Farewell, Aqib Talib

After four years with the Denver Broncos and one championship ring, cornerback Aqib Talib was traded to the LA Rams in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick. Generally, I treat sports rumor mills as a where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire situation, and there was a lot of smoke about Talib desiring a trade even pretty early on into the 2017 season. Fans and Bronco’s beat guys definitely saw this coming, and after two unremarkable, disappointing seasons coming off of a Superbowl win and the retirement of Peyton Manning, it certainly isn’t surprising.

Since Superbowl 50, the offseason has been a stressful, pins and needles time for Bronco fans. Locking down Von Miller and Emmanuel Sanders were definitely coups for the front office, but you also inexplicably let Wade Phillips go as defensive coordinator after heading one of the historically greatest defenses of all time and start piecing out said defense. These are all tough front office problems and it’s difficult to see how it’s all going to play out.

Talib is a player I think almost everybody hates – unless he’s on your team. When he played for New England, I put him up there with Vontaze Burfict and cursed his coverage anytime the Broncos played the Pats. I was even pissed off when we picked him up after that disastrous loss to the Seahawks in Superbowl 48. The Broncos have always had a bit of a moral high ground against a rival like Oakland. Talib, coming from Darth Bellicheck’s dubious Patriot dynasty that had just lost a tight end to murder charges, seemed out of place in a franchise whose fanbase primarily meme’d about chicken parm sandwiches, ill-fitting winterwear, and Eric Decker’s monster hog. Especially after the then-recent conclusion of the illustrious career of an absolute class-act Champ Bailey, Talib felt like buying an angry Rottweiler after having to put down your childhood Irish Setter.

Naturally, I think fans not accustomed to having an Enforcer on their team can’t live without one after they’re gone. Just being able to know you’ve got the ability to exact some revenge or try and intimidate a snarling team on the road is quite the feeling. What comes standard issue on a hockey squad isn’t as plentiful in the NFL. Talib doesn’t take any shit. There was the eye poke, the chain grabs, and the fights. Talib served suspensions in three consecutive seasons with the Broncos. He shot himself in the leg at a bar in Texas.

But there’s also 103-yard pick-sixes.

Aqib Talib is what a receiving corp has to go to group therapy for. I’ve yelled “put Talib in with the offense” to go after a particular troublesome defensive player more than once. While I’m sad to see him go, he’s reuniting with Wade Phillips in LA and anyone that watched those Bronco seasons has to be excited to watch what that defense does with him on it. The scourge of money and age menaces the game of football, too: like TJ Ward, it’s hard to justify paying top-dollar for a 32 year-old player whose likely peaked physically. That assessment always seems so jaded and clinical. Talib had really started to come into a leadership role with younger players and despite huge frustrations and frictions between the offensive and defensive teams this last season, I thought that might count for something when it came time to try and pay him. I wasn’t as worried about losing him in the offseason than I was about getting the Miller deal done or keeping Sanders with a contract that didn’t bankrupt a team with no definitive quarterback and that has spent two years now trying to rebuild their offensive line.

In a sport where the same five teams are favored to win the championship every year and where your team won back-to-back twenty years ago, watching the veterans of a Superbowl winning roster slowly drift to the later stages of their careers in other divisions is a lot like the end of Stand By Me where you find out River Phoenix grows up to get stabbed, Vern drives a forklift, and Teddy got passed around by Hollywood pedophiles. The further you get away from that winning year the less it feels like this might be a dominant era for your team, and that first time you fail to even make the playoffs stings even worse with what feels like wasted potential.

With TJ Ward and now Talib gone, the No Fly Zone era is officially over. That nickname was always kind of weird to me, if I recall correctly they kind of took it on after the SB50 win as a way to title such a dominant, legendary defense but with two terrible seasons its a little hard to take seriously. Getting a fifth-round pick is great, but you run into anxiety about untested rookies when comparing them to a player with the profile and statistics of a guy like Talib. Elway has a less-than-stellar reputation for draft picks despite a couple of great moves that worked out well for the franchise long-term.

At least he didn’t end up back in New England.

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