The Broncos and Patriots have emerged as one of the NFL’s most fascinating rivalries, and not just because it features two Hall-of-Fame-caliber, all-time-great quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
It’s become, as we saw Tuesday with the opening of free agency, a battle of philosophies.
Both teams have aging quarterbacks with not much time left on their NFL clocks, yet could not be more opposite when it comes to adding players and building a roster.
If Day 1 was any indication, the Patriots are staying the course, even with Brady set to turn 37 soon. Look for value, build roster depth and don’t risk future years of the salary cap on exorbitant free agent contracts.
The Broncos, meanwhile, are going all-in with Manning turning 38 this month. They signed safety T.J. Ward for $14 million guaranteed and threw eye-popping numbers at Aqib Talib to swipe him away from the Patriots – $57 million overall, $26 million guaranteed, the highest guarantee among all NFL cornerbacks (for now, at least).
And while the Broncos may let receiver Eric Decker leave in free agency, they may not be done adding impact players, either. DeMarcus Ware is reportedly set to visit and likely to sign on Wednesday.
The Broncos entered the 2014 offseason with approximately $11 million more in cap space -- $25.8 million compared to $14.9 – but the two teams could not differ any more in philosophy. Broncos boss John Elway, who knows a thing or two about winning Super Bowls at the end of your career, is clearly trying to get the most out of Manning’s final years. The Patriots, meanwhile, seem to be sticking to their long-term approach.
Only time will tell which approach is right, but Broncos fans certainly seem a lot more confident about their team right now than Patriots fans do.
While hundreds of millions of dollars were handed out in free agency contracts on Tuesday, all the Patriots have done so far is host a few “C”-level free agents on visits (linebacker Wesley Woodyard, center Phil Costa and receiver Brandon LaFell, per reports) and re-sign two role players – backup tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and long snapper Danny Aiken.
They let Talib leave for their top rival, and let receiver Julian Edelman reach free agency and begin negotiating with other teams. The Patriots might get the market right on Edelman, but they also run the risk of letting Brady’s favorite receiver walk away for the second straight offseason.
The Patriots may make a run at Darrelle Revis, which would help alleviate the current panic among Patriots fans. Even signing Antonio Cromartie, or someone like Steve Smith or Owen Daniels, would get Patriots fans to back off the ledge.
But don’t expect the Patriots to suddenly go spend-happy.
At the Super Bowl, Robert Kraft was asked about going “all-in” to maximize the final years with Brady, and instead he highlighted the importance of roster depth.
“I don’t know that people fully understood, with the advent of the salary cap, the importance of the bottom third of the roster,” Kraft said. “I think how you manage the bottom third of the roster is critical to your development, so how you invest your dollars. It’s easy to [be a] Monday morning quarterback, but I think with what happened this year and the fact that we got to the championship game, it’s a pretty remarkable feat. You’re always looking to improve the team on both sides of the ball.”
The Broncos certainly have done that by adding Ward, Talib and possibly Ware. The Patriots, meanwhile, are just poking around the bargain bin.
It’s smart cap management by the Patriots, but is it the best football approach? The Broncos can now provide us the answer.