When the Denver Broncos signed cornerback Aqib Talib to a six-year, $57M contract to replace the departed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the move was nearly universally celebrated. At the time, Bleacher Report's Cecil Lammey called Talib a “fine upgrade to the secondary.” In fact, some believed Talib was the missing piece Denver needed to win a championship.
In 2014, Talib largely failed to live up to his colossal contract. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the NFL’s No. 16 cornerback, which certainly isn’t the ranking General Manager John Elway was hoping for when he gave Talib nearly 25 million guaranteed dollars.
This week, a report out of Dallas indicated Talib is currently under investigation for assault, following an incident outside of a nightclub occurring early Wednesday morning. Talib has a history off-of-the field issues. He’s been suspended twice since 2008, and has been arrested multiple times since he’s come into the league. Most seriously, Talib was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Those charges were later dropped.
Many Broncos fans are forced to ask themselves whether they believe Talib is worth the truckload of money Denver’s backed up for him. The answer to that question largely hinges on what you think of the Broncos other options in the secondary, particularly second-year cornerback Bradley Roby.
Many thought Roby would be selected far earlier than No. 31 overall in last year’s draft. However, thanks to concerns over his own off-the-field issues and lapses in concentration, the athletically gifted Ohio State standout fell straight into Elway’s lap. Roby showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie campaign, recording 63 solo tackles and 2 interceptions.
There were also plenty of things to improve on for Roby in 2014. Based on the tape from his 818 snaps, Pro Football Focus ranked him a mediocre No. 60 out of 108 corners studied. He struggled in run support, finishing No. 93 in their rankings in that category. Most coaches would tell you it isn’t easy to be a rookie corner in the league.
Playing cornerback is one of the most challenging positions on the field, especially when you consider the talent they go up against at the wide receiver position. Quoted in a story from ESPN’s Ashley Fox, former Broncos head coach John Fox once described the challenges of finding top-flight corners.
“There's an art to being a defensive back, and it's a tough job," Fox said. “When you find one, and you can defend half the field and isolate part of the field, it's a huge advantage defensively.".
Aqib Talib was signed as part of a nearly $113M spending spree, prior to what became a “Super Bowl or bust” season. The Broncos busted. Now, the team seems to be refocusing themselves on the future. They’ve hired a new coaching staff, and forced 39-year-old quarterback Peyton Manning to take a pay cut.
At age 29, one must wonder whether we’ve seen the best of Aqib Talib. It's near the 30-mark NFL defensive backs begin to decline. So, the Broncos very well may be better off releasing the Pro Bowl corner, promoting Roby, and turning the number one corner duties over to Chris Harris Jr., PFF’s top-ranked cornerback in 2014 and a Pro Bowler in his own right.
Between Talib’s $57M, and the new contract Harris Jr. signed last season, Denver has invested nearly $100M in their top two corners. That doesn’t make much sense, considering the Broncos are one of the most cash-strapped teams in the NFL.
Cutting Talib now would cost the Broncos $9.5M in dead money next season. However, it’d save them almost $35M over the next five years. So, in the end, the decision to release the Broncos’ highest paid player could be strictly a financial one.
However, until more is known about his dust-up with the Dallas Police Department, perhaps it is wise to withhold ultimate judgment—for now. But it is deeply concerning that Talib continues to find himself on the wrong side of Johnny Law and you can believe that this is the last thing the Broncos want to deal with.
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