The NFL is firmly in the age of the rookie contract. More and more veterans find themselves casualties of the salary cap, replaced by draft picks and guys who are on those first, dirt-cheap four-year deals with the team that selects them.
And for 32-year-old veteran cornerback Aqib Talib, not even his fifth straight Pro Bowl appearance and the Super Bowl ring on his finger from just two years ago will be enough to save him when it’s time for the Denver Broncos to squeeze under the salary cap for the coming season.
So goes a report from Jeff Legwold of ESPN, who said Talib’s release from Denver is likely.
Some food for thought but asked three GMs at Senior Bowl if they would trade for Aqib Talib — $12M against cap in '18, $8M against cap in '19 — all three answered "no" and they believed Broncos would release Talib because dead money charge is $1M so why surrender any picks
— Jeff Legwold (@Jeff_Legwold) January 28, 2018
Legwold asked several NFL general managers if they’d trade for Talib and they all pointed out the same thing: Talib’s cap hit — $12 million in 2018 and $8 million in 2019 — will be practically wiped off the board if the Broncos cut him. If released, he’ll only be $1 million in dead money against the cap.
So any team that wants him would be better off pursuing Talib in free agency at a much-lower veteran minimum salary instead of a $20 million cap hit. They’d also get to keep their players or draft picks they’d otherwise have to relinquish in a trade.
Denver’s KUSA-TV summarized it succinctly.
“Although Talib has two years left on the six-year, $57 million contract he signed with the Broncos in March 2014, Denver is expected to place him on the trading block because of financial considerations,” the station reported.
So what we’re left with is a bit of an impasse. Denver will try to trade Talib and get something back for him, but it’s an open secret that they don’t want him on their cap if they can help it.
Plus, Denver is coming off a 5-11 season. It’s not like having Talib back there was getting them back to the Super Bowl. Teams that fall from grace in the standings have to handle their rebuild carefully. Do it right, and it could turn out like it did for the Broncos when they went 4-12 in 2010, but then made the playoffs each of the next five years, went to the Super Bowl twice, and won a title.
Do it wrong, and you end up like the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1980s, who held onto guys like Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris long after they were still effective, had no real plan in place to replace them, and ended up making the playoffs just four times in the 12 seasons after their victory in Super Bowl XIV.
But since 1992, Pittsburgh has had only three losing seasons, and none since 2003, as they’ve embraced modern roster building methods that include cutting old stars before they become liabilities.
That’s Talib’s problem in Denver. He’s 32 and the team isn’t good anymore. The Broncos’ best bet is to try to trade Talib to a desperate franchise for something of value rather than just engage in the brutally obvious $19 million decision that any savvy NFL GM seems to see.
Talib is already showing up on “likely cap casualty list” articles, so you don’t even need to be an NFL GM to understand how this works. Then again, one team’s cap casualty is another team’s win-now move.
The Seahawks just missed the playoffs thanks mainly to injuries to their defense, including cornerback Richard Sherman. Having Talib would be an insurance policy in case they lose someone else next year, and the team might think they still have one more deep playoff run left in them before blowing it all up.
The Browns, who have no shortage of cap space available, might want to shore up a defense that was a respectable 14th in yards allowed in order to bring some credibility with fans after a winless season. With Talib, they might win enough games to keep from completely alienating their fanbase for an 11th straight losing season and 10th last-place finish in the AFC North in that span.
The Saints and Chargers have aging quarterbacks on their last legs. Mght they try and add one more Pro Bowl piece in the secondary to try and send Drew Brees out with one last ring or Philip Rivers out with the title that has eluded him his entire career?
Denver is certainly going to be selling. The only question is will anyone be buying on Aqib Talib?
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