ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The Denver Broncos locked up a shutdown cornerback, only his name wasn’t Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Broncos spent the first day of free agency bolstering their defensive backfield, agreeing to a four-year deal with Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward on Tuesday afternoon and then hours later reaching an agreement on a six-year contract with cornerback Aqib Talib.
Talib and Ward will play in a secondary that will be without Champ Bailey, who was released last week, and may be moving on from Rodgers-Cromartie, who entered free agency without a new deal from the Broncos.
The 28-year-old Talib had quite a year for New England last season, with teams largely choosing to go the other way rather than pick on him.
Sound familiar? It was the same way for Bailey in his prime.
By agreeing to a deal, Talib seemed to show there’s no bad blood between him and the Broncos after he hurt his knee early in the AFC championship game against Denver when he was bumped by Wes Welker on a crossing route. The league’s officiating chief later ruled it a legal hit by Welker.
ESPN first announced the agreement with Talib, which is reportedly worth $57 million. The Broncos also are reportedly interested in defensive lineman DeMarcus Ware, who was released by Dallas on Tuesday in a salary-cap move.
Talib will be reunited with cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who’s also a former Kansas Jayhawk. Harris played opposite of Rodgers-Cromartie last season before blowing out a knee against San Diego in the divisional round.
Harris later posted on his Twitter account: “I had to call my Fam Talib to see if it was real.”
Yep, it’s real.
The Broncos also brought in Ward, who had 129 tackles and two interceptions for Cleveland in 2013. The Broncos are looking for some stability at a position that got juggled last year, with the loss of Rahim Moore and the inconsistent play of Duke Ihenacho. Veteran Mike Adams, also formerly of Cleveland, started the season as a reserve but ended up in the starting lineup.
“He’s a young, explosive strong safety who is going to bring a lot of energy and toughness to our secondary,” Broncos boss John Elway said of Ward.
Denver’s big receiving news Tuesday was a two-year extension for fourth receiver Andre Caldwell, who could move up a notch if the Broncos part ways with Eric Decker.
Caldwell came on late in the season when Welker was sidelined with a concussion. The 28-year-old Caldwell had 11 of his 16 receptions over the final three games of the season.
His most productive game in 2013 was against San Diego on Dec. 12, when he had six receptions for 59 yards and two TDs.
Caldwell was held without a catch in the 43-8 loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl.
“Hopefully I can compete for an extended role this year and contribute a lot more to the team,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell received an invitation from Peyton Manning to attend offseason workouts at Duke University. Last spring, only Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Decker were invited to work on their chemistry with the five-time NFL MVP quarterback.
“It’s just a process of building confidence with those guys all the way from April,” Caldwell said.
Ward is expected to be a main piece around which the Broncos reshape a defense that was obliterated by an injury epidemic last season, losing Von Miller, Harris, Derek Wolfe, Kevin Vickerson and Moore.
The Broncos also could seek a replacement for linebacker Wesley Woodyard, a free agent who is exploring other options.
They’ll need a new starting guard now that Zane Beadles has agreed to terms with Jacksonville.
Running back Knowshon Moreno is a free agent as well after rushing for 1,038 yards and 10 TDs in 2013.
The Broncos also hired two new coaches on Tuesday, bringing in assistant offensive line coach James Cregg and offensive quality control coach Bo Hardegree.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Jonathan Martin is returning to familiar territory, months after he accused a teammate of bullying and left the Miami Dolphins.
The offensive tackle is headed back to the Bay Area to play for Jim Harbaugh – again.
Martin was traded from Miami to the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday night, reuniting the lineman with his college coach at Stanford and a supportive coaching staff he knows so well. In fact, Harbaugh publicly expressed his support of Martin last year and called him a “personal friend.”
The Dolphins announced the move late on the first day of NFL free agency. San Francisco then confirmed the trade, saying only that it would send an undisclosed draft choice to Miami and that Martin still must pass a physical to complete the deal.
“Big news…. Beyond Blessed … Opportunities are few in the NFL… Can’t wait to get to work (hashtag)9erEmpire,” Martin posted on Twitter.
The 24-year-old Martin’s move cross country brings him back to Northern California, but he is already in town – back on the Stanford campus taking classes.
“This is great for him to get back on the field and he’s in Palo Alto right now. It couldn’t be much better,” his agent, Ken Zuckerman, said in a phone interview. “I just think everyone wanted this to happen. Harbaugh knows Jonathan, I think the Dolphins were compensated and Jonathan wants to get back on the field. It’s a good day.”
An investigation for the NFL determined last month that Dolphins guard Richie Incognito and two other offensive linemen engaged in persistent harassment of Martin, another offensive lineman and an assistant trainer.
“As far as that situation, there’s only one thing I can intelligently comment on and that’s knowing Jonathan Martin,” Harbaugh said in November. “I know him to be a fine person and his family. … (He) epitomizes the student-athlete model and a personal friend. I support Jonathan.”
The trade capped a busy first day for the 49ers, who lost to the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in the NFC championship game.
Martin left the Dolphins in late October, underwent counseling for emotional issues and alleged he was harassed by teammates. Incognito was then suspended for the final eight games.
“We feel that this move is in the best interests of all parties involved,” Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said. “We wish Jonathan well.”
After a report on the investigation was released last month, the Dolphins fired offensive line coach Jim Turner and longtime trainer Kevin O’Neill. Incognito and guard John Jerry, who was also implicated in the report, became free agents Tuesday and aren’t expected to play for the Dolphins again.
Incognito has recently received treatment in the wake of the scandal. He sent tweets in recent weeks that varied dramatically in tone, including a rant blasting Martin that quickly went viral.
Martin’s departure from the Dolphins had been expected. Owner Stephen Ross said in January that he didn’t expect Martin to play for the team again.
The investigation for the NFL found a pattern of harassment on the Dolphins, with Martin the primary target of vicious taunts and racist insults that occurred almost daily. The report said teammates threatened to rape Martin’s sister, called him a long list of slurs and bullied him for not being “black enough.” Martin is black and Incognito is white.
The troubled relationship between Martin and Incognito drew national scrutiny and stirred a debate about bullying. Martin said he tried to be friends with Incognito despite their diverse backgrounds.
Martin was a classics major at Stanford, while Incognito, 30, was kicked off his team at Nebraska and went on to develop a reputation as one of the NFL’s dirtiest players.
Martin, who protected Andrew Luck’s blind side at Stanford, was a second-round draft pick by Miami in 2012. He became a starter as a rookie but struggled at times while being shuffled between right and left tackle.
Last year he was part of a line that allowed a franchise-record 58 sacks. The Dolphins began revamping their line Tuesday by agreeing to terms with Pro Bowl left tackle Braden Albert.
Martin has two years remaining on his contract and has a base salary of $824,933 this year.
Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey is the only offensive lineman involved in the bullying scandal still on Miami’s roster.
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began to overhaul their roster on Tuesday, agreeing to contracts with Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner, defensive end Michael Johnson and two other potential new starters on the first day of free agency.
In addition to landing Verner, who had five interceptions for Tennessee last season and Johnson, who had 11 1/2 sacks for Cincinnati two years ago, the team announced Tuesday through its website that it also had reached deals with former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and ex-New York Giants tight end Brandon Myers.
The club planned a news conference Wednesday to introduce the additions. Meanwhile, efforts to trade cornerback Darrelle Revis continue.
Tuesday’s contracts are the first major moves for new coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht, who were hired in January following the firings of former coach Greg Schiano and GM Mark Dominik.
The Bucs finished 4-12 in 2013. One of Smith’s top priorities is improving a pass rush that’s been one of the least productive in the NFL in recent years.
Adding Johnson, who received a five-year deal, and McDonald, who had 5 1/2 sacks for the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, could help.
Verner, 25, has 11 career interceptions in four seasons. He agreed to a four-year contract and could wind up being a replacement for Revis, who was obtained in a pre-draft trade from the New York Jets last spring, a deal that cost the Bucs a first-round draft in 2013, as well as a fourth-rounder this year.
If Revis remains on Tampa Bay’s roster at 4 p.m. Wednesday, he is due a $1.5 million bonus and the 2014 pick the Bucs owe the Jets becomes a third-rounder.
That has led to speculation that Revis, who was recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee when he joined the Bucs and was given a six-year, $96 million contract, will be released if the team isn’t able to find a suitor.
Despite not being 100 percent physically, Revis appeared in all 16 games and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl last season, when he had two interceptions, a sack and two forced fumbles.