What the Broncos did this offseason was mix rich guys and lunch pails.
Money is everywhere at Dove Valley. There is $35 million in the hard-hatted laborers and materiels in the Broncos' new construction and remodeling projects. There are millions in strong safety T.J. Ward. More millions in defensive end DeMarcus Ware. And megamillions in cornerback Aqib Talib.
Ward, Ware and Talib all play on the blue-collar, defensive side of a football team. Collectively, those three defenders received $110 million worth of contracts, $60 million guaranteed.
People who turned off the last Broncos game at halftime might not want to read this, but team general manager John Elway is acting like he wants to play in the Super Bowl every year.
"Just their mentality is a 'now' mentality," said Ware, a standout on so many mediocre Dallas Cowboys teams the past nine seasons. "A mentality of 'I'm not looking forward to the next season or season after that — the time is now.' "
Last season, they called this a "Super Bowl or Bust" mentality. The Broncos got to the Super Bowl. Then, boy, what a bust.
Ware was riding shotgun to his new team's rebar- and plywood-strewn headquarters Wednesday when he might have hit upon the Broncos' slogan for 2014: The Time is Now.
"When I looked back there in that back seat and I see Talib, I'm like, you know what? They're trying to get the job done," said Ware, who flew in with Talib — unbeknownst to both — from Dallas, then hitched a ride with Broncos' assistant director of pro personnel Champ Kelly. "When I see them signing a guy like Ward, they're trying to get the job done."
The last time anyone saw the Broncos on the field, they were getting pummeled by the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Thanks to a 24-hour opening free-agent flurry, the Broncos no longer are just a run-and-gun team featuring the precision passing of Peyton Manning. With the rugged NFC West on their schedule this coming season, the Broncos believe their new defensive additions will help them stand up during future brawls.
"It's not just about that one game," said Broncos coach John Fox. "You're just looking to improve your football team."
Specifically, to improve a defense that ranked 22nd in points allowed last season. The execution, however, went off script as the acquisitions of Talib and Ware came after the Broncos' initial pursuits hit negotiating snags.
"We did a pivot in about 15 minutes," Elway said.
At cornerback, the Broncos first tried to re-sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Their offer was well north of $7 million a year. But two other corners, Sam Shields and Vontae Davis, re-signed for an average of $9.75 million.
For that money, the Broncos figured they could aim higher. In Talib, the Broncos have a corner who not only can cover but play with a much greater physical style that Denver now prefers.
The Broncos got Talib for $9.5 million a year — less than the average deals for Shields and Davis.
The pass rusher came after another adjustment. The Broncos were in on Jared Allen. But Allen was seeking a deal that was too rich for the Broncos. As Allen deliberated, the Dallas Cowboys released Ware to avoid paying him $16 million this year.
Ware's production fell off last season, but he was playing through a nerve-damaged elbow that was corrected through surgery last month.
The Broncos took note of how Ware had never missed a game through the first 8½ seasons and gave him a three-year, $30 million contract.
There was much spending, but little borrowing. Ware, Ward and Talib each got relatively modest $5 million signing bonuses, meaning the Broncos put little strain on future salary cap years.
In both dollars and tough guys, the Broncos are in position to make a Super Bowl run for years to come.