It was a spending flurry that helped transform a team that had just been blown out in a Super Bowl six weeks earlier into a Super Bowl winner. And as the Broncos appear poised for another dive into the open market that could match 2014’s, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is now the only player who remains from the spree that reshaped the Broncos' roster.
In roughly a two-day span in March 2014 the Broncos, still reeling some from a 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, signed outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward, Talib and Sanders. All four players would be named to the Pro Bowl during their time with the Broncos and the Broncos went on to division titles in 2014 and 2015 to go with a Super Bowl 50 win.
It was a testament of sorts to how free agency is supposed to work. The players had received top dollars in the open market and the team got a significant return on that investment.
“I’ll always remember that," is how Ware has put it. “I mean [Talib] and I were on the same flight from Dallas to come to Denver and you just had that feeling they had Peyton [Manning] and they had Von [Miller] and you were going to have these new guys, excited to be with the Broncos."
Ware retired after the Super Bowl win to close out the 2015 season. Ward was released at the close of the preseason last summer, and the Broncos agreed to terms on the Talib trade Thursday.
Ware’s retirement followed a season-long struggle with his balky back. Ward’s release was a combination of finances and the fact the Broncos believed Justin Simmons was ready to be a starter. The same can be said for Talib, despite four Pro Bowl selections in four seasons with the Broncos, given his trade frees up $11 million in cap space at a position where the Broncos believe Bradley Roby is ready to start.
At the scouting combine last week, Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway was noncommittal at best when asked if Talib and running back C.J. Anderson would be back as the team searched for more salary-cap space to do its impending business in free agency.
“We’ll see," Elway said. “We’ll look at that. Like I said, we’re looking at every option that we can and where our football team is. I’m not saying they’ll be back for sure, but I’m not going to say they are gone. We’re exploring a lot of options on other players, too."
Six days later, Talib was traded. Now with $35 million or so worth of salary-cap space, the Broncos will continue to try to make some additional space in the coming days given they are expected to aggressively pursue quarterback Kirk Cousins in free agency or another potential solution at the position, such as Case Keenum, if they don’t snag Cousins.
Overall, Elway has said the Broncos will “dabble" in free agency, but Elway is moving things around to do more than dabble. To sign Cousins, for example, probably would take making Cousins the highest-paid player in the league in a deal that is almost entirely guaranteed.
And that isn’t the only move Elway wants to make. He wants significant improvement in the offense and has made it clear he’s willing to make any deal he deems as “the right fit with the right guy moving forward."
Elway has said a team can’t buy its way out of trouble in free agency over the long term because the salary-cap difficulties await down the road if those free agents don’t play deeply enough into their contracts. But as the Broncos prepare for their most active free-agency period since 2014, that ’14 class will always be one that worked out exactly as the Broncos had hoped.