With the NFL's scouting combine set to open Tuesday and free agency to follow March 10, today marks the eighth installment of a position-by-position look of where things stand for the Denver Broncos at each spot on the depth chart, the salary-cap commitment, free agents and where their needs are greatest.
Today: Defensive backs | Tuesday: Special teams | Rest of the series
When Wade Phillips accepted the Broncos' offer to be the team's defensive coordinator he certainly knew what he was getting himself into -- he called it "probably the best situation, defensively, that I've come into." Not only does he have two top-shelf edge rushers in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, but Phillips will now get to work with a secondary that sent three players to the Pro Bowl.
Cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. -- the three Pro Bowl selections -- represent quite the starting point for the secondary. Many in the league considered Harris to be the best at his position this past season, because of his ability to play both in the slot or on the outside, on either side of the formation.
The Alpha: It's Harris in both word and deed. Talib is a more boisterous player, Ward a physically imposing presence, but Harris is a guy who came back from ACL surgery to start the season opener in seven months. He plays with a toughness and competitiveness while the coaches say few, if any, players knew the defense better. He may be under-rated in some circles, but he's certainly not under-valued by the Broncos, who locked him up with a five-year, $42.5 million deal this past season. He works, he leads and he plays his best in the biggest moments.
Salary cap: The Broncos have invested at this position. Ward leads the way in '15 and will count $7.75 million against the cap with his $4 million base salary guaranteed on March 14. Talib will count $7 million against the salary cap and his $5.5 million base salary will be guaranteed when the new league year opens on March 10. Harris will count $3 million against the cap in the first full year in his new deal, while safety David Bruton Jr. is slated to count $1.65 million against the cap to go with cornerback Bradley Roby at $1.58 million. Omar Bolden ($778,607 against the cap) and Kayvon Webster ($731,950) are also under contract for at least 2015.
Pending free agents: Only two Broncos' defensive players were on the field for more than 1,000 snaps this past season -- Ward and Rahim Moore. Moore led the defense with 1,054 snaps and he is scheduled to be the only unrestricted free agent among the team's starters or top role players. The Broncos will look at what it would take to get Moore back, but with the team facing some other needs/decisions in free agency, Moore may be able to get a bigger offer elsewhere. Safety Quinton Carter, who has dealt with knee troubles for much of his career and finished this past season on injured reserve, is also an unrestricted free agent.
Who could stay: The Broncos have positioned themselves to have some consistency in the lineup over the long haul at this position, barring injury of course. Talib, who just turned 29 last week, is the oldest starter and Roby, the team's first-round pick in last year's draft, has the look of a starter-in-waiting even as he plays a big role in most of the defense's specialty packages.
Who could go: The Broncos have seen the growth in Moore, who genuinely wants to be a high-quality player and puts in the time to do it. He has shown mental toughness in how he has rebounded from the Broncos' double-overtime loss to close out the 2012 season -- the game-tying play in the closing seconds of regulation when Moore was the target of most of the blame some of his teammates should have shared. With the Broncos having some other things to address in free agency, starting with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas as well as the offensive line, Moore simply may be able to get more guaranteed money from somebody else.
What they like/want: The defense has plenty of proven players, but there is still a clean-slate element to things whenever a new coaching staff arrives. But overall they're well stocked at cornerback, especially if Webster turns into the player former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio consistently believed Webster can be, and Ward gives them the strong safety Phillips will want. They need to locate a free safety if Moore departs.
Need index (1 is low priority, 5 the highest): It's a 3 because one of the starting spots figures to be open if they don't re-sign Moore.