ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – The Denver Broncos locked up a shutdown cornerback, only his name wasn’t Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Broncos spent the first day of free agency bolstering their defensive backfield, agreeing to a four-year deal with Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward on Tuesday afternoon and then hours later reaching an agreement on a six-year contract with cornerback Aqib Talib.
Talib and Ward will play in a secondary that will be without Champ Bailey, who was released last week, and may be moving on from Rodgers-Cromartie, who entered free agency without a new deal from the Broncos.
The 28-year-old Talib had quite a season for New England last season, with teams largely choosing to go the other way rather than pick on him.
Sound familiar? It was the same way for Bailey in his prime.
By agreeing to a deal, Talib seemed to show there’s no bad blood between him and the Broncos after he hurt his knee early in the AFC championship game against Denver when he was bumped by Wes Welker on a crossing route. The league’s officiating chief later ruled it a legal hit by Welker.
ESPN first announced the agreement with Talib, which is reportedly worth $57 million.
Talib will be reunited with cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who’s also a former Kansas Jayhawk. Harris played opposite of Rodgers-Cromartie last season before blowing out a knee against San Diego in the divisional round.
Harris later posted on his Twitter account: “I had to call my Fam Talib to see if it was real.”
Yep, it’s real.
The Broncos also brought in Ward, who had 129 tackles and two interceptions for Cleveland last year. The Broncos are looking for some stability at a position that got juggled last year, with the loss of Rahim Moore and the inconsistent play of Duke Ihenacho. Veteran Mike Adams, also formerly of Cleveland, started the season as a reserve but ended up in the starting lineup.
“He’s a young, explosive strong safety who is going to bring a lot of energy and toughness to our secondary,” Broncos boss John Elway said of Ward.
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Denver’s big receiving news Tuesday was a two-year extension for fourth receiver Andre Caldwell, who could move up a notch if the Broncos part ways with Eric Decker.
Caldwell came on late in the season when Welker was sidelined with a concussion. The 28-year-old Caldwell had 11 of his 16 receptions over the final three games of the season.
His most productive game in 2013 was against San Diego on Dec. 12, when he had six receptions for 59 yards and two TDs.
Caldwell was held without a catch in the 43-8 loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl.
“Hopefully I can compete for an extended role this year and contribute a lot more to the team,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell received an invitation from Peyton Manning to attend offseason workouts at Duke University. Last spring, only Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Decker were invited to work on their chemistry with the five-time NFL MVP quarterback.
“It’s just a process of building confidence with those guys all the way from April,” Caldwell said.
Ward is expected to be a main piece around which the Broncos reshape a defense that was obliterated by an injury epidemic last season, losing Von Miller, Harris, Derek Wolfe, Kevin Vickerson and Moore.
The Broncos also could seek a replacement for linebacker Wesley Woodyard, a free agent who is exploring other options.
They’ll need a new starting guard now that Zane Beadles has agreed to terms with Jacksonville.
Running back Knowshon Moreno is a free agent as well after rushing for 1,038 yards and 10 TDs in 2013.
The Broncos also hired two new coaches on Tuesday, bringing in assistant offensive line coach James Cregg and offensive quality control coach Bo Hardegree.
By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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