teams gave up more points over the season. Enter T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and Demarcus Ware. All three players are impact players on the defensive side of the ball and should contribute instantly to a lackluster pass defense. T.J. Ward tallied 91 total tackles and graded positively against the run and in pass coverage last year with the Cleveland Browns. He is a safety who will be stout against the run on all 3 downs and play strong man coverage when called upon. This upgrade at the safety position will allow the Broncos to create more designed pressure without being exposed in the secondary with match ups against the safety. Aqib Talib is your typical lock down corner. In 2013 he was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 71 times and only allowed 38 receptions, 3 touchdowns and tallied 4 interceptions. He was used by Bill Belicheck and the Patriots as a “chess piece” covering the opposing teams premier wide receiver and taking him out of the game. Presumably, Talib will be used similarly by Jack Del Rio and the Denver Bronco defense and without having to scheme to protect that side of the field it will again allow the Broncos to create more designed pressure without being exposed in the secondary. Demarcus Ware is a pass rusher. He rushed the passer 95 percent of the time in Dallas and had 6 sacks, 8 quarterback hits, 34 quarterback hurries and a combined 48 total pressures last year all the while grading positively against the run. The acquisition of Ware will again continue with the theme and allow the Broncos defense to get more pressure on the quarterback to improve the leagues 27th ranked passing defense.
Now what happens when the NFL’s best offensive team with one of the leagues worst pass defenses gets three superstar players to significantly upgrade their positions remains to be seen but there can be no fault to John Elway and the Denver Broncos for frivolous spending. They may have thrown money at free agents to try to win a championship but you can’t say they didn’t have a plan. These moves bare more resemblance to the Seahawks Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Percy Harvin acquisitions from a year ago, a sort of chess move to make a championship team’s weakness their strength. So again we ask the age old question, “Can you buy a championship.” I think the answer is more about quality over quantity.
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all statistics referenced from pro football focus
photo credit: csnbc.com