ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Some of Marquice Cole’s belongings were still in his locker in Foxborough, Mass., when the fifth-year cornerback got the call from the Broncos.
Cole had been released by the Patriots the day after Christmas, but that was just part of the dance he and the organization had been doing all year. The Patriots signed and released Cole four times going back to March.
The Patriots never guaranteed him anything, but Cole assumed the door might still be open.
“I was staying ready for any opportunity, even if it was back in New England,” Cole said. “I didn’t know where it would be, I was just hoping that it would be. So I was staying ready.
“I feel like it was kind of up in the air, and since it had happened before, it was a possibility. But I didn’t know for sure, it wasn’t like a for-certain thing.”
With no assurances from the Patriots, he waited at his home in Illinois, watching “SpongeBob SquarePants” with his son.
Then came the call from the Broncos, who signed the 30-year-old Tuesday, five days before their matchup with Cole’s former team in the AFC Championship game.
Cole is a depth signing for the Broncos, who lost perhaps their best defensive back, Chris Harris, to a torn ACL in Sunday’s divisional round win over the Chargers.
If Cole had been a rookie, he said, he might have been surprised.
“But being in this league since 2007, you see stranger things,” he said. “Really, nothing could surprise me now. Just [if you] stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready. Then if you get that call, be ready to take advantage of it.”
How the Broncos will use Cole — if at all — remains a question. “I better be able to answer an hour and a half before kickoff,” said Broncos coach John Fox.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Cole was still getting the lay of the land.
He briefly bumped into quarterback Peyton Manning about five minutes before Manning handled his media duties.
“I just said, ‘How are you doing? My name is Peyton. Good to have you here,’ ” Manning said. “So that’s the extent of it so far.”
Manning joked, “No telling where it will go, but that was the starting point.”
Like Deion Branch, the former Patriots receiver who was signed by the Colts ahead of last Saturday’s Divisional round game, the assumption is that Cole will be able to throw some Patriots secrets Manning’s way.
Cole expects to talk with Manning but didn’t think he had that much to intel to offer.
“He’s one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league,” Cole said. “So there’s nothing really I can tell him that he doesn’t already know.”
Cole does, however, think he has some tidbits that could help out the secondary.
“I could definitely talk to the DBs and tell them my input on it,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you’ve still got to go out there and cover them.”
Signing with the only team left in the Patriots’ way to their sixth Super Bowl appearance since 2001 led to some predictably harsh responses on Twitter from New England fans.
But inside the Patriots locker room, he had at least one supporter in Aqib Talib.
“That’s my dog,” Talib said. “Cash that check, baby. Got to pay the bills, man.”
For Cole, the feeling was mutual.
“ If I get a call to be on a team and help contribute and make some money, then what am I supposed to say — no?” Cole said. “Aqib knows what’s up. That’s my dog.
“Until the season was over, I believed there was a chance if they needed me, but it never happened. So when I got the call, I had to jump on it.”
There was still the matter of Cole getting his things from his old locker, especially since Patriots safety Devin McCourty was already calling dibs on his headphones.
“I need my stuff,” Cole said.
Don’t count on Moore
The prospects of a return by Denver safety Rahim Moore, who has been out since November after undergoing surgery for a mysterious condition called lateral compartment syndrome in his left leg, are getting slim. Fox said, “He’s designated to have the opportunity to return. When he clears our medical people, he’ll begin practicing. We’re in day-to-day mode with that.” . . . Safety Mike Adams was limited in Wednesday’s practice because of a thigh injury. Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee), safety Duke Ihenacho (knee), tackle Winston Justice (finger), guard Chris Kuper (ankle), cornerback Kayvon Webster (thumb), and Manning (ankle) all participated fully.