Pats, Broncos still fighting for AFC supremacy
FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2013 file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Darrelle Revis clowns around with teammates during warm ups before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C. As Day 2 of the NFL's free-agency period began to unfold, Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis were waiting to find out whether they might be traded or released. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone, File)
New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib walks on the field before an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Two months after meeting in the AFC championship, the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots are squaring off in the wine and dine game.
They’ve been the conference’s most aggressive teams in trying to upgrade their rosters in free agency.
After watching Seattle win the Super Bowl, both Denver and New England have focused on beefing up their defenses.
New England added two cover cornerbacks and Denver signed three Pro Bowl defenders.
Broncos General Manager John Elway, who committed $66 million in guaranteed money to four players in the first week of free agency, acknowledged the additions of safety T.J. Ward, cornerback Aqib Talib, pass rusher DeMarcus Ware and receiver Emmanuel Sanders weren’t made in a vacuum but with the Patriots in mind.
“You always know you have to go through New England,” Elway said. “If you look at their track record the last 10 years, they’re a team that you’re going to have to be able to deal with. And for us to be able to get done what we want to get done, you have to be able to beat them.
“So, it’s kind of a fun arms race and we’ll see what happens next year.”
For the second straight offseason, the Broncos added a player from the Patriots’ roster, luring Talib a year after they cajoled Wes Welker to leave Tom Brady for Peyton Manning.
The Patriots responded by signing cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was released by Tampa Bay, and then added cornerback Brandon Browner, who spent the past three seasons with the Seahawks.
Browner missed the Super Bowl while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and must sit out the first four regular-season games in 2014. He can participate in offseason activities, including training camp and preseason games.
The Broncos lost wide receiver Eric Decker to the New York Jets but they signed Sanders, a speedy wide receiver formerly with the Pittsburgh Steelers, to a three-year, $15 million pact.
After losing Brady’s top target to the Broncos last year, the Patriots were in danger of losing Brady’s favorite receiver again this spring, but wide receiver Julian Edelman re-signed with New England on Tuesday after testing the free agent market.
Edelman, who caught a career-high 105 passes with six touchdowns last season, signed a deal reportedly worth $17 million over four years two days after the Patriots added wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who became a free agent after catching 49 passes in his fourth NFL season, all with the Panthers.
Elway’s primary focus was rebuilding his defense.
With the release of Champ Bailey saving the Broncos $10 million and the retirement of Chris Kuper giving them an additional $4.1 million savings, Elway had lots of financial flexibility and he signed:
∎ Ward for four years and $22.5 million to play strong safety, with Rahim Moore returning to free safety.
∎ Talib for $57 million over six years to play cornerback opposite Chris Harris Jr., who’s coming off knee surgery.
∎ And Ware for $30 million over three years to rush the passer and mentor Von Miller and Quanterus Smith.
Talib was injured in the AFC championship game when he took a hard hit from Welker on a pick play at the line of scrimmage. (The Patriots called it a hip injury but Talib says now it was a thigh injury and insists he’s 100 percent.)
Of Denver’s four additions, only Ware is north of 30 years old.
“That goes to show you that’s not for now. We want young football players that are going to be here for a long time, who are still young in their career and are still going to get better,” Elway said. “So, the age thing is big. That’s one thing we’ve had some success with is being able to plug in some older guys in the right spots, but that’s usually been right around training camp if something were to happen. But still the base is to get as young as we can with the best football players we can.”
And he’ll make an exception with a guy like Ware.
“A guy with 117 sacks, yeah, and we feel like he’s got a lot of football ahead of him,” Elway said. “He’s been banged up. He was really banged up last year, and so I always like getting guys that are future Hall of Famers with chips on their shoulder.”