Nothing can surprise you in the NFL when you learn to expect the unexpected. Aqib Talib discovered that in November 2012, when he found out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team that drafted him in the first round in 2008, decided to cut ties.
“I found out I was getting traded in a hyperbaric chamber,” Talib said. “The next day, I was in New England.”
Talib was reminded again of the NFL’s harsh and often perplexing reality this past September when, days before their season opener, the Broncos released a fellow No-Fly Zone founder, safety T.J. Ward, and welcomed back quarterback Brock Osweiler.
“There was kind of a buzz,” Talib said, “so I’m not going to say it was surprising. The buzz started a couple of days before. So we had an idea it was going to happen. … Like I said, nothing surprises us in the league.”
And nothing would surprise him when the Broncos end their disappointing season Sunday and immediately begin to retool and rebuild for 2018. Talib has two years remaining on his contract, with salary cap hits of $12 million and $8 million, respectively. But next season, his dead money, or the amount that would count against the Broncos’ salary cap if they release him, is only $1 million. In 2019, Talib has no dead money.
Which means if the Broncos decide to part with the 31-year-old cornerback who is still playing like a guy in the prime of his career, they would shed $11 million from their books, giving them more money to spend elsewhere, such as in the pursuit of a coveted free-agent quarterback. But in doing so, the Broncos would lose the crux of their No. 3-ranked pass defense and a team captain whose intensity has embodied the fire of Denver’s secondary.
As the Broncos mull their options for the future, Talib is in many ways a swing state. The Broncos could go either way, and do so with plenty of reasons to support their decision.
“Every year I’ve been here he’s played tremendously well for us against a lot of the No. 1 receivers from the other team,” said defensive coordinator and former defensive backs coach Joe Woods. “I feel like he still plays at that level, but when you get older, it’s a little bit harder to recover and he’s a veteran that is at that stage in his career. But I feel like he’s still playing at a high level for us.”
At the culmination of the 2016 season, Pro Football Focus rated Talib as the top cornerback in coverage after he posted 49.5 passer rating against and didn’t allow a touchdown.
Though his targets have dropped this season because of changes in the way opposing offenses have played the Broncos, Talib has allowed three touchdowns in coverage but yielded only .58 yards per snap in coverage, according to PFF
The full body of work in his four years as a Bronco has been nothing short of remarkable. Talib has shot up the record book while earning a Pro Bowl nod in each season in Denver, giving him five in his career. He leads NFL cornerbacks with 34 interceptions since 2008, when he entered the league. He leads all Broncos with six interceptions returned for a touchdown. And he ranks No. 4 in league history with 10 career pick-six plays. This year he passed Pro Football Hall of Famers Deion Sanders, Ken Houston and Aeneas Williams when he returned an interception 103 yards for a touchdown against Dallas in Week 2.
“This touchdown thing I got going on here — I’m just trying to take something to the crib,” Talib said. “I just want to play well and put good tape out.”
Because, like he said, no surprises.
With only one game left before the offseason rebuilding ensues, Broncos coach Vance Joseph has refused to speculate on the job security of anyone on the roster. He hedged when asked about the futures of Osweiler and quarterback Trevor Siemian, deflected when asked about his own future and ducked when asked of explicitly of Talib’s.
“My focus is on Sunday,” Joseph said this week. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I can’t say who’s going to be back next year.”
But that bridge isn’t far away, if it’s one the Broncos plan to cross at all. With the loss of Ward earlier in the year and another season in the books for Talib and fellow veteran cornerback Chris Harris, thoughts of what could happen to the self-titled No-Fly Zone have quietly infiltrated the Broncos’ locker room.
How could they not?
“I mean, shoot, it was pretty much over once T.J. left. Really me and Aqib kept it here a little bit with (Bradley Roby) and (Darian Stewart),” Harris said. “But it’s not the same as it was with the Super Bowl (team) and past couple of years. Never know. I think it might come to an end soon.”
Multiple factors would contribute to any argument to move from Talib, including his age and salary, not to mention the future of Roby and his accompanying salary. But the Broncos don’t need to search far for reasons to keep Talib, who is on a path leading straight to Canton.
But whatever happens, well, Talib has learned to expect anything. No surprises.
“I’m not even worried about it. It is what it is,” Talib said. “I’ve been in the league 10 years. I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen everything that you could possibly see. One thing I know is that you have to put out good tape. Just finish strong. We just want to finish strong and put out good tape.”
Closer look at Aqib Talib
In his 10 NFL seasons, including four with the Broncos, cornerback Aqib Talib has joined elite company with his knack for making interceptions and returning them for touchdowns. A look at his standing in each category:
Most interceptions by a cornerback (2008-present)
1. Aqib Talib: 34 (134 games)
2. Brent Grimes: 33 (132 games)
3. Richard Sherman: 32 (105 games)
4. Tramon Williams: 31 (150 games)
5. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: 30 (152 games)
Most interception returns for TDs in NFL history
1. *Rod Woodson: 12
T2. Darren Sharper: 11
T2. Charles Woodson: 11
4. Aqib Talib: 10
5. *Deion Sanders: 9
T5. Ken Houston*: 9
T5. Aeneas Williams*: 9
*Pro Football Hall of Famer
Most INTs for TDs in Broncos history
1. Aqib Talib: 6
2. Tyrone Braxton: 4
Mike Harden: 4
4. Chris Harris Jr.: 3
Champ Bailey: 3
Tom Jackson: 3
Randy Gradishar: 3
Billy Thompson: 3
Nemiah Wilson: 3
Published at Thu, 28 Dec 2017 23:46:51 +0000