Denver has made the biggest splash in free agency, signing three pro bowl caliber players – when healthy -by adding Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, and DeMarcus Ware. New England got the biggest single addition on defense yesterday, signing Darrelle Revis to a one year deal after he was released by Tampa Bay. Ward and Talib made the Pro Bowl last year; Ware and Revis have 12 combined Pro Bowl appearances.
A sign of desperation? Mortgaging the future? Or just business as usual?
When it comes to recent contenders who are perennial powers, more of the latter. The Patriots are renting a player for a year at a fair value (and may certainly choose to sign him after the season, though they do not have to), much like San Francisco did in 1994 with Deion Sanders. Star players on defense, when they have the chance, want two things: money, and to win titles. Sometimes, those things do not work together, but if they can get paid and play for a team with a great offense, well, no brainer.
Going with established veterans on defense is not a new phenomenon. George Allen and the Washington Redskins put together the “Over the Hill Gang” via trades back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It resulted in a Super Bowl appearance after the 1972 season, and several playoff appearances.
Since 1990, it has been more rule than exception that star defensive players and perennial contenders have found common ground. Some fade away because the player did not work out or the team collapsed (Osi Umenyiora to Atlanta last year). Plenty of others did.
I count 36 cases since 1990 where a defensive player who had appeared in at least one Pro Bowl went (by trade or free agency) to an established Super Bowl contender. Nine of those players (25%) would win a Super Bowl ring with the new team while starting; seven more would appear as a starter in a Super Bowl for the losing team. That’s a pretty good hit rate if you are a star player who has maybe toiled for lesser teams and wants a ring.
Rickey Jackson (1994 to SF), Eugene Robinson (1996 to GB), Neil Smith (1997 to DEN), and Rodney Harrison (2003 to NE) are some examples of star players past the age of 30 that went to a contender with a star quarterback and got a ring.
The Broncos, though, have gone to the well with abandon this offseason. Three Pro Bowlers is a large haul. We’ve seen the Eagles try to go the Dream Team route, and fail. Of course, that Eagles team was not as established as a great team before the acquisitions (they had made the playoffs and lost in the first round the year before). Denver just reached the Super Bowl and has Peyton Manning.
The only other Super Bowl contending team to add three veteran Pro Bowlers in one offseason was the 1994 San Francisco 49ers. They had come up just short against Dallas in two consecutive seasons with Steve Young at quarterback. San Francisco got Deion Sanders on a 1-year deal, took Ken Norton from the Cowboys, and acquired Rickey Jackson at age 36 from the Saints.
Denver hopes that things work out just as well for them.