Aqib Talib against the Denver Broncos. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Did Denver Broncos overpay for Aqib Talib?

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The Denver Broncos tried to re-sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie after his huge 2013 season, but he deciding to try and look for more money than what they were offering him. Another star cornerback who played on a one-year, $5 million deal last year was signed to a lucrative contract by the Broncos, and their decision to sign Aqib Talib had the added benefit of weakening their toughest competition in the AFC. The New England Patriots, of course, snagged a much better corner in Darrelle Revis and also signed Brandon Browner, but the Broncos were still able to sign a CB1. When healthy, Talib is better than DRC, and his perceived baggage and injury concerns aren’t as big as DRC’s either.

Talib was officially signed to a six-year deal worth $57 million, and the deal looked too rich to make sense at first glance. But the 28-year-old’s 2015 and 2016 seasons are only guaranteed if Talib suffers a severe injury, so the Broncos might only give him $12 million in the first year and be off the hook for the rest of the deal if he busts. The deal is pretty heavily backloaded, so there doesn’t seem to be a safeguard if Talib struggles in the second half of the deal.

I decided to posit the question in the title to two writers on the staff, and their answers are below.

Larry Mitros

At first glance, it may look like the Broncos overpaid for Talib, but when you look at the context of their situation, I don’t think they overpaid at all. The Broncos may only have one or two more years with Petyon Manning as their quarterback, and as such they should be (and are) making moves for “the now” to give them the best chance to win a Superbowl next year. Now is not the time for their front office to be penny pinching and to be overly concerned with giving a guy a contract that may be a little more than his true market value. They need to improve their defense, and Talib is certainly an improvement over Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in my opinion.

The next thing we have to do to determine if Talib may have been overpaid or not is examine the in-depth details of his contract. When the Broncos signed him, the initial reports were that his contract was a 6 year-$57 million deal with $26 million guaranteed. However, that guaranteed money figure is a very misleading.

Only $11.5 million of that contract is truly guaranteed. Talib’s base salaries of $5.5 million in 2015 and $8.5 million in 2016 are guaranteed for injury only up until the first day of the respective league year. If Talib is still on the Broncos roster on the first day of the league year in 2015, that $5.5 million then kicks in as fully guaranteed (and likewise for 2016). What this means is that if for some reason Talib severely underperforms and he is not the guy they thought he was, the Broncos can cut him after 1 year and not be on the hook for another dime (except for a $4 million cap hit). So Talib’s 6 year-$57 million deal could turn into a 1 year-$12 million deal if the Broncos were to part ways with him after the 2014 season.

The moves that the Broncos are making don’t guarantee that they win a Superbowl. These moves don’t even guarantee that they’ll make it back to the Superbowl. But if the Broncos don’t end up winning a Superbowl with Manning as their quarterback, the front office can at least look themselves in the mirror and honestly say that they did everything they could to put this team in the best possible position to win a Superbowl. And from the front office’s point of view, that’s really all you can do. It is now up to the players and coaches to execute on the field.

James DiMaio

We know two things about Aqib Talib for certain: 1.) He’s an elite corner when healthy 2.) He’s never been healthy for an entire season in his six-year career.

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald spelled it out nicely in a recent post writing, “Unless Talib suffers a serious injury in the first two years of the deal, which would remove the guaranteed money in 2015 and/or 2016, the first three years are fully guaranteed for a net value of $27 million.”

Even after Larry’s terrific contract breakdown, this is still a three-year $27 million dollar deal in my eyes, because while injury-prone, Talib has never suffered a “serious” injury. To me a “serious” injury is one that would at least land the player on IR. Instead, Talib has recurring hip/quad injuries that limit his ability, but rarely take him off the field for more than a handful of games.

Is that worth $27 million guaranteed?

Alterraun Verner is an equally talented cornerback who has played every single game in his four-year career and is coming fresh off a All-Pro season. He got 4 years/$25.75 mil with $14 mil guaranteed. That juxtaposition right there says it all.

Though I applaud Denver’s aggressive approach in free agency in the twilight of Peyton Manning‘s career, they absolutely overpaid for Talib.

 Joe Soriano

There’s no doubt that Talib is a true No. 1 corner in this league, and the all-in Denver Broncos desperately needed to have a top-notch cornerback on the outside (Chris Harris Jr. has things locked down in the slot) going into the 2014 season and beyond. They made plenty of upgrades on the defensive side of the ball this offseason in their effort to gun for a Super Bowl title in Peyton Manning’s final years, and they spent a copious amount of money to add playmakers like Talib, DeMarcus Ware, and T.J. Ward (he was actually a steal).

Talib has nagging injury issues, but he seems to be well past the character concerns that plagued him as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He truly did change as a person with the New England Patriots, and that assertion will have to be proven otherwise; Talib gets the benefit of the doubt, as most players should when character concerns are mentioned.

I think in order to state that a player was “overpaid”, you have to prove that they were paid above market value. While this deal is definitely an expensive one with safeguard that are either exaggerated or underestimated, I don’t think you can state that the Broncos overpaid for him. $9 million per year is about the going rate for a top cornerback in this league, and his deal is pretty comparable to Sam Shields‘s deal or Vontae Davis‘s deal. Comparing Talib’s contract to Alterraun Verner’s would be like comparing Michael Johnson‘s or Lamarr Houston‘s deal to the one Michael Bennett signed; Verner and Bennett are the anomalies.

That said, Talib isn’t a true shutdown corner in this league, because he gets burned too often by speedy receivers and doesn’t have the best technique. However, there is little doubt that he’s very talented, and you don’t have to be a shutdown corner to be a CB1 or be paid handsomely; we’ve seen that over the years. Talib is easily one of the league’s best press corners, and the all-in Broncos absolutely had to pony up for him. Because if they didn’t, then somebody else probably would have been willing to spend the same amount of money. Could the Talib deal backfire on the Broncos? Yes, but there were plenty of other contracts signed in free agency that have the same risk/overpay factor, and that’s just how the market is for talented players. The Broncos are also more inclined to care more about short-term gains than anything else at this point, which is risky but is exactly the kind of policy most people would want to see a contender have. This deal isn’t an overpay because of the going rate for No. 1 CBs, but I hope nobody is going way overboard to praise the move either.

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