The NFL is certainly a “passing league” at the present time. And maybe that’s why front offices around the league are looking to bolster their secondaries, especially after watching the Legion of Boom dominate Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos en route to wining Super Bowl XLVIII in blowout fashion.
And when the free agency market first opened just six hours ago, the top defensive backs on the market were swept up quickly.
First to go was SS T.J. Ward (four years, $23 million), who was signed by the Broncos. The team was looking to add youth and athleticism to its secondary. What they got is a hard-hitting DB who excels in run support, and will provide an instant upgrade to the team’s biggest area of weakness. Ward does it all—he can blitz, rarely misses a tackle and can also cover deep pretty well.
The Broncos got excellent value in signing Ward for cheap, and this is the “best” deal of free agency thus far, in my opinion. He must’ve really wanted to leave Cleveland!
CB Vontae Davis followed by re-signing with the Colts for a 4-year, $39 million deal ($20 million guaranteed). Indy was looking to lock up their best defensive back, who was drawing interest from at least three other teams, if not more. Davis is great at playing receivers physical and is the team’s best option when facing tall, physical No. 1 receivers.
And then we experienced a brief period of silence, which lasted roughly an hour. We thought that it was over, and the bigger-name DBs would wait it out and test the market tomorrow. We were wrong.
CB Alterraun Verner inked a 4-year, $26 million contract with the Bucs, which was one of the best possible fits for him. The quick, speedy, 25-year-old CB is just entering his prime, and will excel in head coach Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2 defense. He’s a bit undersized, so pressing big receivers at the line isn’t what he prefers to do, and playing zone for the Bucs is an excellent landing spot for him.
Minutes after, it was announced that FS Jairus Byrd signed a 6-year, $54 million contract with the Saints ($28 million guaranteed!), making him the highest-paid safety in NFL history. Byrd is 27 years old, and was seeking his one “big” payday. There were reports circulating that he wouldn’t settle for less than $9 million per year, and he didn’t. The Saints, according to reports, had just over $2 million in cap room, which raised many questions from capologists. But they’ll likely ask veteran QB Drew Brees to restructure his deal to make it work. And it will be worth it—the idea of Byrd and S Kenny Vaccaro playing alongside each other in Rob Ryan’s defense is scary. Byrd is consistent, he can cover better than any safety in the NFL and his range allows him to cover a large area of ground quickly.
But it was the exorbitant amount of money offered to an oft-injured CB who has never endured a 16-game regular season that really turned heads.
The Broncos weren’t done, and CB Aqib Talib was awarded a 6-year, $57 million deal. Talib is coming off a great season (4 INTs, 13 PDs), in which the big, physical shutdown CB completely blanketed some of the league’s best receivers and tight ends, including Jimmy Graham. Talib was targeted on only 89 of 486 total passing attempts, and allowed only 38 receptions when the ball was thrown his way. But this current contract is a sizable jump for a guy who’s been dealing with a hip ailment, and was previously operating on a 1-year, $3 million “prove it” deal.
And Talib’s $26 million in guaranteed money is the largest amount awarded to any cornerback in NFL history! I’m not buying it.
With the 2014 salary cap currently at $133 million, we’re starting to see exorbitant amounts of money thrown at younger players coming off career years. And $64 million in guaranteed money, offered for the services of Davis, Byrd and Talib, is a surreal thought. But that’s what happened today.
And with veteran defensive ends DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers currently testing the market, we could more big paydays in the next few days, even if their “best” years are behind them.
The free agency frenzy is no joke!