Player: Aqib Talib
Explanation: Completing the Broncos trio of ballhawking CB’s, Talib has been a game changer since coming to the Broncos two off-seasons ago. As much as people want to talk about the bad plays he had
(eye poking and trying to rip people’s heads off), the Broncos don’t have a third Lombardi Trophy without him.
It’s easy to forget that all the way back on the season opener, it was Talib who scored the only Broncos TD of the game with an interception return. You could make the argument that his play in the season opener was the catalyst that put the Broncos D on pace to have their historic 2015 season. More often than not, Talib was a force in the backfield, making the plays and setting the tone for that aggressive defense.
Despite having four years left on a six year contract, I list him as mortar because after 2016, his deal is essentially a year-to-year proposition. To be specific, all of the guaranteed money in Talib’s contract is up after the 2016 season.
This gives the Broncos the chance to evaluated Talib on a year-to-year basis after 2016 and if they wanted to, could move away from him with little to no dead money on the books. Either way, I see Talib stick around for another year or two and continuing his ballhawking ways in the Mile High City.
Player: TJ Ward
Explanation: The reasoning for his “mortar” status is the similar to Talib’s. He has two years left on his
deal and no guaranteed money left on his contract going forward. He’s been the “bruiser” of the Broncos backfield, never shying away from imposing his will against the opponent. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but you know that he won’t give you less.
Ward provides the necessary thump that any great defense needs and is a great compliment to the CB’s in the Broncos backfield. Ward provides the thunder to counter the CB’s lightning fast game changing plays.
I’m not sure if Ward’s style of playing can hold up long term, but with two more years left on his deal, I expect him to continue to provide his attacking style of play to the Broncos for at least that amount of time.
Player: Darian Stewart
Explanation: In what has to be considered one of the biggest steals of 2015 Free Agency, Stewart proved to exceed his contract value in his first year with the Broncos. When he signed his 2 year deal last off-season
(worth around 4.25 million), Stewart was coming off of a productive season in his lone year with the Ravens and had the obvious connection to coach Kubiak from their short time together in Baltimore.
After the Broncos decided to let FS Rahim Moore test the market (wise choice), a glaring hole in the secondary needed to be filled. Despite the inconsistent production in his five year career, Kubiak wisely suggested Stewart as a potential replacement to Moore.
In what turned out to be a ‘low risk, high reward” signing, Stewart played at a Pro Bowl caliber level in 2015 and gave the Broncos steady centerfield play that was sometimes lacking in Rahim Moore’s game.
The reason why I only list him as mortar? He only has one year left on his deal. As great of a value signing that he’s been for the Broncos, there’s no way they’ll be able to re-sign him next off-season to a cheap contract.
If he continues this kind of play in 2016, he could enter Free Agency next year as the highest rated FS on the marketplace. Hopefully he can be one of the “in-season extensions” that the Broncos seem to give to one or two players every season. Until that happens, I’ll enjoy the play that we get from Stewart now, as he may not be around much longer.
Player: Kayvon Webster
Explanation: An afterthought in the Broncos elite secondary, Webster went from part time defensive player in 2013 to Special Teams savant the past two seasons with the Broncos. It’s one thing to consistently
play great in coverage units, but to do so in the most important games is huge. Webster did that all throughout the postseason and in the Super Bowl.
Heading into a contract year, it will be interesting to see how much (if any) more playing time Webster will receive in the defense. As much as the starting secondary should be applauded for their efforts, you can’t forget about the depth behind them and the potential that they bring to the team in the future.
I definitely put Webster in that category and hopefully the Broncos can find a way to make Webster stick around past 2016.
Players: Lorenzo Doss and Taurean Nixon
Explanation: The two saw very little playing time in 2015 after being selected in the 5th and 7th rounds
of the 2015 NFL Draft. Much of this has to do with the already explained dominance of the Broncos starters in their position group. We’ll see what role these two have moving forward, but they’ll each get a year or two to find a role here in Denver.