With apologies to the Legion of Boon in Seattle, the Denver Broncos are the premier secondary in football today. In safeties Darian Stewart, and T.J. Ward, and cornerbacks Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Jr. and Bradley Roby, the Broncos have the versatility and functionality of a Swiss Army knife. Pick any of the great attributes of an elite secondary — speed, instincts, savvy and a short memory — the boys in Denver have them all in spades.
In pro football, all good things come to an end. For as great as John Elway and Peyton Manning were in their day, there came a time when they needed to hang up their cleats. All-time great defenses have a shelf life too, as seen by the demise of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense and the 1985 Chicago Bears.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1752165-broncos-offseason-all-you... The Denver secondary are all under contract for next season. However, Ward's deal will expire at the end of the year and Roby could join him if the team decides to buck convention and pass on exercising the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. In the span of a season, one of the great units in team history could begin to be stripped away.
With that in mind, has John Elway and his front office prepared adequately for life after the No-Fly Zone, as it's currently constituted? The time is coming sooner rather than later and with the volatility of the salary cap era, it’s a prospect that fans should be prepared for.
Taking a look in-house at the secondary depth, we see that the safety spot in is good hands. Not only does the team boast Pro Bowlers in Stewart and Ward but also promising younger draft picks in Justin Simmons and Will Parks. With Ward going down at the end of last year with a concussion, the team barely missed a beat with the combination of either rookie in his place.
As I have written before, Ward is in an unusual time in his career and with the team. By no means is the fiery Ward past his prime at just 30 years old, but a drop-off in his play is to be expected here in the next 2-3 years. The probability of Denver offering a new deal for Ward at this stage in his career, while also considering the negative impact it would have on Parks' or Simmons' development, seems unlikely.
What is more concerning however, is the developing situation at cornerback. There is no questions that with the Talib, Harris. and Roby, Denver is the class of the NFL. With teams struggling to find just one lockdown corner, the Broncos can trot out three players of that caliber on any given play. The concern lies in how long the team will be able to keep them all together.
As constructed now, Talib is under contract until at least the end of the 2019 season when he will be 33 years old — advanced in NFL years. At just a glance, that sounds like great news for Denver as it keeps the current group together till at least the end of next season and beyond, providing the team picks up the option on Roby.
What gets more interesting is the so called “dead money” that would be owed to Talib if he were to be cut either this year or next. With Talib set to earn $12 million for the next two seasons, it makes him a prime candidate to be a cap casualty, with an eye towards freeing up money.
Talib is in much the same boat is as Ward in that they both still have plenty of good football left in them but for how long and at what cost? When Talib was injured last year, it was apparent that something was missing when he wasn’t on the field. Aside from being a fine corner, Talib, along with Ward, are the emotional heartbeats of the defense. Without that element, the defense sees a drop-off, going from dominant to just really solid.
The problem is how to balance the money with those intangibles, something that falls to Elway. It’s always a delicate game for a GM to put the 53 best available players on the roster with the amount of money he’s given. For Elway and company, do they choose to stay ahead of the game and keep developing talent at the expense of leadership or do they re-sign players who may be on the decline in as little as a season or two? Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer for the question.
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There is also the matter of depth outside of the starters at corner. The Broncos invested in the position with fifth-round pick Lorenzo Doss and his fellow Tulane Green Waver Taurean Nixon in 2015, but didn't spend any draft picks in 2016 looking to build on the depth behind it’s talented group of corners. As long as everyone stays healthy, nothing goes amiss but from the Oakland game this past season, we saw where the lack of depth hurt Denver in a big way.
Having to go with Roby and Harris as the starters and letting Doss handle the nickelback spot, proved little resistance to Derek Carr. The problem was even more evident when Nixon took the field in dime packages, with both young players struggling under the weight of having to produce in a meaningful divisional game.
Not a promising sign that the untested players couldn't respond positively when they were called upon. And Kayvon Webster, Denver's true No. 4 corner, is set to be a free agent in a few weeks. Depth would be bolstered significantly if Elway chooses to re-sign Webster.
In my estimation, Denver has done well to try and continue the tradition of stellar play from it's secondary but more work is looming in the not-too-distant future. The drafting of Parks and Simmons at the safety spot, at the very least, allows Denver to focus more energy on trying to build cornerback depth behind Harris and Talib. With the team looking to patch some spots on the roster on both the offensive and defensive line, depth at corner could be addressed in the later rounds of this year’s draft.
Have faith, Broncos Country. John Elway has shown that he is fully capable of bringing guys in through the draft or free agency but at this time, it’s a mystery whether any new personnel would be at the same level as the players we’ve seen in Denver the past three seasons.
Whether it be the Orange Crush defense or the No-Fly Zone, it’s important as fans to cherish the time we have together with our beloved players. If the NFL has taught us anything, it’s that nothing lasts forever.
Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.
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