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By John McMullen, NFL Editor - Archive - Email
Broncos put a scare into rest of the NFL
(L-R) T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, and Aqib Talib The Broncos are not only in a position to get back to the big
game, they are practically the AFC's presumptive nominee.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It sure seems like John Elway and the Denver Broncos took that Super Bowl loss hard.

Because they don't plan on it happening again.

After shelling out $60 million of guaranteed money to sign safety T.J. Ward, cornerback Aqib Talib and edge rusher DeMarcus Ware in the first 22 hours of free agency, the Broncos are not only in a position to get back to the big game, they are practically the AFC's presumptive nominee.

"Injuries played a big role with our defense last year," Elway said. "Guys stepped up and did a good job, but we had a chance to get better and we really liked these players and they wanted to come to Denver. We added a physical presence."

Denver was always going to be a serious threat to get back to the Super Bowl as long as quarterback Peyton Manning remained upright, but by "winning" the early portion of free agency, the Broncos have lapped a field they were already dominating.

Injuries can derail any NFL season, of course, and things that look good on paper in March almost inevitably fall short of expectations (see the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles or the 2013 Miami Dolphins), but this Broncos team is so loaded, the rest of the conference might just take a knee and play for 2015.

Ward, who was drafted in the second round out of Oregon in 2010, has spent his entire four-year career with the Cleveland Browns. He reached the Pro Bowl for the first time this past season after recording 75 tackles and a pair of interceptions.

A strong in-the-box safety, Ward projects to be a significant upgrade over Duke Ihenacho, who started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent out of San Jose State before developing into a somewhat steady, if unspectacular option on the back end.

"We are excited to add T.J. Ward to the Denver Broncos," Elway said. "He's a young, explosive strong safety who is going to bring a lot of energy and toughness to our secondary."

Elway followed the Ward signing by delivering a serious blow to his chief competition in the AFC, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. The Broncos stole elite cover corner Aqib Talib from the Pats with a massive $57 million pact, with $26 million guaranteed -- the most ever promised to an NFL corner.

Talib, 29, appeared in 13 games for New England last season, posting 35 tackles, 13 passes defensed and four interceptions. He is a far more complete and physical player than the man he is projected to replace, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Like Talib, DRC is a solid cover corner, but the Tennessee State product didn't exactly enjoy sticking his nose into the pile in run support, and that lack of physicality could be exploited at times.

"We know how much we hated playing against him," Elway said when introducing Talib to the Denver area media. "In Aqib, you have a great cover guy and somebody who will really add to our secondary and add toughness to our secondary."

The final piece to the puzzle was put into place on Wednesday afternoon when Elway signed Ware, perhaps this generation's best pure pass rusher to a three- year deal worth $30 million, with $20 million guaranteed.

The Dallas Cowboys released Ware on Tuesday, prior to the opening of free agency, due to salary cap restraints. Ware's cap hit for the 2014 season was set to be $16 million for the financially-strapped 'Boys.

The 31-year-old Ware has totaled 117 sacks since 2005 and has been a first- or second-team All-Pro on seven different occasions as well as a member of the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team.

His addition opposite Von Miller on the edges figures to give the Broncos perhaps the best pass-rushing duo in the NFL. Meanwhile, the front four -- which also includes tackles Sylvester Williams and Terrance Knighton -- projects as the NFL's most talented.

The shelf life of this group may last only slightly longer than that bunch of bananas you picked up at the grocery store last night, but the future isn't what this team is about.

"Mr. Elway decided to better his team on defense this year, because his offense looks pretty good," Talib said.

It's Super Bowl or bust in Denver and Elway's next order of business should be saving a little money by ordering his minions to start booking rooms in Glendale, Ariz., for February.